ITHACA, N.Y. — The former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Station at 701 W. Seneca St. is on track to become a city landmark, with the unanimous approval of historic designation by the Planning and Economic Development Committee.
Historic designation for the site was just one item on a packed agenda Wednesday night. The committee also got an update on an ongoing flood study, approved rezoning for a part of Green Street, and discussed infill and the creation of a citywide overlay zone for primary structures.
Historic Designation for former DL&W Railroad Station
Historically, 701 W. Seneca St. was the home of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Station built in 1912 by Frank J. Nies, a Hoboken-based architect who designed many railroad stations in New York Pennsylvania and New Jersey for D.L.&W between 1899 and 1925. The station served as a stop on a line between Ithaca and Owego.
With approval from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and PEDC, the last step before historic designation for 701 W. Seneca St. is Common Council.
With the exception of the metal-framed glass entry doors, the building looks the same outside as it did when first constructed over 100 years ago. Ithaca’s station designed by Nies has a distinct Prairie architectural style, which typically features low, elongated massing and “detailing borrowed of the Renaissance Revival and Arts and Crafts models.” Another interesting feature nestled into the exterior brick is red, green and white tile mosaics.
Documents attached to the PEDC agenda paired with the building structure inventory form detail the station’s history. Here’s a small excerpt:
“The DL&W Railroad Station is an intact remnant of a historically significant era of railroad transportation in the United States. It is one of the few lasting monuments of a company that linked Ithaca to the industrial network of the Northeast United States.
Built by the DL&W Railroad Company in 1912, the Station became part of Ithaca’s long railway history that began in 1828. The line that the DL&W Station served extended between Ithaca and Owego, and was the original route of the Ithaca & Owego Railroad Company, charted in 1828 by the State of New York. It was the second railroad established in the State and began running in 1834. Local figures, most notably Simeon DeWitt, invested in the scheme as a means to connect the Erie Canal and the Susquehanna River and to compete with traffic through other neighboring towns. Though the Ithaca & Owego Railroad Company failed shortly due to insolvency, the route would persist under new management.
In the late 19th century, the anthracite coal industry was flourishing through Pennsylvania, the railroads had a staked claim in the success of the coal industry and opened thousands of miles of track for its transportation. George W. Scranton expanded lines through the New York and Pennsylvania area and took notice of the Ithaca & Owego line, which became the Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad Company in 1843. The route through Ithaca to a barge system up Cayuga Lake to enter the Erie Canal was a profitable means of transporting coal and freight. The Delaware & Lackawanna Railroad Company, founded in 1853, acquired the line through an extended lease lasting 99 years from 1855 and the Ithaca to Owego route became the Cayuga Division, or Ithaca Branch, of the DL&W.”
The last passenger service from Ithaca to Owego was March 30, 1942, the documents state, but a freight route continued until the dissolution of the company. The true end of the DL&W Railroad was in 1956 when its holdings were transferred to the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which eventually terminated service in Ithaca as well. Though rail service faded from the station’s use, it did continue on as a transportation hub in Ithaca with buses. It started to be used by Greyhound Bus Lines in 1967.
At the PEDC meeting Wednesday, Susan Holland, director of Historic Ithaca, spoke in favor of historic designation and said the building played a “significant role in Ithaca’s history and development.” She also said it’s a rare example of work from a prominent architect. Other members of the public also supported the historic designation, saying the station has served as a gateway to Ithaca for decades.
As for the current situation on intercity buses since the closure of the Greyhound station on West Seneca Street, city and county officials are still considering long-term options. For now, buses are picking up and dropping off travelers on Green Street.
There are no looming plans of redevelopment at the site pushing a vote for historic designation. Some who spoke Wednesday night said they hope to see a creative use for the site.
The historic designation passed with ease Wednesday with a unanimous supportive vote.
Citywide overlay for primary structures
It seems to have been too soon for this zoning revision to be considered an “action item” on the agenda Wednesday. An overlay is being considered to address concerns of citywide infill development.
The issue of infill development really came to a head for the South Hill neighborhood last year when local residents voiced concerns about all the student-centric infill development and the loss of family homes. Neighbors came out in strong numbers to urge the city to do something about it, and what resulted was a South Hill Overlay District that made it so there can be only one primary structure on a lot. It was a pause on development while a neighborhood plan is created.
Committee members were conflicted on the issue of creating a citywide measure, as they said infill does have benefits like creating needed affordable housing. Committee members debated whether to even vote to circulate the measure, but it did stir some discussion on city zoning, dwindling owner-occupied houses and high rates of renters, and how neighborhoods are transforming.
Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who was supportive of an overlay, said the city should preserve its concept of R-1 and R-2 zones, which are intended to be lower-density districts restricted to one- and two-family homes. But, as Economic Development Planner Jennifer Kusznir noted in a letter to the PEDC, as long as all of the site requirements can be met, a property owner is allowed under zoning to construct multiple primary structures on a lot. “This has the potential to significantly change the character of these neighborhoods,” wrote.
“What is currently happening is the dissolving of the R-1 and the R-2 until we do something to stop it,” Brock said.
Committee members voted 3-2 against circulating the concept memo for the overlay for comments, but the discussion will continue at future meetings.