Going Downtown

3 09 2008

Information that might be worth knowing about Downtown Ithaca, so you can impress your friends by making it sound like you actually leave Cornell and Collegetown.

Built in 1914, the quirky DeWitt Mall (named for Dewitt Clinton) formerly served as the city’s high school before the new facility on Lake Street was built in 1960-61. Apart from having a bunch or quirky shops and stores, the building’s sub-street storefront is home to Moosewood Restaurant (est. 1973 [1]) of vegetarian dining fame.

Seneca Place on the Commons is one of the largest buildings by gross area in downtown Ithaca. The 121-ft. tall, $32 million building was completed in 2005 by Criminelli Development [1]. It houses 100,000 sq. ft. of offices (Cornell is the primary tenant at about 70,000 sq. ft.) and a 104-room Hilton Garden Inn [2]. Starbucks and Kilpatrick’s faux-Irish pub make up the ground floor retail. The site was previous home to a parking area and two low-rise buildings.

The beige box on the left is the Community Bank Building, which was built about 1981. The previous structure on the site, a four-story YMCA building, burnt down in a reported arson in 1978. The building on the right is the older portion of the Ithaca Town Hall (not that it’s not Ithaca City Hall, which is another building), which dates from 1858[3]. Prior to renovation in 2000, it was the (vastly underused) main Post Office in Ithaca.

The M&T Bank Building, formally known as Tioga Place, was originally built in 1924 [4]. The awkward addition, like a piece of food stuck between someone’s two front teeth, was built on a half century later.

Center Ithaca, on the Commons. The building was built in 1981. It was an early attempt at a mixed-use structure designed to take advantage of the Commons and to make the area more lively. Well, didn’t really work out as planned. Rothschild’s, a department store that was the ground-floor anchor, closed early on. The 62 apartments were difficult to rent out at a time when downtowns were still considered dangerous places to be. And it ran over-budget, pushing its developer and the cash-strapped city into financial hell. Today, the building has worked out most of its kinks, but it didn’t fulfill its original goal, so it worked with mixed results.

Token Commons shot. Completed in 1974 on what was a part of State Street, the Commons was the brainchild on Thys Van Cort, the recently-selected city planner. Pedestrian malls were all the rage in the 1970s; most closed down within a few years. Ithaca’s has persisted, much to the delight (or loathing) of locals. Talk around, and you’ll find some adore the Commons, and some want it turned into a street with parking on the sides. Whichever you prefer, it’s there for the time being. The tracks in the foreground mark where the streetcars used to turn in the downtown area before they closed in 1935/36.

The foreground building that houses Viva Taqueria is the Wanzer Block, which dates from 1905. The building that hugs it in an L-shape is the Roy H. Park building, which was built in the 1990s. Roy H. Park was an Ithaca-residing executive for Proctor & Gamble who was also a substantial donor and investor in Ithaca College and  the surrounding area.

For now, it’s a parking lot. By 2010, as long as things stay on schedule, this will be the site of a 9-story, $17 million,  102-room Radisson hotel by Rimland Associates (rumors have it to be a Radisson, but it will be a recognized chain that occupies the new building) [6].

The center building is the Tompkins County Health Services Building, constructed in 1990 [7]. On the right is the nearly-finished Cayuga Green Apartments, a 59-unit building that will house Cinemapolis on the streetfront. The Parking garage on the left (built in 2005), will see the addition of a seven-story, 30-unit condo tower (Cayuga Green Condos) on the backside (the side facing this photo).

I know, bad photo, but it’s visible most everywhere else in Ithaca City. Limestone Tower, built in 1932, is slated for an apartment conversion and renovation by the Ithaca Rental Company and its head, Jason Fane. The building  was originally built for the G.L.F. Exchange Farmers’ Association.

Just outside of downtown is the William Henry Miller Inn. William Henry Miller, of course, was one of the first Cornell architect graduates, and also designed Uris Libe and Boardman Hall. He designed this house and its carriage house, which were built in 1880 and 1892 respectively [8].












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