News Tidbits 6/16:A Preservationist’s Trick

16 06 2009

I’m so glad she’s not running for re-election.


Some Collegetown property owners are calling the potential historic designations of their buildings unsafe, unfair and an attempt to stop development.

The city officials behind the list of historic resources in Collegetown say they’re trying to protect a legacy of beauty that will ultimately strengthen the city’s culture, economy and desirability as a tourist destination.

Planning Board Chairman John Schroeder and Common Council Alderwoman Mary Tomlan, D-3rd, have compiled a list of 31 “Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy of Detailed Research.” Both the 2007 Collegetown vision statement and the proposed Collegetown Urban Plan call for identifying historic resources in Collegetown.

The 31 resources, primarily buildings, are being studied this summer for a variety of historic recognitions, including potentially formal historic designation, which would prevent a property owner from tearing a building down and redeveloping it. Both the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and Common Council have to approve new historic designations.

Joe Leonardo, owner of the Royal Palm Tavern, said some of the identified properties could be worthy of historic designation, but the Royal Palm is not one of them.

Tomlan said the Royal Palm is historic in part because “it’s not like any other bar in Collegetown.”

“It’s a very distinctive facade with its round windows and with its distinctive entranceway,” Tomlan said. “And it has been so well kept up; I mean, they do such a good job of keeping it painted. It’s been an image on the Collegetown streetscape for many decades.”

Leonardo said he paints the facade so often because “every year the front of it falls off.”

“Why didn’t she (Tomlan) come to me and ask me what I thought? It’s going to decrease the value of my property because no one can develop on it if it becomes a historic landmark,” Leonardo said. “Is that my reward for keeping this business in the family for the past 70 years? They’re just anti-development, and it’s pretty transparent what they’re trying to do.

Historic recognition is a part of good planning, tourism and economic development, Schroeder argued.

“I’ve said throughout this that I strongly want and desire redevelopment of certain areas of Collegetown to happen,” he said, citing the 300 block of College Avenue as one he’d love to see redeveloped, and the east side of the 400 block as one that should be preserved.

“Appreciating historic resources is part of what makes a community a community,” Schroeder said. “It helps us understand our links to past generations, what they bequeathed to us. It helps link, especially in a college town, past generations of Cornellians, perhaps the parents of current students, to current generations and future generations of Cornellians and Ithacans. It’s part of what attracts tourists to a community. It’s part of what gives a unique sense of place, a special sense of character.”

Historic preservation is important, but so is providing an adequate supply of safe housing close to campus, argued property owner George Avramis. His building at 403 College Ave. is on the list of historic resources.

“(Having) older wood-frame buildings in that kind of densely populated area is, I think, a very dangerous approach to take,” he said.

The building next door, 407 College Ave., burned to the ground in 1998 when a fire that started in a first-floor restaurant spread quickly through the building, he said.

“Someday I would like to tear it (403 College Ave.) down and put up a nice, new, triple-A-fire-rated building, fully ADA handicap accessible, like 400 College Ave., the Starbucks building,” Avramis said.

Sarah Iams lives at 116 Oak Ave., which is cooperatively owned by the Gamma Alpha Graduate Scientific Association. Iams said her biggest concern with the possibility of a historic designation is the extra time and effort involved in getting city approval for maintenance issues.

Once a building is designated historic, any exterior maintenance or lot changes have to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. Interior maintenance does not require approval.

“As a graduate student co- operative that maintains the property ourselves, processes that might seem like small administrative hassles for a typical landlord or homeowner are a strong barrier to our successful operation,” Iams said by e-mail.

Tomlan said she’s talking with city staff about setting up a public meeting in Collegetown sometime this summer for property owners and others to come learn about and provide input on the historic resources proposal.

Alderman Svante Myrick, D-4th, is the only student on Ithaca’s 10-member Common Council, and he’s been the most vocal proponent for redevelopment in Collegetown.

“I think some of the sites are absolutely worth historic preservation, mainly Cascadilla (Hall) and the (College Avenue) bridge,” Myrick said. “But I’m glad they’re doing more research on this because I’m not convinced that this is not a thinly veiled effort to stop development in the areas where the zoning’s going to change.”

Tomlan, an architectural historian, said she views the historic resources list “as a positive thing, not an obstructionist thing.”

“I would not want to see it as stopping development,” Tomlan said. “It is a recognition that our community is layered by its history and that our lives can be enriched by knowing and seeing pieces of that history. There’s nothing thinly veiled about it. It is a positive statement about the value of our aesthetic and cultural past.”

At 7 p.m. this Wednesday, Common Council’s Planning Committee will hear a report on the Collegetown Historic Resources list. They’re also scheduled for a public hearing and a vote on the Collegetown Urban Plan. The meeting is at City Hall, 108 E. Green St.

The most recent version of the Collegetown plan is at www.


For the record, I want to say that I am not anti-preservation. I wholly agree with preserving Cascadilla Hall and the College Avenue Bridge, because of the historic and aesthetic qualities that they bring to the Collegetown area. That being said, the Palms is historic in the same way that a Ford Pinto is a classic car.

