The Historic Alpha House

The Historic Alpha House-home of the Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated–was built around 1912 in the Brush Park neighborhood of Detroit. The twenty-six hundred square-foot, two-story neoclassical style structure has served as home to the Gamma Lambda Chapter since its purchase on May 15, 1939. The interior and exterior of the building have been carefully maintained to retain the architecture and features of the original structure.

The Alpha House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 26, 2021 for its historical significance and role in the cultural and social life of the Detroit Community. The Alpha House had been previously listed as a Michigan Historic Site in 1977. The Alpha House is the oldest occupied Alpha House, and the longest continually owned fraternity house by any of the almost eight hundred chapters in Alpha.

The House of Alpha

GOODWILL is the monarch of this house.
Men, unacquainted, enter, shake hands,
exchange greetings, and depart friends.
Cordiality exists among all who abide within.
Excerpt from The House of Alpha by Sidney P. Brown

These words were penned in 1923 long before the Detroit Alpha House was acquired. But one would think Brother Brown had 293 Eliot in mind when he wrote the iconic poem. 293 Eliot embodies the spirit of history, brotherhood and purpose that is shared by all Alpha men. When guests step into the Alpha House for the first time, they are bowled over by the sense of tradition, history and social significance.

Throughout the years, accounts of social events and receptions were documented in local and national publications. In 1940, the chapter hosted their first “Twilight Hour” at the Alpha House in honor of Brother Belford V. Lawson, who had been appointed General Counsel of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Support of the Community

Through the A Voteless People is a Hopeless People program the fraternity addressed voting rights and through the Go-To-High-School, Go-To-College program they addressed educational access and disparities. Beginning with the first scholarship awarded in 1949, the Gamma Lambda Chapter has since awarded over 480 scholarships totaling almost $500,000 through the Gamma Lambda Education Foundation.

Like all chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha, Gamma Lambda, through both national and local programs, has played a significant role in the twentieth century Civil Rights Movement. The accomplishments of Gamma Lambda, and the work taking place at 293 Eliot Street drew attention from outside Detroit. Internationally known Alpha men, such as Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall came to the Alpha House to lend their support and assistance.

The Legacy of Mrs. Anna Gross

At one time there were one or more caretakers who lived in the Alpha House. Mrs. Anna Gross was the first–a combination of caretaker and “House Mother.” Brother Hamilton Junior took over for Mother Gross in 1940 until the fall of 1943. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Williams took over from 1943 until 1945. Mother Gross returned and remained until her retirement in 1976.

Mrs. Gross was recognized at the 1968 General Convention, held in Detroit, with a citation for serving the Brothers of the Gamma Lambda Chapter as House Mother for more than thirty years. After the tenure of Mother Gross, a job posting from 1985 shows that the position of Alpha House Keeper was a full-time residential position that paid one hundred fifty dollars per month with the primary duties to reside at, maintain and protect the property of the chapter.

Alpha Phi Alpha General Conventions

The Gamma Lambda Chapter has served as host to four Alpha Phi Alpha General Conventions-1925, 1953, 1968 and 2003. During the Forty-Seventh Anniversary General Convention in 1953, Brother Thurgood Marshall delivered the keynote address. As described in Winter 1953 Sphinx magazine, the Alpha House offered to its guests “facilities for complete relaxation and enjoyment. The bar at all times is well stocked with a beverage of your choice. Visiting brothers will have no need to spend any time between convention programs unpleasantly.”

In 1968, the Gamma Lambda Chapter hosted the Sixty-Second Anniversary General Convention. There were one thousand four hundred fifty registered attendees. The keynote address was delivered by Brother Ramon Scruggs, who eloquently stated  “Now, what is Alpha Phi Alpha’s role and responsibility? Simply stated, it is this. To make certain that there are no Black spectators in this struggle to make Black Americans free.”

Major Renovations Before the 2003 General Convention

Prior to the 2003 Alpha Phi Alpha General Convention, more than two hundred thousand dollars was spent renovating the house using funds from federal grants and donations. Building systems were modernized, including new plumbing, heating, electric and the addition of air conditioning. All this work was done in coordination with the City of Detroit Historic District Commission, taking care to maintain and preserve historic features of the house using similar materials and workmanship when possible.

The front porch area was rebuilt, including replacing columns that were showing rot. The old porch was pulling down the front of the house and needed to be stabilized. The first-floor windows were replaced with new windows that matched the style of the originals. The second-floor front office windows and all third-floor windows are the original windows.

Video courtesy of Local 4 News Detroit, February 19, 2020

A Century of Service: Gamma Lambda Chapter Centennial

The year 2019 marked an important milestone for the Gamma Lambda Chapter. The chapter celebrated one hundred years of service and advocacy to the Detroit Community. The Centennial Celebration Gala was held on October 19, 2019 at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center. More than eight hundred brothers and guests were in attendance. The formal conversion of the Alpha House attic into the Gamma Lambda Chapter Museum was unveiled during the centennial weekend. The attic was repainted, and display cases were added to showcase awards, artifacts, documents, photos, and memorabilia acquired over the first one hundred years of the chapter.

The Alpha House Today

The unveiling of the new historical marker at the Alpha House was the kickoff event to mark the centennial celebration of the oldest fraternity house within Alpha. The Gamma Lambda Chapter received recognition from Brenda Jones, President of the Detroit City Council and from the Michigan Historical Commission.

To this day, the Gamma Lambda Chapter continues to have a strong social mission, and the Alpha House is central to supporting that mission. For almost three decades the Alpha House has been one of the distribution centers for Detroit-area Meals on Wheels. Hundreds of meals are delivered each Easter, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day to the local community. The Gamma Lambda Chapter has been one of the top fundraisers for March of Dimes, raising more than ten thousand dollars each year. We also host an annual day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day each year, where brothers and friends of the chapter complete a local service project and hold a public program to honor Brother King and his legacy.

The Alpha House was placed on the National Register of Historic Place on August 26, 2021 for its historical significance and role in the cultural and social life of the Detroit Community. On May 5, 2022, the Alpha House was one of seven Michigan preservation projects awarded Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation at a ceremony at the Michigan State Capitol hosted by the State Historic Preservation Office.

If you would like to schedule a visit to the Alpha House or rent the facility for a private function, please contact the chapter.