The move of the headquarters of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation's oldest and largest black Greek letter organization, from Chicago to Baltimore almost did not happen.
When the group's national search team came to Baltimore last year, the building it eventually decided to buy, the Goucher Mansion, was not for sale, said Wilbert L. Walker, a member of Baltimore's Delta Lambda chapter of the fraternity who worked with the search committee.
Soon after the committee left Baltimore, the Goucher Mansion, a state historical landmark, became available. "We heartily implored them to make a return visit," Walker said.
The return visit ended Alpha Phi Alpha Inc.'s year-long search for a new location.
The 100,000-member organization highlighted its 85th anniversary convention, which runs through Wednesday, by officially taking over the mansion on St. Paul Street Friday. About 2,000 members are in town for the convention.
According to Roland G. Fletcher, president of Delta Lambda, Baltimore offered what the fraternity's former home could not. "The facility we were leasing in Chicago was in a bad condition, so our original goal was to rebuild," Fletcher said. "But the rapidly increasing construction costs in the Chicago area deterred us. We decided to stop limiting ourself and to pursue established properties elsewhere in the country."
The search committee considered 15 locations, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Indianapolis. Winston-Salem, N.C., was the other top contender along with Baltimore.
Fletcher credited the Baltimore Economic Development Committee and the mayor's office with playing important roles in the move.
The fraternity purchased the Goucher Mansion for less than $1 million, it said.
Samuel F. Yette, an author and a professor at Howard University who joined Alpha Phi Alpha at Tennessee State University in 1949, said the move to Baltimore follows a trend. "It indicates that businesses and organizations are focusing on the East Coast corridor as an area of political and economic influence," he said.