ITHACA, N.Y. — Earlier this week, the Ithaca Voice reported that the remains of the Chapter House would be demolished, and a new building with a new Chapter House bar built in its place.
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But discerning readers might remember that there were two buildings destroyed by fire on that cool April morning. A three-story apartment house at 406 Stewart Avenue, a building that had stood since 1898, was reduced to a pile of ashes.
So what will happen on the site of that historic apartment house? Well, the answer isn’t so clear cut, but there are two things that are clear:
1) Something will be built on the site.
2) The future plans rest on 406’s damaged but still standing neighbor at 408 Stewart Avenue. A building that was visited by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Committee (ILPC) last Tuesday, their first “field trip” in quite some time. The whole block sits within the East Hill Historic District, and is therefore subject to ILPC guidelines and regulations.
In a phone call with the Voice, city Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken didn’t have much to say about the rebuilding of 406 Stewart Avenue.
“There has been discussion on 406, but it’s not well-defined at this point. Just general conversation – requirements and so forth…there’s no concrete plan yet. The committee will look at compatibility and overall context, scale and massing, and everything that will make it compatible with the district.”
As McCracken explained, the purpose of visiting 408 Stewart was, in formal terms, “evaluation of a non-approved alteration”.
“A small section of [408 Stewart Avenue’s] vinyl siding has been damaged by the fire, and the ILPC felt comfortable with a staff-level approval for repairs to the damaged section.”
But upon further research by the city department, it was discovered that the vinyl siding, which had been installed by a previous owner decades ago, had never been approved for use in the historic district. No permits, and therefore not legal. “The ILPC is checking the site to see if vinyl siding should be allowed to be reinstalled.”
So what does that have to do with the building next door? The Voice turned to CSP Management President Jerry Dietz. Like with the Chapter House building, CSP managed 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue on behalf of their owner, James Goldman of suburban Philadelphia.
Goldman purchased 408 Stewart in October 2014. 406 Stewart, the destroyed building, was purchased by Goldman only two weeks before the fire broke out next door at the Chapter House. Dietz said Goldman had a wry sentiment about the disaster. “We joked it was a good run,” Dietz quipped.
Dietz explained that the owner was looking into two options. “The original plan was to just rebuild a similar structure [to the one that burned].”
But the ILPC visit is more than just about accepting or rejecting vinyl siding. “Because of the vinyl siding installed and renovations by a previous owner, [The ILPC is] going to decide if 408 still has any historic value.”
If they believe it does, then a historically-inspired house on the site of the destroyed 406 Stewart is likely. If they decide it doesn’t, however:
“[The lots at] 406 and 408 may be combined into one larger building if it’s decided that 408 no longer has historic value. A unified building with an independent fire stairway is being evaluated as a possibility.”
With their site visit complete, if the ILPC deems 408 Stewart Avenue is still historic, then a small apartment building gets built at 406; if it’s not historic, it will likely be taken down, with a new building built atop both properties.
Regardless of the choice made, any new building would have to be approved by the ILPC for historic compatibility with the rest of the East Hill Historic District. Also, Dietz stressed that the ILPC decision on 408 Stewart’s historic integrity isn’t the only factor in redevelopment, and that economics and other factors will also have a role in what gets built.
Whatever the case ends up being, the new Chapter House will have a new neighbor to go along with it.
Or, dare we write, a new bookend for the new Chapter House.
Ithaca Voice coverage of Chapter House fire
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