The Johnny Parsons Club (left) and Bebbe Lake skaters, ca. 1930. Image courtesy of Corey Earle, and property of Cornell.

ITHACA, N.Y. — For Cornell’s oldest alumni, it holds a special place as the Johnny Parson Club, a cozy gathering spot for the skaters and tobogganers on Beebe Lake. For the younger ones, the Cornell Outing Club have fond memories of meetings in its weathered walls. Now, Japes Lodge will be committed to history; the last of the building is expected to be demolished in the coming months.

In a call for demolition bids posted to the university’s facilities administration website, Japes Lodge will be coming down in January 2018, once a demolition firm has been selected. The cost is expected to run between $50,000 and $75,000.

Archive photo of Johnny Parson Club, 1950s. Image property of Cornell University.

Built in 1922, the original Tudor-style structure was maintained by the Cornell Athletic Association, and housed a restaurant, checking room for ice skaters, a store, a social room with an open fireplace, and a hockey equipment room. In those days before expansive arenas, hockey games were held on the lake, as was a toboggan slide (which was all fun and games until vertebrae were fractured). To quote a Dear Uncle Ezra from 2007:

“The Johnny Parson Club was named after a mechanical drawing professor in the Engineering college from 1895 to 1938. It’s said that he was the one who established ice skating on Beebe Lake. In addition, it was he who began the Cornell hockey tradition, by encouraging students to form a team. In 1922, the University built a two-story facility where skaters could spend time, eat, drink, and warm up, naming it after Professor Parson. However, in 1958, when skating events were moved to Lynah Rink, the University chose to take down the top two floors of the Club. The remaining basement area was covered and is now used by Cornell Outdoor Education.”

The Johnny Parsons Club (left) and Beebe Lake skaters, ca. 1930. Image courtesy of Cornell University, and property of Cornell Alumni Magazine.

So in the days of yore, it was one part student union, one part Lynah Rink. But after Lynah and Noyes Lodge opened in the 1950s, Johnny Parson evolved to serve as a different kind of student union – for those who were a part of the Cornell Outing Club, a student organization dedicated to getting students out into the local woods and lakes, and in touch with nature. For decades, the COC held its weekly meetings in the bottom floor, which was the only floor after Cornell deconstructed the upper levels in 1959-60. The student group’s name was Johnny Parson’s Outdoor Club – which became J-Ps for short, and then Japes. While the student group was later renamed the Cornell Outdoor Club, the Japes moniker stuck, and the building officially became Japes Lodge.

A fire caused by pouring gasoline on burning firewood damaged the ceiling in 1967, and the remaining structure was never in great shape. COC was forced to vacate the premises in 2012 because the university feared that the structural stability of the roof was in jeopardy. The Times noted that the building was never condemned, but it was made off-limits out of an abundance of concern.

The site will be landscaped and left vacant for now. However, conceptual plans from Cornell University Sustainable Design have been drawn up for a new building on site, a LEED Platinum-certified structure that would provide social and recreational functions just as the original Johnny Parsons Club did. While the proposal has been reviewed by the administration, there is no plan to move the project forward at this time.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.