News Tidbits 8/22/11: Kappa Delta’s Swanky Renovation

22 08 2011

It would be nice to live in Ithaca, but since I don’t, I increasingly find about construction projects from word-of-mouth rather than investigating on my own. In correspondence with “BB” from the Milstein Hall entry, he briefly mentioned that he’d take some photos of KD’s renovation project.

It piqued my curiosity because that was the first time I had ever heard about it. My first thought was that it may not have been an immense piece of work because I hadn’t seen anything in the planning board minutes from the city. But, I decided to quickly check online to see if there was anything special about this construction project.

I barely recognized the house.

Here’s the before photo, from my own archives (dated July 16, 2008).

Here’s an after image from a construction blog on their website:

It’s a pitifully small photo, but I’ll rectify that when I take a photo at Homecoming. Note that the west wall (right side) visible in the before image is now the front entrance.

The most substantial change is the construction of a generous wrap-around porch from Sisson Place onto Triphammer Road. The construction itself isn’t expanding the structure much, about 800 sq. ft on the first floor (based off what my strained eyes can pull from the elevations image at top). But the exterior reclad with an emphasis on a traditional appearance does wonders for what was arguably one of the more rundown-looking sorority houses on campus, creating a more graceful, less bunker-like presence. According to the webpage, the renovation cost is around $400,000.

Regarding the comment on the webpage about Triphammer Road being the original entrance location, I don’t have any verification of that, but it is quite likely. KD moved to its current location around 1923 and underwent several renovations/expansions in the years since.

In terms of exterior alteration, this is probably one of the most substantial changes since Sigma Pi built a new house in the mid-1990s. I must admit that the final result looks impressive.

9/7/08 News Tidbits: Alpha Omicron Pi to shut Cornell Chapter

6 09 2008

AoPi sisters confirmed Friday that their chapter will be closed as of the first of October, due to declining numbers within sorority rush. All current members will be moved to alumni status and allowed to live in the house until graduation. Once all current sisters have graduated, the intention is to reopen the house under a new set of women (this has been done with fraternities in the past. Pi Kappa Phi closed in 1986 and reopened in 1990, and Phi Kappa Tau closed in 1994 and reopened in 2000).

So, the news, while unfortunate, isn’t surprising to anyone familiar with the Cornell sororities. AOPi was typically derided and demeaned, and as a result of the nasty jokes associated with the house, women tended to avoid having it as a choice on their bids. Also consider that sorority rush turnout was lower than usual this past year, and you end up with a situation where the house can’t get enough women to make minimum member quotas. I feel really sorry for the current active membership of that sorority house.

This should really be a wake-up call to PanHel that something is amiss in the sorority system. Delta Phi Epsilon closed in 2003, as did Chi Omega. with Alpha Omicron Pi shutting down, this results in a net loss of two sororities in the past five years (PanHel selected Alpha Xi Delta to open on campus in 2004). With eleven left, is this really the system that they want? When some sororities have 140 women, and AOPi is closing with about 30 members left, as regulated as the system is for women you’d think the numbers could be a little more balanced.

North by Northwest of Campus

12 08 2008

The house of the Chi Psi fraternity of Cornell University. Chi Psi has had a colorful if traumatic history in its century-plus long history here at Cornell. The Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1869. While they lived elsewhere, Jennie McGraw, the daughter of John McGraw, who was a wealthy lumber merchant and one of the first trustees of Cornell (for whom McGraw Hall is named) [1], fell in love with the first university librarian, Daniel Willard Fiske. She was old for loving at the time, pushing forty. She was also suffering from terminal tuberculosis. Regardless, she and Willard eloped and engaged in a whirlwind tour of Europe, while an opulent mansion was built on the edge of the gorge. She lived just long enough to see it with her own eyes, passing as they arrived home in 1881 [2]. Willard moved in, but his behavior was considered a little too exuberant for someone whose wife just died. Plus, due to some legal issues with Jennie’s will (which might make for a good entry another day), he and Cornell ended up on really bad terms, and he spent most of the rest of his life in Italy (on the bright side, he somewhat reconciled with Cornell in later years and donated his library upon his death in 1904 [3]).

That story is tangent to Chi Psi. Willard sold the opulent McGraw-Fiske mansion to the fraternity around 1881[4]. It was during the cold night of December 6th 1906 that the second deadliest campus tragedy in Cornell’s history occurred.

