Cal Beta History

The incredible task of compiling the historical account of Cal Beta was a lifelong dream and the culmination of over twenty years of research by longtime chapter advisor Paul Manolis '49. This 497-page book is available to all Cal Beta members free of charge. All you have to do is request a copy.

Click Here to preview various sections from The California Beta Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon – A Selected History.

Below are the Remarks of Paul G. Manolis at the Centennial Banquet of California Beta International House, University of California at Berkeley, 7 October 1994

My assignment this evening is to capsulize one hundred years of history in ten minutes. The time limit placed upon me is fortunate for you. It will spare you a lengthy dissertation of names and events about which you have never heard, and care little about, I am certain.

Cal Beta’s origins are somewhat unique in the annals of SAE. In the later part of the last century Sigma Alpha Epsilon was still a Southern Fraternity, albeit some extension into the north had taken place. California Alpha at Stanford had been founded in 1892.

But the story was that local fraternities repeatedly went to SAE conventions petitioning for charters, only to be turned down. The conventions were controlled by the Southerners who were against extension. But through a practice invented by the then Supreme Council, California Alpha was granted a charter in 1892 to use at Berkeley when the time came, and that is what happened. Cal Beta was one of the last chapters established by the famous Bunting brothers.

California Beta owes her origin to Vance C. Osmont, who was an SAE from MIT who enrolled at Cal in 1894. He and Harry J. Cox of Stanford recruited the pledges and founded the chapter. Cal Beta and Stanford aligned themselves with the southerners and were anti-expansion in the early years. For many years they blocked the granting of charters to UCLA and USC as institutions unworthy of having SAE chapters, and those two chapters were not chartered until the 1920’s. Cal Beta and Cal Alpha prided themselves on being the only SAE chapters in the State of California.

The original minutes of the chapter exist, and they even detail the menu that was served the night of the first initiation, replete with Oysters on the half shell, rack of lamb, and all the trimmings. I might mention here that much of the history of the chapter is lost, due in no small part to what we call “the time of troubles”, i.e., the sixties of our era, when the Free Speech Movement, the anti-Viet Nam protests and campus unrest were at the height. Much of the archives were dispersed or lost. Fortunately, some years ago when I was serving as Chapter Advisor I was able to find some of the material and removed it from the house. It includes the voluminous scrapbook, which begins in 1904, the original minutes, and the original charter. I present that charter this evening to Todd Stone, president of the 1894 Alumni Association, for safekeeping. I have guarded it for twenty some years.

I will merely highlight some of the events in the history of the chapter, and some of the key players, as an historical capsule. We intend to publish a rather extensive history, with many illustrations, in the near future.

For the first 25 years the chapter was housed in rented houses, until it purchased the property at 2722 Bancroft for $22,000 in 1920. There was a large Victorian located on the property and this served as the chapter house until the present house was built. Thus, SAE has been at 2722 Bancroft for 68 years.

The impetus for building the present house was the late football coach Andy Smith. He not only contributed towards the purchase of the property, but in his will bequeathed his estate equally to the University for athletic scholarships, and to the chapter, which received $10,000. The new house was completed and dedicated in 1926. Andy Smith was not a Cal Beta man, but had been an SAE at Pennsylvania.

The guiding light in the building of the new chapter house was Charles West. Some of us old timers remember Charlie, for in the 50’s he continued to be active in House Corporation affairs. If any name should stand out in the history of the chapter, it is Charlie West, for in a review of the records, he was the stalwart who kept the chapter together during the depression of the 30’s and the World War II years, sought refinancing of loans and conducted fund drives to pay off mortgages.

Other names, which should be recorded as standouts, are the so-called Cal Beta Investors, a group that in the late 70’s and early 80’s saved the chapter house. The hard times which the chapter had come upon in the sixties resulted in the sale of the house, and this small group managed to purchase the house from the previous buyer. It is a long and tangled story of turmoil and litigation, but the chapter will always be grateful to Herb Dedo, Bill McLaughlin, Ed Lippstreu, Al Bender, Mike Friedenbach, Bob Conn, Jim Riewerts, I. C. Armstrong and J. Alfred Ryder, for making it possible for the chapter to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Special mention should be made of Bill Russ, who was president of the House Corporation.

Another landmark event in the history of the chapter was the formation of the 1894 Club, some 12 years ago. To date this has raised an amount approaching $100,000 as an endowment for the chapter, making it one of the few SAE chapters with an Endowment. The 1894 Endowment Fund was an important factor in solving the problem of repurchasing the house. It remains an endowment— only the interest income used for helping the house corporation and the chapter.

Throughout its history, the chapter has seen many traditions established, some long-lived and some short-lived. The oldest tradition is that of the Duck Dinner, which was first held at the beginning of this century. In fact I have found the invitation to the Duck Dinner of 1904. Of course in those days the alumni went duck hunting and brought the ducks back for the pledges to clean. It is interesting with respect to the Duck Dinner. I have found a telegram in the old scrapbook, dated November 7, 1912, which reads:

“Never reached pond. No ducks. Buy em. Hardest luck ever.” I assume that the alumni ended up partying and were blind in the duck blinds. The Duck Dinner has evolved over the years from the rather formal affair that it was into today’s rather stag, or RF event.

