A Brief Introduction

14 06 2013

4-8-2013 263

I figured that I would do two posts in the upcoming several days – one would be for the fifth anniversary of this blog, on the 18th.

The other, well…I decided that I might as well introduce myself. I’ve tried to write the history articles with an impartial view, because I always wanted the focus to be on the events themselves rather than the person writing them.  The Ithaca developments articles, I have my opinions as much as anyone, and I don’t shy away from expressing them, because whereas historical facts can be skewed and misinterpreted, the beauty of a built structure lies with the preferences of the viewer.

Earlier on, when I was a Cornell student, I had reasons to keep a low profile. I didn’t want my college, my major, or my affiliations to be things that people used to look for perceived bias when I wrote an entry. More importantly, a couple articles make references to my work at the Cornell Store and some of its procedures (ex. how it ran the daily gift card giveaway), which could have put my job at risk. I don’t know if any of my superiors ever came across this blog, though I assume they didn’t. However, the Quill and Dagger folks got up in arms about it, as did my editor at the Sun (this blog was hardly related to anything I wrote – I did the weather column for two years, before they ditched it the year after I graduated). If people had issues with things I did/wrote, it didn’t take long for them to find me. So the anonymity was always more of an image portrayed, rather than anything real. With that realization, my sentiments have been to acknowledge the blog if approached about it in email or in person, but most of my friends have no idea, a few even know of this blog but think the writer is someone else. Ithacating in Cornell Heights has never been something I’ve gone out of my way to promote.

On that note, that has always bothered me. I remember being at an alumni event about two years ago, where two other young alumni talked about how they started blogs, with the primary purpose being just to get their names out there, to yell just a little louder into the raucous crowd of the internet, as if that was something to put on a resume. “I am important, look at the important things I say”! That has never appealed to me. I’m not an attention seeker (which isn’t to say I don’t like receiving credit when credit is due), but I enjoy sharing Cornelliana and Ithacana on this blog, as a labor of love and devotion rather than self-promotion.

So it’s been almost 5 years. Might as well shake things up a bit.

Hi. My name is Brian Crandall. Thank you for dropping by this blog.

The Keyword Bar XVIII

22 12 2012

11-24-2012 141

So, I wish I had had more time to put some thought into an entry. But an unusual event took place in the past few weeks.

After a series of phone interviews, I was flown out to California for a meet-and-greet/any final interview details for the research lab of a defense contractor. And up to my arrival, I was 99% sure I was going to accept the offer. It was a step up in my field, and the pay was also a nice boost.

Then I got out there, and they showed me the projects I’d be working on. Oddly enough, in all of those phone interviews, so much time had been spent asking me questions and going over my background that we had maybe discussed the projects for a few minutes. As they’re showing me the work, a know settled in my stomach – I’ve done this work before. I only did it before because I had to and it paid my bills. Luckily, and unluckily, I left with a verbal offer, and the paperwork to arrive in my email that Monday.

So on the sleepless flights back to NY, which thanks to a mechanical failure took 27 hours, I went through a career crisis. I could continue at my current work, which had some rewards but wasn’t doing any big favors for my career or pocketbook; or I could accept the lucrative job out west, which strayed even further from my interests.

In the end, I decided to stay. I’m optimistic other opportunities will come up if I keep searching.  And hopefully, one of those will elicit a feeling of excitement when I see the work involvement, rather than a feeling of dread. I managed to step out of the situation with enough grace that I was able to set up a colleague with an interview for the position I passed up, so hopefully there’s some good karma in that.

Anyway, since my time has been tight, the tried-and-true keyword bar entries come in handy, where I look at the search bar to see if there anything worth a little more discussion.

1. “are co-ops like fraternities” 12-20-2012

From my recollection as a recent alum, the answer is generally no, but some a bit more fraternal than others. Some had a personality that was more similar to a small dorm, where members only moved in because it was cheaper or they were going abroad for a semester, and there was little in the way of camraderie; others did parties and tended to keep members over multiple years (thinking of one instance of a costume party at Von Cramm where the only thing one girl was wearing was paint). I remember that Whitby, Von Cramm and Watermargin tended to be a bit close-knit when I was a student, but I think two years is enough to make my conceptions fairly outdated.

