Ithaca Common Council on Wednesday night designated a building on College Avenue as a local landmark, preserving the outside of the former grocery store and regulating any exterior modifications.
The five-story Larkin Building, at 403 College Ave., was erected in 1913 and housed grocery stores under at least two different owners until 1965, when the Triangle Book Shop moved in from Sheldon Court. The bookstore was in the Larkin Building until 1990, and Stella’s Restaurant and Café operated there from 1993 before closing its doors in 2015.
The current owner of the building, George Avramis, and his mother, Maria, did not want the building to be designated as a local landmark, arguing that the building needs to be modified in order to keep its occupants safe in the event of a fire.
“This is not the safest building,” Avramis said, although he noted that it currently does meet the fire code. “It’s what I consider a very dangerous building.”
Avramis, who declined to comment on the decision after it was made, said he proposed to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission that it allow him to keep the facade, but “tear down the rest of the building.”
Bryan McCracken, the city’s historic preservation planner, said that preserving the facade and renovating the rest of the building would be akin to “creating a false sense of history” and is “not true preservation.”
“If you chop off the building that holds up the facade, it’s no longer a building,” he said. “It’s an artifact.”
“Preserving just a facade isn’t preservation,” he said.
Common Council members ultimately voted 8 to 2 to designate the building as a landmark, with Cynthia Brock and Stephen Smith voting against the designation.
Brock said she was concerned that designating properties as landmarks puts financial onus on property owners “that makes it more difficult for them to maintain the building, improve the building [and] utilize the building.”
But Alderperson George McGonigal, who represents the First Ward, said it was vital that the city protect historical buildings
“Once we lose these places, they’re gone, and that’s what I’ll say. Once we lose them, they’re gone,” he said.
Alderperson Donna Fleming, who represents the Third Ward, said she had been looking at the building in a new light since the issue was presented to Common Council, and said there should be a historical marker or a plaque to indicate that the building has a rich history.
There has to be a way for people to understand “the context and the significance if they’re just walking by,” she said.
The building gains its significance, partially, from being the second grocery store in Collegetown, indicating that the Ithaca area was growing in popularity in 1913 and was home to enough patrons that the area required a second shop.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Alderpeople Cynthia Brock and Deb Mohlenhoff voted against the designation . In fact, the two votes against designation were Alderpeople Brock and Stephen Smith.