ITHACA, NY – The owner of the Dennis-Newton house, which was once home to America’s first black fraternity, was fined $5,000 for failing to repair the “dilapidated” property, according to a press release from the City of Ithaca.

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In 1905, the Newton family provided hosted 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.

The property, located at 421 North Albany Street, was designated a historic building in April 2015. Earlier this month, it was named to the Preservation League of New York State’s list of “endangered buildings.

According to the press release, a 2012 inspection of the property revealed that the property had become dilapidated. The property owner, Steven A. Centeno, was ordered by the Ithaca Building Commissioner to repair the structure. The owner obtained a building permit, but never actually made the repairs.

In February, the City Attorney’s office charged Centeno with over 11,000 counts of multiple violations according to the city’s news release. On March 23, Centeno plead guilty to 35 counts of violations resulting in a $5,000 fine. If he fails to meet the deadlines for repairing the structure, he could face up to $42,000 in additional fines.

“Across the past three years, in close partnership with the City’s Building Division, my office has made a point of aggressively pursuing unsafe and blighted properties throughout the city,” said City Attorney Ari Levine in the news release. “Amongst those, and of particular importance to many of us, have been properties treasured for their historic significance to our city. I look forward to the prompt rehabilitation of this historic landmark. As always, compliance is our bottom line goal.”

The case was prosecuted for the City Attorney’s Office by Assistant City Attorney Robert Sarachan and the defendant represented himself.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.