2. “gamma alpha cornell” 12-20-2012

Gamma Alpha is a professional society for graduate students pursuing scientific disciplines. It’s not officially recognized by the university, but they continue to maintain a presence on the edge of the gorge at 116 Oak Avenue. According to a 1965 Sun article, their initiation is “something like 2 minutes“, and they have few fraternal activities. So it’s one of those unusual organizations that straddles the functions of a fraternity and a co-op.

3. “the sphinx head tomb cornell” 12-18-2012

The original Sphinx Head tomb, at 900 Stewart Avenue, served as their windowless meeting chamber from 1926 to about 1969, when it was sold to a professor who owned the adjacent property. The next buyer built a house on the property in the style of the tomb, and from here, Carl Sagan purchased the house. So Carl Sagan lives on the site of the tomb, but he did not live in the tomb. It has been rumored that contemporary Sphinx Head constituents meet in a room within Sage Hall.

4. “argos inn ithaca” 12-16-2012

The Argos Inn is a small boutique hotel that recently opened on the east end of downtown. The building it inhabits (known as the Cowdry House) has a long and storied history – built in the 1780s, and used as a home of Ithaca’s political elite, the building was home to the world headquarters of Duncan Hines in the 1950s, and the Unity House nonprofit prior to its conversion to a small hotel. I hear it has a nice bar.

5. “what is more difficult to get in engineering or cals at cornell” 12-14-2012

In almost every circumstance I can imagine, the answer would be engineering. The gap widens if you’re an in-state resident, thanks to the ag school’s contract college status, versus the engineering school’s endowed status. But the two are different enough that they compete for different students usually. Some programs, like Biological/Environmental Engineering, may start off with students in CALS that transition into the engineering school. Others, like Atmospheric Science, allow majors from both schools, and have some general coursework in the engineering school. But otherwise, the interests of a CALS candidate and an Engineering candidate differ widely.

6. “heigth of tallest builiding at ithaca college” 12-07-2012

Officially, the  Events Center is the tallest at the school and in the county, at 174 feet.

11-24-2012 189

The Keyword Bar XVII

26 07 2012

…because the planning board discussed projects I’ve covered ad nauseum and Cornell hasn’t caught my attention in the past week.

1. “how many students from cornell have jump to there deaths” (7-25-2012)

Death of grammar aside, this would not be an easy number to calculate, since a number of cases over the years have been questionable as to whether the fall was accidental or intentional, and whether an individual would be considered a student (ex. a case of a former student). That being said, it seemed from casual queries back during the 2010 suicides that for CU students who were believed to have committed suicides via gorge jumping, it is likely in the mid double-digits. This number does not reflect the number of suicides in the gorges (which is much higher, as they tend to be a magnet for those who want to go out in dramatic fashion), the number of gorge deaths (including accidental falls, the number is almost certainly in the few hundreds since Cornell opened) nor suicides that occur by other methods. From 2006 to 2010, there were three student gorge deaths by suicide, but a variety of other events (note – the hyperlink has one inaccuracy – William Jacobson was an IC student who drowned in a retention pond).

2. “eastman hall at ithaca named after” (7-25-2012)

Eastman Hall, an IC dorm, was built in 1962-1963. From what I can tell, many of these early buildings, built during IC’s rapid expansion on South Hill from 1959-1968, are named for older administrators or large donors (for instance,  Talcott Hall is likely tied to a student life administrator named “Mrs. Talcott” in news articles from the 1930s). Although there is no concrete evidence, Eastman Hall is likely named for George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak in Rochester, and a well-known philanthropist, especially of music schools. Although he passed away in the 1930s, it’s possible his company, or some foundation attached to his estate, made a donation; or it could be the manifestation of a donation from when Eastman was alive.

