If you're as old as I am - and we will not go into detail there - then you knew Union Street in New Brunswick as "Fraternity Row". There were a few houses off Union; Theta Chi on Mine Street, Chi Phi and Deke on College Ave, and Fiji on Easton Ave. But Union Street was the heart of the Greek world. The thing was, through the 60's and 70's, Greek life was declining at Rutgers. And the frat houses, with fewer members, became expensive to keep up. And it showed.
More recently, despite a significant rise in fraternity and sorority membership at Rutgers, the number of actual residences for the Greek organizations has declined just as precipitously as the rise in members.
From Union St looking back at new construction on College Ave and Hamilton St
Part of the housing decline for frats or sororities might be tied to the overall redevelopment of New Brunswick. If you haven't been back to campus and the city in the last 20 years, you would be shocked by the changes. And there are those who have looked at the opportunity to develop - and profit from - properties around the College Avenue Campus (CAC).
Union Street near Mine St
In doing so, though, a lot of the character and history of the area are being lost. But not without a fight.
The residents of Mine Street, for example, have been trying to stop what they see as over development and a dramatic changing of the nature of the area. Douglass alum Jennifer O'Neill, a resident of the street, is behind a grass roots effort to stop the construction of a four-story, 52 unit apartment in the predominantly single family neighborhood. O'Neill and fellow objectors hired attorney Peter V. McArthur of Azrak & Associoates to represent them. And last Tuesday, they got a major victory in their fight.
BREAKING NEWS: Two hours ago, the New Brunswick planning board denied the application for a f... http://t.co/6avRZaWKYi— Jennifer O'Neill (@connectorjen) March 11, 2015
The four-story apartment would go in the open area, behind the fencing
The New Brunswick Planning Board did not approve the apartments. Now, I don't live there, but I'm on campus enough to know that that development is not what that area needs. I thought so a few months back when I donated money to that grass roots operation. Interestingly, the property is owned by Devco, the public-private partnership that has been involved with so much of the new development in New Brunswick, including the Honors College being built on CAC. And the people who likely would be behind any arena construction....but let's not digress.
Former home of the grease trucks, looking up College Ave from Old Queens
If you walk down Union Street, it isn't the same place it was when I was on campus. It isn't the same place it was 20 years ago....or even five. The character and, yes, the not-quite-up-to-date (or code?) fraternity buildings are disappearing, being replaced by private entities with modern, yet lacking character, apartments.
It is part of the overall redevelopment of the area, and it includes the area once home to the "Grease Trucks", the area that will be the site for new Rutgers housing, another Devco project. That housing will be new, up-to-date, and provide a lot of great features. But the grease trucks are scattered now, and in a few years, students walking the campus and living in those apartments won't even know what the trucks were. Or their significance.
I want progress. Rutgers and New Brunswick need progress. And Devco has been a fantastic steward of the growth and redevelopment in New Brunswick. Devco is looking to make the city into a great Big Ten home town. But there needs to be a sense of history, too. There needs to be some character and charm and history left behind once the bulldozers and cranes are gone.