ITHACA, N.Y.—The Home Dairy building on the Ithaca Commons, at 143 East State Street, was approved for historic designation Wednesday at the Ithaca Common Council meeting, meaning at least one more building on the Commons will be immune from the constant evolution of downtown.

The vote was unanimous Wednesday night at Common Council, after the council received a recommendation from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. Discussion largely centered around Firebrand Books, though the building also housed the beloved Home Dairy restaurant decades ago.

Since the meeting dealt with a wide range of topics but fairly briefly, there’s no table of contents for this meeting recap. If you’d like to watch all the Common Council proceedings, you can view the recording here. If you’d like to follow along, you can see the agenda here. Acting Mayor Laura Lewis presented her 2023 budget during the meeting as well, though we are giving that topic its own story—look for that to be published Thursday afternoon.

Home Dairy Building

The Home Dairy building, which has been vacant for years though the Yellow Deli is perhaps planning a reopening this fall, also held Firebrand Books for over a decade, a landmark lesbian and feminist publishing house founded in Ithaca by Nancy Bereano in 1984. It was recommended for historic designation based on fitting criteria like historic significance, notable architecture and building character, and being a recognizable visual feature of a certain neighborhood or area.

The publishing house stayed in the building until it was moved under new leadership in 2003. The building could be renamed the Andrus-Home Dairy-Firebrand Books Building, officially.

“As an editor and publisher, Bereano influenced not only feminist and LBGTQ publishing but print culture as a whole,” the ILPC resolution reads. “Her work established a platform for formerly unheard lesbian and feminist voices and brought these perspectives into the mainstream. As an activist, Bereano fought for the inclusion of women of color in the Women in Print movement and the passage of LBGTQ right legislation in Ithaca.”

Bereano herself addressed Common Council during the public comment portion, supporting the historic designation.

“The reason Firebrand was significant was that in those 15+ years, a staff of myself and one other person and freelancers published 104 titles, many of which changed the lives of the women who read them,” Bereano said. “Firebrand was committed to publishing a wide variety, a great diversity of women in terms of race and ethnicity, and cultural backgrounds, it was committed to publishing feminist and lesbian material, and perhaps a third of those books were published by not-white women.”

She spoke about the gratitude she felt for the historic designation, noting the prominence Firebrand attained during its heyday as one of the first publishing houses putting out that type of material.

“It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to highlight and fix for future generations a location that has been a cultural leader in a movement, an inspiration, a safe space,” said Alderperson Cynthia Brock. “I’ve known Nancy [Bereano] for years, and the work that she has done. I’ve been so impressed with her and the history of Firebrand Books and her creation and commitment to it.”

McCracken clarified to Brock that Home Dairy Alley is not included in the parcel that was designated.

Other News and Notes from October Common Council

  • Longtime City Clerk Julie Holcomb, the institutional memory of City Hall, received a key to the city and a proclamation in recognition of her decades of work and her newly-announced retirement. “It’s been such an incredible honor to not only serve the City of Ithaca but to work side by side with all of you and all of the incredible mayors and councils that came before you,” Holcomb said. “This has just been one of the greatest pleasures of my life to serve the citizens.”
  • Several speakers during public comment spoke in favor of the historic designation vote. Republican mayoral candidate Zachary Winn also reiterated his frequent criticisms of the Reimagining Public Safety process and outcomes, as well as saying that drug use in the city is out of control, a critique echoed by Frédéric Bouché, the owner of the Ports of New York winery on Taber Street.
  • The city authorized applications for Restore NY grant funding for two projects, the Cayuga Street Rehabilitation at 115-121 South Cayuga Street and 123 South Cayuga Street and one of the buildings in the Chainworks District project.
  • The Sidewalk Improvement District funding increases were discussed and, eventually, approved. The changes are as follows: Increase the maintenance fee by $10/year, from $140 to $150; Increase the building square footage fee by $0.005/sf, from $0.015 to $0.02; Increase the frontage fee by $20/segment, from $30 to $50 for each 55-foot segment along the street. Alderperson George McGonigal said the latter $20 increase was too heavy and should be reduced to $10, but that measure was declined.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com