That Time Someone Wanted a 10-Story Building on Stewart Avenue

30 07 2014


In keeping with the history theme that is another facet of this blog, here’s a historical construction project to go with all the Collegetown news in the past week. After all, one giant proposal deserves another, 50 years its senior.

I owe reader “Ex-Ithacan” for suggesting this one, as he remembered the proposal when he was a kid, and inquired about it on the website Although his source was the Ithaca Journal, I had a hunch the Cornell Sun would have also run a feature about such a large project, so I checked the Sun archives.

Oh hey, I was right. An article about the project, from February 16, 1965, can be found here, sandwiching some extraordinarily sexist advertisements. First, let’s try and put ourselves in the 1965 timeframe. Cornell was rapidly expanding, Collegetown was even more of a ghetto than it is now (let’s not forget old Ctown’s heroin sales and murder), and the big theme for cities was Urban Renewal, where cities desperately tore down their inner cores in an effort to draw in suburban-style development that might bring people back into the cities (retrospectively, this was by and large a failure). Anyone looking back at this time as idyllic in Ithaca is blowing smoke.


The site in question is 403-415 Stewart Avenue. The site was home to a luxurious house belonging to Zeta Psi until WWII; after they moved out, it burnt down a few years later, and the site was reclaimed as it is now – a parking lot used by Cornell.

The parking lot was to be developed by a private group called “State and Aurora Corporation” into a 10-story building housing 70 luxury apartments. The intended clientele were Cornell faculty, Cornell retirees, and deep-pocketed locals. The building would have had a construction cost of $1 million (about $7.57 million today). Even at this time, zoning of the site allowed only 4 floors, so it needed a variance. Cornell placed a high value on the property, and since they owned the lot, one of the sale stipulations was that their staff would have had first dibs on 3/4ths pf the units, similar to what we’re seeing with the Greenways project off of Honness Lane.


The design itself is a dated melange of modernism and brutalism, created by Sherwood Holt (no relation to Ithaca-based HOLT Architects). The 70 units ran the gamut from studios to 3 bedrooms, and the top two floors were designed to be larger “penthouse” units. There would have been 67 feet of frontage on Stewart Avenue, and 109 feet on Williams Street. I wouldn’t call it much in the way of frontage though, it looks to be built onto a podium. Zoning at the time required two parking spaces per unit, so this project would have needed 140 spaces. 70 were surface spaces on the south side of the lot, and 70 were in the pedestrian-unfriendly podium (an ordinance at the time required half of all new parking spaces to be “indoor” spaces).

Also like now, proponents and opponents had similar arguments to today’s debates. Mayor Hunna Johns promoted the revenue it would bring (which would pay for the city’s investment in sewer lines to the site), and because Cornell had expressed interest in building on the site, local officials feared another tax-exempt property if the private developer wasn’t granted approval. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 local residents signed a petition against the proposal, saying it would burden utilities and cause congestion. It looks like the planning board had only minor suggestions for the development, so it’s hard to imagine it didn’t get ZBA approval.

So why wasn’t it built? My guess is that Cornell did an assessment of its needs, and decided that it wasn’t a high priority to sell to the developer; and when the Ithaca real estate market crashed in the late 1960s, it probably killed the proposal for good. Cornell still owns the site, but zoning rules permit only a 4-story 40′ building (as they did in 1965). It’s outside of the Collegetown zoning, and if it ever gets developed is anyone’s guess.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.



The ILR School Almost Invaded Hoy Field

10 12 2011

As would be expected for any major university, Not every plan for a new buildng at Cornell came to fruition. Sometimes, it was because the plan didn’t have funds, or the demand for space had ebbed. With the original plans for Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) school, it was all about the location.

The ILR school is quite young, having opened its doors on November 1, 1945. The original facilities were in temporary wooden lodging on Sage Green (the western and southern grounds next to Sage Hall, in the days before the loading dock/drive for the Cornell Store and the parking lot south of Sage Hall).  The school had originally been conceived a decade or so prior, and by 1944 the state gave Cornell its monetary blessing, foregoing counter-offers for a labor college at Syracuse University or Union College in Albany (Bishop, 568). On the other end, the president of Cornell at the time, Edmund Ezra Day, had to contend with unamused industrialists and farmers among its alumni who felt that such a school was unnecessary.