3. “chi gamma at cornell university sorority” (7-22-2012)

Their history seems rather unusual. Chi Gamma formed in 1956, after dissociating from its national (Sigma Kappa) because it did not wish to abide by the national’s racist membership policies. They lived at 150 Triphammer, and the sorority was active until at least 1963, when it merged with Chi Omega (both were small houses, so they decided to join forces as an attempt to hold their own in the increasingly meager sorority rushes of the ’60s). The house itself became home to the new and all-female Triphammer Co-op the following year, which became co-ed in the 1990s.

4. what is the address of the llenroc mansion (7-22-2012)

100 Cornell Avenue, Ithaca NY. There are only two houses on the street, the other I believe is a private residence.

5. ithaca “collegetown” fire 1998 (7-23-2012)

It might seem odd that in a stretch of century-old buildings, 407 College Avenue (the Apollo Chinese Restaurant building) was built in 2000 (as seen on its cornerstone). Well, the simple reason is that the old building, a wood-frame structure built in 1887, burnt down in October 1998, leaving 51 students homeless. The fire was believed to have started in the kitchen of a first-floor restaurant. Emergency housing and aid was provided by the Red Cross and Cornell. Since the site is prime Collegetown real estate, it was redeveloped into a six-story building and opened in August 2000.

Four Years Later

18 06 2012

My oh my. This blog turns four years ago today. I wanted to celebrate this port by comparing this blog to the average age of blogs, or the average number of posts for an active blog. Turns out neither piece of data is readily available. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this blog has reached maturity, though I won’t go as far to say “old age”.  In keeping in tune with three previous three “birthday” updates, here’s some fun facts.

Since launching on the evening of June 18, 2008, this blog has received a grand total of 241,966 hits, as of 2:29 PM today. Breaking down the math, that’s about 166 hits/day. While the previous years averaged 82, 166 and 199 hits/day respectively, I’m happy to say that the blog came a little closer to the saturation point with an average total of just under 216 hits/day in the past year, and yes, I did remember it’s a leap year. Taking a cursory glance at the monthly statistics:

The highest month was once again March, with 8,247 hits, although the peak isn’t as pronounced as it was in previous years. Going year-to-year, the only month that was lower in 2011/12 versus 2010/11 was August, although June and July came fairly close. This is due to the Cornell-centric nature of the blog – once classes are out for the summer break, my hit tally plummets like a stone. Although, that’s been somewhat avoided this year, which I’ll guess is the result of the more Ithaca-area focus taken on in the past year, and is a bit more stable in terms of visitors to this site.

Looking at the past year in review:

~In planning and development,the biggest news is the construction of Collegetown Terrace the massive 1200-bed project south of Collegetown. Approvals were granted and phase one is underway, with an August opening for the first buildings. The Vine Street Cottages also began construction, replacement apartments were planned for 107 Cook, and 309 Eddy marched merrily towards completion, which should be in just a few short months.The Coal Yard apartments phase II was built, and Collegetown Crossing was proposed with the radical premise of no parking for residents, in a move that could make or break Collegetown. in suburbia, everyone got BJ’s in Lansing, and the holiest of holy casual dining restaurants came to big box land, a Chipotle.

Closer downtown, the Seneca Way project was approved and is now in site prep, and the new Fairfield Inn is under construction down in chain store country. The Argos Inn renovation moved towards completion and the Breckinridge Place project began construction, currently in the demo phase of the old Women’s Community building. Several smaller projects also began construction, such as the Iacovelli apartments on West Seneca and the Magnolia House women’s shelter. In the longer-term, the massive Cascadilla Landing project was proposed, and could potentially  redefine the city waterfront, and the new Holiday Inn tower/renovation will add a small conference center to the Gorge City.

Over at the colleges, Ithaca College built a boathouse and started its Circle Apartments expansion. Over on East Hill, Milstein Hall, MVR north, and the Johnson addition were completed, the food science building is well underway, Gates Hall is in foundation work, and the law school just launched their underground addition. The Big Red bandhouse is set to start shortly, and Kappa Delta renovated their home-away-from-home in what was probably the most significant Greek house renovation in more than a decade. Fundraising began for the new token glass box, also known as the Goldwin Smith Hall addition. More importantly, some bridge nets and barriers were approved, and their construction will hopefully bring to an end a dark chapter of Cornell’s history.

