Editor’s Note: The following opinion column was written by Alphonse F. Pieper, executive director of Historic Ithaca.
It concerns the upcoming vote of Ithaca’s Common Council to give historic designation to a single family home at 421 N. Albany Street. Read more about the push to designate the site as historic here.
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Dear Common Council Members:
On behalf of Historic Ithaca, I would like to submit this letter of support for the local landmark designation of 421 North Albany Street to be entered into the public record at the City of Ithaca Common Council meeting on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015.
As outlined in the research report submitted to the ILPC, 421 North Albany Street is a nationally significant historic property because of its direct connection to the early formation of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the first Greek letter, African-American collegiate fraternity in the United States.
It is also significant locally for its connection to its African-American owners. The house was originally built c.1868-69 for Norman Dennis (1833-1908). His daughter, Lula (1859-1928), married Edward Newton (c.1856-1932). In this house in 1905, Edward Newton provided a welcoming environment by hosting the first meeting of the social study group of African-American male students at Cornell, a group that soon evolved into the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity when they formally established themselves in 1906.
This fraternity expanded to other American universities and developed several significant educational, social and civil rights initiatives. Important individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Supreme Court Judge Thurgood Marshall, and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young were all members.
Alpha Phi Alpha still thrives today with over 730 chapters and over 290,000 current and lifetime members. While there may be some concern about the condemned condition of the house, we remind city officials that many properties throughout the state and across the nation have been in far worse condition and have still been designated as historic buildings on a local, state or national level.
The State Theatre in Ithaca was in a deteriorated state in the 1980s and 1990s, but was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 and designated as an individual local landmark.
Even though it was condemned by the City of Ithaca in 1997, Historic Ithaca helped generate public support in 1998 to save the building and today the State stands as an exceptional example of a viable historic entertainment venue in downtown Ithaca.
The local designation of 421 North Albany would add to the ever-growing recognition of the rich African-American history in Ithaca. St. James AME Zion Church has been designated at the local, state and national levels as an important historic landmark and State Street is also now known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. Additionally, a walking tour of the Southside’s African- American heritage was developed in 2003.
We urge Common Council to support the local landmark nomination of 421 North Albany Street so that it can be properly recognized for the valuable role it has played in our local history and use this opportunity to acknowledge a building that made an irreplaceable contribution to our nation’s history.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions about this property.
Alphonse F. Pieper