The party's over for fraternity house TEP mansion goes on block today

October 29, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

FOR SALE: Three-story brick mansion. Handyman's dream. In affluent section of North Baltimore. Celebrity neighbors. Sleeps 10-30, depending on the number of post-party guests.

It can be yours today, when the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity house at Johns Hopkins University is auctioned at a foreclosure sale.

The fraternity is the second in two years to lose a large house in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood, leaving one in the area.

While the neighborhood will be happy to be rid of an institution that once held gigantic alcohol-fueled parties, alumni and current members are mourning the loss of the once-beautiful house that was home to TEP for nearly 30 years.

"After 25 years of keeping watch over it, I hate to see it go to rack and ruin," said Edward Raskin, a Baltimore accountant.

A TEP member from another university, Mr. Raskin helped the fraternity buy the house in 1965 but has had no connection for several years.

The current fraternity brothers cannot meet the monthly payments on two large mortgages taken out four years ago to finance repairs to the house, and a local bank has put the property up for sale.

The house, in the first block of West Highfield Road just north of the Hopkins campus, overlooks a beautiful wooded stream bed and was named "Little Wilding" by a previous owner.

The local TEP chapter bought the house in 1965 and over the years it was the scene of legendary parties, some of which attracted 800 people paying $3 each for all the beer they could drink.

A quarter-century of that life put hard mileage on the interior of the house.

In 1989, a handful of fraternity alumni, concerned about the house's deteriorating condition, arranged for the fraternity to borrow $300,000 to make repairs.

The loans were made at a 15 percent interest rate, and the huge debt load forced the fraternity to raise rents to its members. That pushed many into other off-campus housing.

"We could only scrape together 15 guys to live in the house," said Mark Moss, a Hopkins senior. "That wasn't going to cover the mortgage without charging an exorbitant rent."

In 1991, with foreclosure near, the local chapter reluctantly transferred the house, and its debts, to the national office of TEP.

The local chapter still had to pay rent to the national and it wasn't enough.

Finally, this year, the national TEP office pulled the plug and stopped paying on the mortgage.

Now everybody -- current fraternity members, the national office and alumni -- blames someone else for the loss of the house.

Some TEP alumni even asked the Baltimore state's attorney's office to investigate whether all the mortgage money was used for repairs. A prosecutor reviewed the loans last year and decided that no action was warranted.

The national fraternity now owes Regal Savings Bank of Owings Mills more than $361,000, according to court documents. The property has an assessed value of just under $250,000.

Except for the late-night parties, the fraternity was usually an unobtrusive neighbor, said John A. Robinson, who has lived next door for 15 years.

But, he added, having the house empty the last several weeks has been "very pleasant -- very calm and quiet."

Meanwhile, the neighbors, who include filmmaker John Waters and Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, are wondering what will happen.

"We're nervous. If another fraternity buys it, we'll be very unhappy," Mr. Robinson said. "If a single family buys it, we'll be very pleased."

The auction is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the house.

Neither Hopkins nor Loyola College, which is just to the north on Charles Street, is interested in the house, according to spokesmen at the colleges.

There are about a dozen bedrooms in the 4,500-square foot house, but many are little more than big closets. The kitchen, which is in the basement, is in bad shape. There's a lovely curving staircase, but the banister has been ripped apart.

Neighbors and fraternity alumni say the house would need repairs costing at least $100,000 to make it comfortable for a family.

"It was the best fraternity house on campus," said David Haselwood, a sophomore who was the last member to live there this summer. "Now, it's absolutely disgusting."

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