In the meanwhile, some projects still have yet to get off the ground. The Hotel Ithaca is still in some financing conundrum, as are the Cayuga Green Condos, which were given an extension on their cost-saving agreement with the city, given the poor lending climate. Ithaca Gun is undergoing yet more land remediation with no construction date in sight (honestly, it seems like the only way the land could have been more contaminated is if someone nuked it).

~Turning an eye towards Cornell matters, the least surprising lawsuit was launched when the mother of George Desdunes filed a wrongful death suit against SAE to the tune of $25 million. The bench trial wrapped up about a month ago, though I’ve yet to hear about a verdict. The number of bars near Cornell continued to shrink, but students can now drown their sorrows in frozen yogurt instead. When the Palms said they were closing up, a couple dozen of my fraternity’s young alumni offered to buy a table of some sentimental value to us if they were willing part with it. They asked for $1500 for a rotting wooden bench table. We laughed (we were thinking $500 max). They said they were serious and it was a starting bid. Needless to say, I have many happy memories of a table that hopefully no longer exists. Rumor has it a new apartment tower will rise where the Palms once drunkified multitudes of Cornellians.

~From a meteorological standpoint, the ITH toyed with 100-degree temps and had a collective anxiety attack about the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene, but was spared the brunt of the destructive tropical cyclone. However, this relief was short lived when the extratropical remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped 8.7″ in 24 hours at Binghamton, and flooded many local towns to the tune of $1 billion in damage, a number not seen since the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. It also resulted in one of the wettest years on record. Ithaca, while soaked and unnerved, was relatively unscathed.

Many things, many topics. In comparison to the past years, I now write this while firmly ensconced in alumnidom, my trips back further and further apart. At this point, I’m finishing grad school, and interviewing for positions in California and Texas. It was not exactly in my wishes to move as far out, as my northeastern blood may not be able to tolerate nice winters. But, that’s where the jobs are in my field at the moment. Ideally, I can make a triumphant return to the northeast someday.

I write not out of obligation, but out of genuine interest, which I think has been one of the attributes that has made this blog a reasonable success. I see the emails of those who follow comments and posts – they include other alumni and current students of course, but also prominent companies in Ithaca and some local government officials. Flattering, if a little disquieting for fear of botching up my facts. More importantly, I think it serves as an indicator of the usefulness of this blog, that people honestly come here searching out information, and many of them leave feeling a bit knowledgeable about Ithaca projects and stories, or Cornell history and construction projects. Or at least, I hope as much. It makes for great motivation in the months and years ahead.

The Keyword Bar XVI

24 05 2012

1. “chi omega” “cornell university” closed -“alpha chi omega” (5-23-2012)

Yes, and no. Chi Omega was active at Cornell from 1917 – 1963, and then again from 1987-2003, when low membership caused it national to shut its doors. The house at 10 Sisson Place is now occupied by Sigma Alpha Mu. In contrast, Alpha Chi Omega, which was established at Cornell in 1984, it still active on campus.

2. “cornell store summer employment” (5-16-2012)

If four years ‘experience is any indicator, they’ve already filled up. A bare-bones student staff of five or six stays on during the summer along with the full time staff, and most of those are current student employees (the year I worked through the summer, we all were). In sum, you can check, but don’t hold your breath.

3. “johnson boatyard ithaca” (5-16-2012)

If this is in any reference to the big mixed-use project underway for the boatyard site, then I have good news – they are making progress and gave an update to the city planning board just last night. As soon as those minutes areuploaded, I hope to include them in my next “news tidbits” entry. These entries will be pulled directly from the minutes,  since the Ithaca Journal, in a responsible but unfortunate move, now charges for article access beyond a nominal number of articles (renewed each month). Also on the docket – a redevelopment project for apartments on Thurston Avenue.