A beauty it ain’t.

So, I decided to have some fun and look to see which designations I agreed with on the historic recommendation PDF. As much as I dislike Tomlan’s views, I give her a lot of credit to her and John Schroeder (who works for the Sun?) for digging up the history behind the structures she recommended for preservation.

If I didn’t write anything, it means I wholly agree with historic landmark status.
1. College Avenue Bridge
2. Grandview House (209 College Avenue)
3. Cosmopolitan Club (301 Bryant Avenue) –  This apartment house was the clubhouse for international students in the early years of Cornell, I wholly agree on its preservation, but maybe not on full designation, since that tends to make renovation difficult, and this building is severely worn down and could really use some work.
4. Royal Palms – Little historic value, apart from taking up a space. Extremely run down, possibly unsafe since it’s an old, large wooden structure, and a fire could be disastrous. Not only does it not deserve preservation, it deserves to be torn down.
5. A.D.White’s Eddy Gate – Derided in its own time for being an obstruction and for being ugly (see Bishop’s History of Cornell), this is already designated.
6. The Johnny’s Big Red Grill Sign – Already gone.
7. Cascadilla Hall
8. Sheldon Court
9. The Nines – What used to be the Collegetown fire station.
10. Snaith House (140 College)
11. Flagg House (210 Mitchell)
12. Cascadilla Prep (Wait Hall)
13, 14 ,15. 113, 116, 120 Oak Avenue. 113 is one of the few actual fraternity houses that existed in Collegetown (Alpha Chi Sigma, from 1920-1955, when they moved to north campus). Today, the house is rented mostly by members of one of the honors fraternities. 116 and 120 face the gorge, and 116 is home to the biology grad student honors co-op Gamma Alpha. However, I have to disagree with historic designation. The two houses next to gorge would be extremely difficult to redevelop, and designation would make renovation difficult.  As for 113, I would think it a shame to be torn down, but I wouldn’t argue against it.

16. The Larkin Building (403 College). Personally, I always considered this one part of the Ciaschi Block. Although Mr. Avramis argues that he wants to build a new building on the site, the current one fits in so well that he would have to go through raging hellfire to try and tear it down. My personal hope would be that he tear down the two-story brick s–tbox across the street where his offices are located.

17. Chacona Block (411-415 College Avenue) . Same case as above. I can imagine the preservationists would come out in droves if they tried to take this one down.

18-23. 103, 119, 121, 125, 127, 129 College Avenue. I can understand the historic value, but I fear that designation would harm the ability to renovate these structures. I would rather seen this handled such that if someone proposed something, that all due discretion is exercised.

24-27. 117, 119, 121, 123 Linden Avenue. Wholly against. My hometown, which built out in the 1920s and 1930s, is filled with these types of homes. They are of little historic value, and certainly not a “historic resource”. My inclination is to believe they selected these houses because there was recently a large property transaction in this area, so they’re trying to stop development here before it’s even proposed.

28. 120 Linden Avenue. At 140 years old, this may be the only house they have designated on this street that is worth giving landmark status.

29-32. They didn’t count the Big Red Grill Sign in the final total, so there were actually 32 desired landmark designations. The last four are trails and ruins, of little overall merit but of considerable aesthetic value.

So, I completely disagree with five designations. I feel that many of the buildings have historic merit, but that historic landmark status might be going too far. However, this is why we have planning boards, so that people can vote down projects is they stand to be detrimental to the neighborhood.



5 responses

13 05 2010
Bill Stewart Engr`78

I guess the Palms counts as historic for my generation of Cornellies, because in the mid-70s you could hang out drinking 25-cent beers, and it was the closest Collegetown had to a quiet dive bar. But the way to preserve and respect that isn’t to slap a preservation order on the building, it’s to put the drinking age back to 18 so students can drink socially and semi-responsibly, and get any binge-drinking tendencies over with in a safe environment where they can walk back to the dorms instead of driving.

26 06 2016
News tidbits 6/26/16: The Odd Time Out | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] 119-125 College Avenue – three houses (there is no 123) owned by an Endicott-based landlord. I had to put out some inquiries on these houses, and there may be a sale in the works, although nothing’s on file with the county yet. These are CR-4, allowing 4 floors, but they could be tough to redevelop because these houses are seen as potentially historic resources. […]

24 09 2016
News Tidbits 9/24/16: The Implicit and the Explicit | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] and the Planning Board’s John Schroeder recommended for consideration in 2009 (only 15 of the 31 suggestions were considered, and only 2 received historic designation, Snaith House and Grandview House). […]

10 12 2016
News Tidbits 12/10/16: Missing Out On the Fun | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] other properties – some of the historic structures on the 400 Block of College Avenue, and the 100 blocks of Oak Avenue, College Avenue and Linden Avenue are possibilities. Novarr has another project rumored for 215 College Avenue, but that building, dating from the […]

7 10 2017
News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the […]

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