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The Early Years

On April 30, 1951 initiations took place for the thirty-nine charter members of the Zeta Beta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. The Initiating Teams consisted of members of the University of California at Los Angeles - Delta Chi Chapter and the Los Angeles Alumni Team from Occidental College - Delta Phi Chapter.

On May 1, 1951 the Installation of the Chapter took place at Town and Gown on the USC campus. National officers in attendance included John W. Vann (Emory), Worthy Grand Chief and Stewart D. Daniels (Illinois) Executive Secretary. The Installing Officers were Warren L. Danford (California ‘37), Chief of Province XII, and Thomas H. Hazzard (Oregon ‘42), Chief of Province XXI.

After the installation a reception was held at the Chapter house, which was then located at 2831 Ellendale Place. It was followed by an Installation Banquet at the Elks Club. The toastmaster for the event was Dr. Carl Q. Christol (South Dakota ‘31). Dr. Christol, a Professor of Law at the University, was the chapter’s first faculty advisor. The president of the Charter Class was Norm VanderHyde.

It should be duly noted that Marv Lester’s simple wish to form an ATO chapter at USC back in 1947 had become a monumental struggle with many twists and turns along the way. Marv recalls his mixed emotions on Installation Day. Immediately after the formal proceedings at the chapter house he headed upstairs to be alone for a bit. While there he suddenly burst into tears. The reason was obvious. While it should have been a day of great rejoicing  (and it was), the tears were for Bob Kennedy and George Burke, who were not invited. Naturally, Marv was also a bit depressed that none of the other Phoenix Club guys were there that day either. 

In the fall of 1951 the Alpha Tau Club moved from the rented residence on Ellendale Place to a house at 2715 Severance Street.

The young men involved in the very early years of the Zeta Beta chapter set a very high standard as far as their USC campus leadership was involved. Several were members Tau Nu Epsilon (“TNE”), the secret political fraternity founded by, among others, Pat Hillings, a Phoenix Club member and future United States Congressman. Having ATO’s in TNE was very beneficial to the young fraternity.  The ATO’s were among the leaders in student politics, athletics, and most organizations on campus. The chapter was immediately placed among the top houses in terms of scholastic achievement, and they set their mark in other areas as well.

One of these areas was in their well-known singing ability. In 1952 ATO won Men’s Division at Spring Sing, an event that would become known as Songfest. The Trojan Taus sang their way to four trophies during the event at the Greek Theater in May 1954. George Rodda (‘52) directed the 1954 performances, and the men of ATO took first place in the men’s division for their stirring version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dressed in Civil War Army uniforms, the song and its presentation were acclaimed by both the audience and judges. The Taus went on to win second place in the mixed division with their version of “Dream” and “Lullaby,” which they performed with the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. In 1955 ATO combined voices with the Tri-Delt sorority to win top honors in the novelty division.  The Tau’s went on to continue their strong showing at the annual Spring event throughout the coming years. The skilled singers were also known for serenading the sororities after Monday night dinners.

By 1953, the Zeta Beta Chapter was able to move onto the Row when they were able to rent the former Delta Zeta sorority house located at 725 West. 28th Street.  Four years later in 1957, they were able to purchase the house with the help of the parents, Dr. von KleinSmid and the ATO National Fraternity.

Alpha Tau Omega at USC