4. “location of former ithaca hotel, hotel leonardo aurora st, ithaca”

Going back in time, the Hotel Leonardo was located at 105 N. Aurora Street – at least, back in 1965. The address today pops up a location in front of Sushi O Sake (which is 107 N. Aurora). A search indicates that section of Aurora was known as the “Casey Block“, which was built around 1904 (the Wanzer (corner) Block was built the following year), but the stretch was renovated and substantially rebuilt in the 1990s. The Casey Block could be the building that Viva Cantina is now in, or it could have been in the 1990s renovation (the architects refer the original building as “burned out“) that now sits at 107 N. Aurora.

5. “vine street cottages ithaca ny how much are townhouses”

I’ll just link to this previous entry, in an effort to limit unnecessary visits to the Ithaca Journal pages.  Mid-200,000s expected. Definitely not a place to buy for your child- student. 10 to choose from, four styles.

6. “new townhome proposal for route 96 ithaca”

That would be the Holochuck Homes project. The plan is for 106 townhomes, one or two-stories, clustered together near the road. Final approvals were granted last month. This is about the only image I could find of them, from a now-inaccessable article in the Elmira Star-Gazette:

7. “new apartments 600 W. Seneca street ithaca” (5-11-2012)

Okay, I maybe dropped the ball on this one. Back in the summer 2010, a 24-unit, 3-story apartment building was proposed for the northwest corner of Seneca and Meadow Streets by Iacovelli Properties. It only recently started construction, and I know there’s a billboard standing on the property, and it shows the design of the new building(s).  I know this because I saw it the last time I was in Ithaca I passed the property, but I was driving and did not have my camera in hand (a blessing to all other drivers on the road), I was unable to get a photo. If someone does gets a photo of the project and wants to email that in, I would be delighted.

The Keyword Bar XV

11 02 2012

The news has been slow lately (I’m not about to devote an entire entry to another new senior housing complex in Ithaca, and Cornell hasn’t done anything lately that I would write about on the blog) and life as a grad student in another city leaves me unprepared to write Cornell history articles. So now comes that special time to cherry pick search queries that brought people to this blog, and write blurbs about those.

“who is responsible for tep frat house maintenance at cornell” (2-11-2012)

If I was being a wiseass I’d say no one, considering its appearance. The house is private-owned, so it’s not the university. Many houses have contracts with local cleaning and maintenance companies; some have their members do minor routine cleaning (usually led by a brother elected or appointed as house manager), and may even have live-in “staff” for managing the more involved maintenance of the facility. However, it varies from chapter to chapter, and something as banal as maintenance usually isn’t publicized, so I don’t think you’ll find your answer online.

“johnson boatyard ithaca, condos” (2-10-2012)

This has actually been a rather hot topic, as I’ve had an abnormally high number of incoming queries regarding this project. The project still calls for 22 townhomes (11 to start construction initally, along with some commercial space), about 130-150 units in 5 5-story buildings to be built later phases, as well as more retail space. The grand total for gross square footage is about 292,000 sq ft. The planning board minutes don’t provide a whole lot more detail; the parking will be facing the road, so effectively it’s road -> parking lot -> buildings -> waterfront. Sidewalks, plazas, waterfront promenades, a proposed roundabout on the end of Pier Road, and a new pier. Definitely a large development as Ithaca projects go.

“cornell widow magazine” (2-10-2012)

The Cornell Widow was a humor magazine published by students at Cornell from October 1894 until 1962, when financial issues forced its shutdown. Apparently, the term widow meant “the girl who bowled over class after class of freshmen without really landing one”, so fairly similar to the “cougar” of today. The magazine routinely made fun of the Sun (The “Cornell Daily Sin“), and although its humor is consider fairly dated and/or offensive, its cover illustrations are highly regarded. The Cornell Lunatic sort-of took over the role of campus humor magazine starting in the late 1970s. An anthology titled “Cornell Widow: Hundredth Anniversary Anthology 1894-1994) was published in 1981.

