According to their website, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has 215 chapters and colonies, comprised of about 13.5 thousand members. The national organization, founded in 1856, has initiated nearly 350,000 members in its more than one-and-a-half centuries of existence. To summarize, it’s clear that SAE has come a long way from its pioneering days during the pre-Civil War era at University of Alabama. Noble Leslie DeVotie and several others founded the fraternal organization, the only one from the Antebellum South, and seventy-four of about four hundred members at that time lost their lives fighting the war--most serving the confederate army, though a few joined up with the union.
Sure, if you go back far enough, plenty of Greek organizations around the United States likely have stories of this nature or variations thereof. Each has had its historic moments, places, struggles, and those they affectionately refer to as the “founders”--a microcosm of the way many Americans speak of our country’s “founding fathers.” SAE, though, certainly isn’t the oldest fraternal organization. In the winter of 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the first-ever fraternity was founded--the Phi Beta Kappa Society--perhaps over beers as students gathered in the Raleigh Tavern to form social bonds, discuss politics of the day, and shake the cold. However, SAE is the largest fraternity in terms of membership, eclipsing Sigma Chi by a few thousand members. Therefore, one might easily conclude that they have some pretty impressive chapter houses across the nation, and one would be correct. The organization has some awe-inspiring architecture on the various campuses where their students attend, and we here at OmegaFi are excited to let you in on a few of the Largest SAE Chapter Houses in the US.
Vanderbilt University: Tennessee Nu
The second SAE chapter to be formed a year following the initial founding in Tuscaloosa was the Tennessee Nu chapter at Vanderbilt University. So not completely oddly, they live in a freaking castle. Literally, guys. A castle. The house is a civil-war era castle complete with massive turrets and cannons, boasting the biggest rooms of any building on campus. This out-of-time, towering colossus on one of the south’s most prestigious campuses is definitely a sight to behold in Nashville. The Vanderbilt chapter also lives up to the school’s reputation by boasting the highest GPA among all other Greeks on campus as well as all other SAE chapters. The house is set apart somewhat from the rest of the campus, and even has its own basketball courts (because everyone knows a scaling castle without basketball courts is just pathetic, right? Right?). However, the chapter has faced its challenges--the house was closed and needed to be renovated at one point. Nonetheless, the house was named one of the top five fraternity houses in the United States by First Point USA, and for good reason. Tennessee Nu chapter’s castle will impress the heck out of you--and if you disagree, watch out for cannon fire.
University of Michigan: Iota-Beta
Also mentioned by First Point USA as one of the top-five US fraternity houses--as well as one of the top ten fraternity houses among the Big Ten schools by Total Frat Move--is the intimidating red and white brick mansion of SAE’s Iota-Beta chapter at the University of Michigan. Located in the historic Washtenaw-Hill district of Ann Arbor, which includes a variety of early 1900s architecture such as Dutch and Georgian Colonial Revivals, Classical Revival, Spanish Mission, and other styles, this building fits right in--and its size and stature are intimidating, to say the least. A turret curves along one corner of the building, and three chimney stacks reach into the pale blue Michigan skyline. In months of snow, it looms among the drifts, with SAE’s letters as white as the snow itself on the building’s face. The house is over 100 years old and is home to the famed mud football bowl. It’s definitely a house for the record books.
University of Alabama: Mother Mu
Okay, so this might not be the biggest, most massive, gargantuan mega-house SAE has to offer--though they have quite a few competing for that title. Yet, it is the biggest in terms of its history, being literally home to the “mother” of all SAE chapters, where it all started at the University of Alabama. With the words “Sigma Alpha Epsilon” chiseled across the face of the roof, four herculean white grooved pillars lead you up the steps to its doors. The design is a simple brick with green window shutters, with two adjoining buildings on either side, also with pillared entrances. Nothing captures the massive history of SAE like the home where it all began here on University Boulevard.
UCLA: California Delta
COED calls SAE’s UCLA house the largest on campus, as well as one of the biggest on the Pacific coast--because, well, it is. The thing is massive, and architecturally striking. A winding set of stairs, whose side is painted with the fraternity’s coat of arms, leads up above the ground level windows--whose surrounding walls are covered with climbing vines. Its white façade, as well as several pillars and a beautiful lantern hanging high above the entrance, add to its simple elegance, and somehow make it look even bigger. Its high stature also adds some incredible balcony views. The chapter also goes “big” when it comes to representing their house’s full potential. If you don’t believe us, check out their incredible Christmas lights display. In 2015, the young Californian men even dedicated their display to a young girl with cancer.
All in all, SAE’s houses across the country give new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.” Perhaps one might say they do both, in terms of the places their brothers reside. Many fraternity chapters are housed in buildings with history, class, and the sheer picturesque presence that comes naturally to large chapter houses. However, SAE definitely hits more than one home run in this category.
Though this is only one fraternity, however big their numbers may be, and certainly there are some other formidable houses out there. Which fraternity chapter houses have caused you to cower before their grandeur? Let us know in the comments below.