ITHACA, N.Y. — In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s count this as something to be thankful for.
A few months back, the Voice ran a story about the 170 year-old house at 341 Coddington Road in the town of Ithaca. The owner, Orlando Iacovelli, wanted to subdivide the house’s lot, but to do so legally, the lot line would have had to go right through the house. Although a venerable old home, it is not a registered historic landmark, and its days appeared to be numbered.
As a last effort, the owner, in consultation with Historic Ithaca and with encouragement from the town, decided to go ahead with the unusual idea of offering the house up for free, if someone would move it off the property.
Lo and behold, they found someone to take them up on the offer. Enter Bill and Susan Lesser. The couple have lived in Ithaca for 40 years, and live just down the street from 341 Coddington.
“Susan and I like Greek Revivals, we like the idea of saving a historic property, the house is gutted but it has a nice feel to it, it has a lot of windows and natural light. We feel really good about what we’re doing and we feel we could make it into a real asset for us, the Coddington Road community, and the whole Ithaca area,” said Bill Lesser.
Like the house’s situation, the plans for it post-move are also fairly unusual. Ultimately, the Lessers plan to keep the house intact, but combine it with a much smaller cottage at 403 Coddington Road to produce a single-family home with two unique components.
“We presently live in another Greek Revival from the same era across the road [from the new location], it’s a house with a small lot. We were thinking of how to make better use of the space, we thought it’d be an interesting thing to do, and a way to save a historic house,” said Bill Lesser.
As one might imagine, moving a house isn’t a simple process. Although the move is just a little over 1,000 feet down the street from where it is now, we’re still talking about many tons of house. Not many construction businesses have expertise in moving a historic three-bedroom home from one location to another.
“There were only a couple around, we’re working with Dexheimer Building Movers out of Bainbridge, they came to look at the house and estimate it. They know what they’re doing, and it’s quite a process. They had to knock some holes into the foundation to lift it up a little bit, steel beams will be placed underneath as cribbing, and it will be winched from the foundation onto a trailer. It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Lesser with a chuckle. He and his wife plan to leave the house on a flatbed trailer on the property over the winter, while the new foundation is built. The two houses will then be “mated” during the spring or summer.
The project has not been without its challenges. Lesser said that it’s not a straightforward process and that the move involves a lot of negotiations and details. The couple had to work with three different companies to get the power lines raised so that the house could slip out underneath them. A side porch also had to be removed, because it was too wide to move down the road. As Lesser summed it up, “the house is free, but moving it is not cheap.”
But for all of its obstacles, it looks like the big move will be accomplished. Town of Ithaca Code Enforcement Director Bruce Bates is optimistic about the move. “We have a letter from an architect and engineer saying this is how it’s supposed to be. I am confident that this company knows what it has to do to move the house.”
Likewise, Christine O’Malley of Historic Ithaca is looking forward to this happy ending. “We’re really pleased with the outcome, and we’re happy that the town of Ithaca was able to work with the owner to forge an agreement to offer the house for free to anyone who could move it.”
So, in what has been a very stressful and often contentious month of debates and worries, there are plenty of things Ithacans can be thankful for. Thankful that a local couple has the time, money and patience to undertake this endeavor. Thankful that a house that has long been a part of Ithaca’s fabric will be saved. Thankful for a community that invests and cares about itself, its people working with each other to create positive outcomes.
For those interested in watching the move, the current schedule is to move the house during 10-11 AM on Thursday December 1st.