The state was proud of its newest educational creation (in the days prior to the massive proliferation of modernist/brutalist SUNY campuses), and drew up plans for permanent housing for the ILR school. The original plans were produced at a cost of $80,000 at the time, but never came close to construction due to some very angry Cornell alumni and students.

The issue wasn’t about the architecture (being the late 1940s, early modernism or stripped Collegiate Gothic were likely), but the location. The site for the new school was on Campus Road. To give you an idea of how the area looked at the time, here’s a map from a years later in 1954 (click the link for a larger version):

Phillips Hall and Teagle Hall were not yet built (both were completed in the early 1950s), so the area was really only Barton Hall and the athletic facilities. The Buildings and Grounds Committee at Cornell picked a site on Campus Road, where Phillips Hall was built a couple years later, but with a larger footprint that would’ve required the removal of Hoy Field (which is aligned directly south in this map – it was redone to face southwest about five years ago).

A tempest of outcries ensued. It was firmly believed that Hoy Field had been donated by the alumni to be used in perpetuity for athletic purposes. Suddenly, different alumni groups were protesting “The invasion of Hoy Field”, and the Association of Class Secretaries filed complaints and letters of concern with Cornell, along with written protests from 53 undergraduate student groups. President Day and the committee gave up on the plan.

The state was not pleased by the reception, and so the ILR school was kept in the dreary wooden temp buildings until the Vet School’s new Schurman Hall was built in the late 1950s, and ILR could move into what used to be the Vet School buildings at the corner of Tower and Garden Road. The rather pretty if utilitarian ca. 1896 James Law Hall was demolished to make way for Ives Hall. But, In the long run, the administration was rather glad it hadn’t built the ILR school on that plot of land, as it allowed the full build-out of the Engineering Quad.

Now, fast-forward to today, and consider the positioning of the soon-to-be Gates Hall, and the master plan’s removal of Hoy Field. I wonder if such an outcry would arise today, as it seems once again that the end of Hoy Field as we know it is drawing near.

The Clark Hall Addition That Was Never Built

22 01 2009

So, I came across rather serendipitously while going through some archived photos. Luckily, since I carry my camera around with me everywhere, I was able to take a photo.


So, this comes from a revised edition of the 1954 Cornell Historical Photo book that I previously used in an entry, this being the 1965/66 update. This is clearly evident with the photo at the top, taken in approximately 1964 when Clark Hall was under construction.

Then we look at the bottom photo. And you notice there’s no Rockefeller. It’s replaced with some massive complex. My first thought was “what the f— is that! It’s f—–g massive!”.


First, some chronological details. Since James Perkins is in the photo, and Clark Hall is completed, and this book was published in late 1965/early 1966, so we can assume this photo dates from about 1965. From the caption, we know this was a building proposal that would have been completed by 1980 (notably, the growth in numbers the caption cites stayed largely true to form- there were a little more than 17,000 students in 1980, but about 11,500-12,000 were undergraduate).

So, then we have the “renovated” Rockefeller—a massive low-rise building that by my guess was 180,000 or 200,000 square feet (for reference, Rockefeller is 125,000 gross sq ft [1]). There’s a large extrusion streetside, that I’m kinda imagining wasn’t too different from the west extrusion of Uris Libe that was built in the early 1980s. The low-rise largely conforms to Rockefeller’s footprint otherwise.

Then we have the massive tower right behind A.D. White’s house. We’ll call that “Rockefeller Annex”. This annex is massive- the model, when compared to surrounding buildings, suggests to me between 15-18 floors. The building has an odd rooftop with an indentation that was likely a balcony area. Design-wise, the building is strikingly similar to Lawrinson Hall, a highrise dorm that was built at nearby Syrcause University in 1965 [2].

Photo copyright of Syracuse University

However, the building at Cornell is a little different-facade wise, it seems to bear similarities to the model used for Olin Labs, which would be completed in 1967 and probably had only just finished with the final design. Think about it. An eighteen-story box with thin vertical windows like Olin Labs.Yes, that is a very horrific thought. It would be sacrilege to A.D.White’s house. Plus, the Big Red Barn would’ve been torn down to make way for the tower and its 3/4-story component to the southeast.By the way, behind Perkins and Provost Mackesey are some site plans. Which show three extensions from the renovated Rockefeller, but not much else for discussion.Conclusion: While we had some really bad architecture in the 60s and 70s, just be glad that not all of it was built. Be very glad.[1]