Written by Leanna Barcelona
Here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we have the number one graduate program in Library and Information Science. Many people are aware of this, but not as many know that the number one iSchool is housed in a former fraternity house.
Prior to the 1990s, 501 East Daniel Street belonged to the Heth chapter of Acacia, a historically masonic fraternity on campus. They acquired the property in 1914 and built an Old English country house with gables and a high-pitched roof. A little over thirty years later, they purchased a neighboring property as an annex, which later was combined with the original building for a larger structure in the 1970s. Rumor has it that the fraternity ran into some trouble and that is how the university acquired their house, but another tune claims there was a fire that damaged the house and the fraternity, unable to cover the entire costs of reconstruction, sold the building to the University. Acacia lived a nomadic life for several years, moving from old house to old house, until they bought the Phi Mu house at 302 East Armory in 2012, where they now reside.
The Graduate School itself dates back to 1893, but was not actually associated with the University of Illinois until 1897. The Library School at the Armour Institute was transferred to Illinois in 1897 and Armour Institute later became Illinois Institute of Technology. Once at Illinois, the graduate school, like Acacia, became nomadic as well. Upon its inauguration to the university, it was located in Altgeld Hall. In 1926, it moved to the Main Library and remained there until its move to David Kinley Hall in 1979. In 1994, the graduate school finally moved to its now familiar location at 501 East Daniel. Its exterior remains true to its original appearance while it belonged to Acacia, but the interior underwent significant remodeling to better suit the needs of the university.
In 1991, the Graduate School for Library & Information Science Association Newsletter went into detail about the plans they had for the building:
As reported in the Fall 1990 Newsletter, the former Acacia fraternity house (corner of Fifth and Daniel, Champaign) is the future home of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The remodeled building will provide 13,000 square feet of usable area, compared to the 7,400 square feet GSLIS currently occupies in David Kinley Hall. A move during fall semester, 1991 is anticipated, although fiscal constraints for the State of Illinois and the University may cause delays in the schedule.
A valuable feature of the new building will be the classroom space. GSLIS has not controlled its own classrooms since it moved from the University Library in 1981. On the ground level, two electronic classrooms will provide an optimal teaching environment for library education. Additional benefits will include adequate office space, work areas for teaching assistants, and the unification of all GSLIS units under one roof.
Among many remodeling decisions, much to the students’ (and faculty’s) dismay, the university chose to remove the hot tub located inside the building as part of the renovation. The entryway to the fraternity, adorned with Acacia symbols, still lives in the entryway to the current building.