Courtesy of the Friends of Parrott Hall Website

Parrott Hall has stood on what is now Cornell's Geneva AgriTech campus for over 150 years.

July 16, 2018

Demolition of Historic Building on Cornell’s Geneva Campus Paused After Opposition From Preservation Activists

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Parrott Hall, a building that has stood on what is now Cornell’s Geneva AgriTech campus for over 150 years, has been granted temporary reprieve from a proposed demolition following public outcry.

The demolition was scheduled for the end of June, according to Fred Bonn, regional director of NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. However, demolition has been indefinitely delayed due to opposition from activists.

The proposed demolition was called a “demolition by neglect” by the Town of Geneva in its May resolution, which said that the building received little maintenance aside from roofing and exterior painting in the 1980s.

Parrott Hall has stood vacant since the mid-1970s, according to the website of the Friends of Parrott Hall, an organization that seeks to preserve the building. The University no longer holds any ownership over the building and official historic designation of the site never took place.

Jan P. Nyrop, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, wrote in an email in late June to his Cornell AgriTech colleagues that he supported the decision to remove the building as there was no “clear funding path for restoration as well as a viable plan for future use.”

“While I view the situation with Parrott Hall regrettable, I also feel the status quo unacceptable,” he wrote in the email. “We are all working hard to grow Cornell AgriTech and having a dilapidated building in the middle of our campus does not convey an image of vitality and innovation.”

However, both organizations and individuals are advocating in favor of preserving the historic building. Friends of Parrott Hall, the Landmark Society of Western New York, the Preservation League of New York State, Geneva Historical Society and some government officials have worked together in a coalition.

The coalition of advocates for preservation declined The Sun’s request for comment, citing ongoing negotiations with OPRHP.

“Instead of remaining forever vacant, our vision is to adaptively re-use this architectural treasure as a science outreach center,” the Friends of Parrott Hall website states. “This use would be consistent with its use for nearly 100 years as a place of science and agricultural innovation.”

Currently, there is a “stay” on the demolition, according to Daniel Mackay, deputy commissioner for NYS Division of Historic Preservation, and no announcement has been made regarding plans to reschedule.

By granting a temporary reprieve, Bonn said that the office was “giving the advocates another opportunity to fully consider whether they wish to take on the responsibility for what is a really badly deteriorated site.”

“We have requirements in place,” Bonn told The Sun. “The group must show it can raise funds quickly to remediate and stabilize the structure in the immediate term, while also having a viable long-term plan that redevelops and refurbishes Parrott Hall.”

The building was marked as in “fair” condition when nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, according to the organization. Its ownership was transferred to OPRHP in 1975 for the purpose of becoming a historic site, an effort that failed.

A structural assessment conducted by OPRHP in 2017 stated that the building required emergency demolition due to safety hazards, according to the Town of Geneva resolution.

Preservationists sought to delay the demolition to obtain a second evaluation. When eventually given permission, a second building assessment was conducted by James D’Aloisio, according to a Preservation League of NYS post. This report contradicted the first, concluding that the building was stable.

“Despite significant localized distress to some areas of roof and floor framing, the overall building is stable,” D’Aloisio said.

Originally called Denton House, Parrott Hall was the first building in the city of Geneva listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Parrott Hall was named for Percival J. Parrott, who served as the director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, according to the University’s memorial statements. Parrott worked at the Station from 1904 to 1942, and served as director for the last four years.

Parrott Hall became a part of the University in 1923, serving as the first research building on the present-day AgriTech campus located in Geneva, NY. According to its website, over 300 researchers, including faculty, staff and students, work at the Geneva campus today.