April 4, 2011

Addition to 140 College Avenue House Revised to Fit Site’s Historic Nature

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A conceptual design for a three-story extension to the John Snaith House at 140 College Avenue won tentative support from members of the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board on March 22.

Members of the board had told the site’s architect, representing developer Betsy Po of Po Family Realty, that the initial design was incompatible with the historic nature of the site. At the meeting, the board members appeared to accept the new design concept.

A vote on the project was tabled to allow the conceptual design to be further developed. Lisa Nicholas, senior planner for the City of Ithaca, said that the board’s concerns with the initial designs prevented the architect from creating finalized drawings of the project in time for the March 22 meeting, but that the project may recieve preliminary approval at the April 26 Planning Board meeting.

According to board chairman John Schroeder ’74, who is also The Sun’s production manager, the project would add 12 bedrooms to the existing 12 bedrooms in the house. He said that the completed building would continue to provide housing to Cornell students.

The developer and current owner of the house, Po Family Realty, enlisted the help of architect Jason Demarest, Schroeder said. Both the developer and Demarest declined to comment because they did not want to take a stance on the project this early in the design process, they said.

Because of the John Snaith House’s notable history, there had been some concern in the Ithaca community about the development, according to Alphonse Pieper, executive director of Historic Ithaca, an advocacy group for preserving historic sites in Ithaca.

The John Snaith House is not an officially recognized historic landmark, but it has appeared in a compilation of recommended historic sites prepared by Schroeder and former Common Council member Mary Tomlan ’71, titled “Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy of Detailed Research.” The house was built in 1874 and designed by John Snaith, an English architect who made the house his home, according to the report. Snaith was brought to Ithaca by Ezra Cornell to work on his mansion, Llenroc, which now houses the Delta Phi fraternity.

Pieper pointed out several significant features of the John Snaith House, including its well-preserved condition and its unique architectural style, which he cited as having late 19th century Second Empire elements.

Demarest’s original designs would have created an addition on the south side of the house, which “tended to diminish the original house, since it projected so far forward,” Schroeder said. “It almost made the original house look like it was the addition.”

Schroeder said that the previously proposed addition would have required the demolition of two chimneys considered to have architectural and historical merit.

These aspects of the house led the board to ask Demarest to reconsider the proposed design.

“[The board] wasn’t happy with the design because some members didn’t feel that it was compatible with the historic nature of the house. I don’t think the developer had been aware that this house had been identified [as historically significant],” said Nicholas, the senior planner for the City of Ithaca.

Demarest created several more designs that reduced the forward projection of the addition so that it would not overshadow the house and porch, Schroeder said. In one design, the glass separation between the original building and the addition was included, which would preserve the chimneys on the existing house. This was the conceptual design that board members tentatively supported at the March 22 meeting.

Schroeder said he was impressed by the new designs because new developments should seek to draw a distinction between the original house and the expansion, while also respecting the original architecture — something Schroeder said was included in the revised designs.

According to Schroeder, the exterior of the John Snaith House is composed of red brick, while the addition — separated by the glass strip — would use a lighter clapboard-like material. However, he said, the addition in the conceptual design would have the same height and mansard roof detailing of the historic house.

Original Author: Dennis Liu