Sources tend to indicate it was caused by flammable polish being used on the floors. Others have gone as far to suggest that the house was cursed due to Jenny and Willard’s indiscretions. Regardless, the house caught fire. And in the days before real fire engines, any water to be used on the house (that wasn’t frozen) was a mere trickle. Of the twenty-six fraternity brothers living in the house, four died. When one of the exterior stone walls collapsed, it landed on volunteer firemen from the city of Ithaca, killing three of them. By the end of the night, the house was destroyed, and seven people were dead [5].

Photo Courtesy of "Greetings from Ithaca"

Photo Courtesy of “Greetings from Ithaca”

Through the tragedy, the fraternity persevered. They built the current house the following year (known as “The Lodge”), and have lived there since.

So, I took two photos partially to get a good idea of the shape and ornamentation of the house, but more because a woman in a towel came up from the gorge as I was taking photos…and I didn’t want to give the wrong idea. I ran south after a large guy appeared by her side, and she probably thinks I’m a creeper and pervert. I prefer photos of ornamental busts to women’s busts.


The Thurston Court Apartments is a 22-person university-owned apartment building with one and two-bedroom student apartments [6]. Primarily used for grad housing, in recent years the building has been opened up to undergrads as well. The building was built in 1932 (fun fact: the entire building was once painted white, including the ornamentation).

The house of Seal and Serpent fraternity, Cornell’s independent fraternity. The fraternity was founded in 1905, and the current house was built in 1929 in the Tudor Style [7]. In the past several years, the fraternity has suffered from a chronic shortage of interest; rumor mill says they only had three pledges last spring.

Maybe this has something to do with it:

“…Fraternities have a reason to fear such stereotyping. The Seal and Serpent society, a house which was primarily gay in the 1980s but now has just two gay brothers out of 16, has had some difficulty overcoming “the gay” label during rush…”

I s’pose this doesn’t help – I still hear this from a lot of people both in and out of the Greek community  (the quote is from a Nov. 2000 Sun article).  Going through this blog’s search bar history, there are over 200 hits for “gay fraternity”.  I’m willing to bet it’s not with good intention.


The house of Alpha Phi sorority. Alpha Phi Cornell was founded in 1889 with assistance from the Alpha Chapter at Syracuse University [8]. Originally based out of Sage College, they lived with Alpha Zeta for a year  and on their own in a couple different houses until they bought their current house from an Alpha Phi alum in 1921. The side wings were added in 1937, and a back wing (not pictured) was added in 1961. The chapter went under a reorganization sometime in the early 1990s due to low membership intake, but I’ve found nothing that indicates it ever closed. Currently, Alpha Phi has one of the highest sorority membership numbers at Cornell.

Hardly 500 feet away is the house of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. I know Kappa has been in the news lately; and it really sucks to be them right now (unless you like embarrassment over attention). The sorority’s Cornell (Psi) chapter was founded in 1883, and moved into the current house in 1921 [9]. The chapter was inactive from 1969 to 1977, a time period well-known for its anti-Greek sentiment.

Louie’s Lunch was founded in around 1918 by Louie Zounakos, who emigrated to NYC from Greece, and later moved up to Ithaca. The original Louie operated the truck up until 1955 [10]. The original truck was replaced in the late 1940s. The truck was then owned by the Machen family until 1997, and is now currently operated by Ron Beck. I do have a preference to one truck over the other, but I won’t say which.


Photo courtesy of “Greetings from Ithaca”

The house of Zeta Psi fraternity. The house, built in 1930, was originally that of Theta Xi. Zeta Psi, meanwhile, has the distinction of being the first fraternity founded by Cornell, even if it was decided by a coin flip (see the entry for Chi Phi). The chapter built a luxurious house in 1891 on the corner of Williams Street and Stewart Avenue, but moved out in the 1940s due to low numbers as brothers left to go fight in WWII. The original house burnt down in the late 1940s, and was replaced by a parking lot. In the meanwhile, Zeta Psi lived with Young Israel for a short while before moving into 660 Stewart Avenue in the late 1950s. A donation from a wealthy alumnus allowed them to buy the current house in 1972 [11].





[4] ***

***Page 10 has a picture of the McGraw estate in its heyday