September 27, 2011

City Votes to Protect Historic Collegetown Houses

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Ithaca’s Common Council approved a proposal from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate two houses in Collegetown as historic landmarks on Sept. 7.

The houses — the Grand View House at 209 College Avenue and the John Snaith House at 140 College Avenue — were deemed historically significant because of their role in Ithaca’ development and what the commission called their distinctive architectural features. They are both currently used as student residences.

Originally constructed in 1888, the Grand View House is a five-story wooden building with a rare axial staircase and a unique tower that projects up and out from the main edifice.

Little of the exterior of the building has been changed since 1888, according to former Alderperson Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward), an architectural historian.

The Grand View House is the last of several large boarding houses with similar tower motifs originally built on Huestis Street, now College Avenue. The basement story was once a dining hall, suggesting frequent use by students, Tomlan said.

The John Snaith House is a two-story brick house, built in 1874 by John Snaith, an architect and contractor who was originally brought to Ithaca by early Cornell professor Gold­win Smith to help construct Llenroc, Ezra Cornell’s villa.

The house, a simple, square block with symmetrical windows, is the last 19th century brick building that remains in Collegetown. Converted from a family residence to a boarding house for students and staff prior to an 1894  fire, it became a bed and breakfast ninety-one years later in 1985. Current owner Po Family Realty subsequently reconverted the house into a student residence.

“They are really valuable reflections of the development of Collegetown in view of Cornell,” Tomlan said of the houses.The historic designation will make altering the houses’ current structures difficult for landowners, Tomlan said. The exteriors of the houses cannot be changed without prior agreement from the ILPC, which believes the buildings should maintain their historic facades, according to Susan E. Stein, chair of the commission.

Still, the Snaith House was approved for an alteration in March, including the addition of a glass hallway that will connect the original house to an extension of 12 rooms. The height and massing of the addition will echo that of the historic building, but its walls will be clad with a different material to distiguish the old from the new, according to John Schroeder ’74, The Sun’s production manager and chair of the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board.

Both Beer Properties and Po Family Realty refused to comment on the designation.

“I think property owners often don’t like any kind of restriction on what they can do with their properties,” Tomlan said. “They might wish to highlight the fact that it’s historic and hopefully gain more attention for it or better tenants.”

Several of the current occupants of the buildings agreed with the Common Council’s decision. Jasmine Li ’12, who lives in the Grand View House, said her house has been better kept than many in the area.

“I feel like there are a lot of houses in Collegetown that are destroyed by people having parties all the time … People don’t really take care of the places they live. It’s a problem,” she said. “My experience here has been a lot better; the landlords here are much more responsive.”

Li’s roommate, Sophie Su ’13, added that the Grand View House is easily identifiable.

“This house is at an interesting spot, since the house next door is only two stories, while this one is five, and the outside is unique to its surrounding areas,” Su said. “We have hardwood floors, and corners — they make a room more interesting than a box.”

Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’09 (D-4th Ward), who voted for the preservation measures, lived in the John Snaith House as a student. He said he celebrated his election to the Common Council in 2009 in the property, noting that he hopes this “will only add to its history some day.”

“The Snaith House was a beautiful house to live in,” he said. “It is most definitely a recognizable house in Collegetown because of its distinct style and because of how well maintained it is.”

Original Author: Kevin Milian