A tradition, which began in the 20’s and continued into the 50’s, was the annual St. Mary’s smoker, the night before the first game of the season. Some of us can remember the boxing ring set up in the patio. Another tradition of long standing, of course, is the South Seas dance. What was for many years a dance closed to chapter members, in the 70’s became a large extravaganza, and was rated by Playboy Magazine as one of the top ten college parties of the year. A dubious distinction. Treks for palm fronds and grave robbing for flowers continue, I assume. The 80’s also saw the start of the tradition of running the game ball down to the UCLA or USC game.

There is a picture of the legendary Bill Levere in 1908 sitting on the porch of the house with the actives. A few years later there is a picture of Levere and the chapter dog, the predecessor of the famous Shadow. Speaking of Levere, he reported to the National Office after a visit to the chapter in 1905, and I quote: “I went to Berkeley, and received a warm welcome from the Beta boys. That Cal Beta does hold a high place there is solely because of the excellent quality of its men. The boys have reason to be proud of their chapter house. It is a handsome edifice inside and out. It was at this chapter I first saw Chinese servants in a fraternity house, and the novelty of it was so great to me that I imagine I amused the fellows considerably in my inquiries concerning the possibility of getting Chinese servants to come to Evanston.” I assume that the Chinese servants of those days did the work of pledges of later years.

Reviewing the scrapbook is a glimpse into the history of the country and the university. In 1916 the chapter hosted a dinner for the University President, and Benjamin Ide Wheeler has signed the scrapbook. There are letters from “somewhere in Flanders Field” during World War I. The gay twenties are graphically represented with all the dances and social affairs, some rather extravagant.

Then we get to the thirties and the great depression, and we find “hard time dances”, and “radio dances”. They couldn’t afford live music. In 1920 the Daily Cal listed the average grades for the semester. Out of the 45 fraternities the SAE’s were 40th. I hope there has been an improvement in scholarship in these 75 years.

The opening of the new chapter house was a big event and an open house was held on March 14, 1926. The chapter flourished in the 30’s despite the depression, and only in the 40’s when everyone went off to World War II did they have problems, when the house was taken over by the Navy for the housing of naval cadets. But the post-World War II period saw a boom in the chapter fortunes with the return of the veterans, and this was a period of growth and stability. In some respects too much growth and optimism, for in 1954 a wing was added onto the house and a large mortgage assumed. This was to lead to major problems in the 70’s and 80’s, which fortunately have been solved. But the late 40’s and early 50’s is the era of Jose Jackson and Lupi, of the raid to obtain the lions for the house, and our dog Shadow. It was the era of Pappy Waldorf and three consecutive Rose Bowls. The era of Emmet Gebauer, Rex Silvernale and Bill Milliken.

We can look back upon the past hundred years with a sense of accomplishment, with nostalgia and memories of our college days. I assume we were tougher in those days, for we slept on open sleeping porches, possibly going to sleep in one fog and awakening in a Berkeley fog. And those were the days before electric blankets. Liquor wasn’t allowed in the house, and women were not allowed on the second floor.

Special mention should be made of those who have served as Chapter Advisors during the past 100 years. I speak from experience. Being chapter advisor not only meant going to Monday night meetings, but also assuming such chores as getting phone calls in the middle of the night and having to bail an active out of the Berkeley slammer. Some of those sitting here tonight recall those incidents.

Fraternities are a part of the history of American higher education, despite its detractors. We can only wish old Cal Beta another 100 years on the Berkeley Campus. Future generations of SAE’s will look at the present day scrapbooks, reading about this centennial celebration and think of us as ancient history.

We each have our own memories of our own eras, of our own short-lived traditions, many of which have gone by the way side. If we had time this evening we could be regaled by Bud Hobbs giving his famous rendition of John 0. Mosely, in somewhat of a trance, describing Noble Leslie DeVotie and the founding of SAE on the banks of the Black Warrior River.

But what remains is the memory of our years at 2722 Bancroft, the friendships and the brotherhood. We have each gone our own ways, but the bonds of SAE have brought us back together tonight to reminisce and enjoy each other’s company once again as friends and brothers, and to form the circle and sing “Friends”. And when we do that, and sing “the chairs are all empty,” I hope we will all recall the brothers that are not with us tonight, for there are some empty chairs.


In saluting each other with Phi Alpha, I should say that Phi Alpha is the enigma of the Greek fraternity and sorority world.

They all ask what is this Phi Alpha that the SAE’s always say to each other? No other fraternity has such a motto, and especially one with such wide-spread usage. Little do they know that few of the brothers recall the definition of Phi Alpha, which was given to them at initiation and is our strictly unwritten motto. I hope that you new brothers who were initiated today, will remember better than the older brothers in your midst tonight.  But more important than remembering what Phi Alpha literally means in Greek, is to recall what it stands for.