“cornell campus” construction news nyc

This is a bit of a tough decision for me, but I am making the conscious decision to limit my discussion of the construction new grad campus in NYC. I may mention it in passing, and maybe way, way down the line, there will be an entry about the physical plant. But the focus of this blog has been the physical plant in Ithaca, not New York City, and I plan on keeping it that way for the foreseeable future.

“google i want the ithaca journal and stop been stupid” (2-8-2012)

Am I being trolled?

“cornell balch hall homicide” (2-5-2012)

No homicide has occurred in Balch Hall. You might be looking for lowrise 7’s double murder back in 1983.

“ithaca construction state street quarry” (2-6-2012)

That would be the Collegetown Terrace project.

“cornell plantations welcome center cost” (1-31-2012)

About $5.8 million, for about 18,000 sq ft.

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

10 11 2011

So, this is a question that I often wonder about when I play the role of armchair architecture critic. Cornell has pontificated that “each new building should reflect the spirit of Cornell as a pioneering institution and should represent an awareness of its time and place”. Back in the day, that was symbolized by A. D. White’s passionate desire to develop the campus into a New Yorker’s version of Oxford, hence his well-documented derision of red-brick buildings such as Morse Hall and Lincoln Hall, as these were very un-Oxford-esque. Lincoln Hall was built while White was overseas as the U.S. ambassador to Germany (effectively, they sneaked it in when he wasn’t looking), and it’s been said that White smiled when he first heard Morse Hall was destroyed by fire back in 1916. I’m guessing he never counted his own house, but maybe he considered that to be tucked away from the main campus, which it was back in the early days.

Cornell’s architectural preference has evolved with the times. By the 1920s, the fashion was Collegiate Gothic, as seen in buildings like Willard Straight. By the 1950s and 1960s, function was deemed more important than form, and we eneded up with buildings like Clark Hall, and Hollister et al. on the Engineering Quad. Today’s buzz is about “Starchitects” like Rem Koolhaas (Milstein Hall), Richard Meier (Weill Hall) and Thom Mayne (Gates Hall), who designed ultramodern structures that are meant to represent Cornell’s forward-thinking.

My question lies in what is interpreted as forward-thinking. It seems college campuses these days follow two rather discordant trains of thought – one of the modern or ultramodern designs as we have seen lately at Cornell (I was tempted to call them avant-garde, but I don’t think they’re radical enough to merit the term), and then a second line of thinking that delves into the Neoclassical and Gothic themes that conjure images of the romantic colleges of our grandparents’ youth.

Take for instance Princeton and their new Whitman Residential College, or Notre Dame’s new Eck law school building:

Image Property of Notre Dame University

Granted, comparing the new STEM buildings to Dorms and Social Science buildings is a bit like apples to oranges. But what are the pros and cons for the new Houses on West Campus? Were we better off with new and contemporary, or should we have revived the original 1920s era plan and constructed new Gothics?

The original West Campus Plan. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Any casual reader of this blog probably recognizes that I fall more into the traditionalist point of view. I guess my concern lies with the aesthetically pleasing value of a campus. Cornell has some tremendously wonderful natural spaces both in the confines of the main campus and surrounding it (the many gorges and waterfalls throughout the area assure that much). The built environment can either enhance that or detract from it, and I’d venture at Cornell it’s been hit-or-miss over the years.  I wonder though, if the increasing traditionalism of some of our peer institutions gives them a recruiting advantage for top students. I think the West Campus structures are quality constructions, but they don’t quite garner the same level of fondness as the arches and turrets Collegiate Gothic.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and throw the question out there for debate. What role does architectural style play in prospective students’ decision-making? Is Cornell being bold and progressive in its current architectural plans, or are we foregoing traditional architectural styles at a detriment to the physical appeal of the university? I’m really curious to hear others’ take on this, so please leave a comment if you’d like to contribute your opinion.

P.S. I don’t want to downplay the importance of interior design, which is important from a livability angle. But I am more interested to hear about opinions about building exteriors, since they often set the first impression.