i love this building, stuck right in the heart of our bustling and modern downtown. each and every time i walk by, i am drawn in once again, as i encounter its beauty, and especially its ‘and a half’ address. each time, i feel as mesmerized by it as i felt the first time i ever laid eyes on it.
a historic house known as ‘the shant’, (officially called “the hall of omicron”), it now serves as a meeting place for the university of michigan chapter of the delta kappa epsilon (DKE) fraternity, as well as the headquarters for the international fraternal organization and the gerald ford library.
architect william lebaron jenney, later known as the ‘father of the american skyscraper,’ designed the building. jenney came to ann arbor as a professor to found the architecture program at the university of michigan. the library is named after gerald ford, one of five presidents who were members of DKE. it houses books that were written by or about DKE brothers as well as memorabilia.
according to A Century and a Half of DKE, a history of the fraternity, (founded in 1855, 10 years after the first frats came to the university of michigan), the building was used only for fraternity ritual in its early years. the cornerstone was laid in 1878 and construction was completed the following year. an exterior eight-foot high brick wall was added in 1901, increasing the building’s mysterious appearance. it was used only for late night meetings, the gas-lit interior enhancing the building’s eeriness. today, the building still sticks out as somewhat eerie, especially in comparison with its new surroundings.
i like to imagine the secret late-night meetings, the rituals, the ghosts of times past, that still inhabit this special ‘half’ place, caught somewhere in between the past and the present.
‘my address is like my shoes. it travels with me.’ – mary harris jones