Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Sage Chapel Renovation Project Photos

October 6, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

As a follow-up to the announcement back in March, and work commencement in June, below are a few recent photos of the preservation work for Sage Chapel on Cornell’s campus.

John Milner Associates was hired to assess the current conditions and come up with repair specifications and drawings. The firm specializes in historic preservation, the same group that has assessed and designed the repairs for the Washington Monument.

The Apse Window Repair:

The stained glass windows have gap seams to repair, work being done by stained glass conservator E.S. Taylor Studio, and several items will require repainting decorative finishes, to be done by John Tiedemann, Inc. The stained glass was carefully removed from the masonry frame for the work, and a printout of the stained glass window has been installed on the interior of the apse.

Replacement of ribbon slate roofing that was nearing the end of its service life, and flashing and seams on the roof (especially rake and gable ends) that must be reconstructed:


Still has all the charm on the inside:





Sage Chapel Restoration Project Begins

June 25, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

This is a hard one to see because of all the trees in the way, but the Sage Chapel Restoration project has begun. A perimeter fence has been setup, along with full scaffolding around the work zone, and the slate roof is being carefully removed for re-roofing. The work on the exterior will focus on restoring the slate roof in certain areas, roof flashing, and brick and stone masonry that has weathered over time, and the interior work will see the repair of the apse window. More details about the project and history from a previous post here, with photos from earlier this year.



Cornell’s Sage Chapel Preservation Project

March 29, 2014 // by Jason Henderson


Cornell University has hired a design team that has assessed the current conditions of Sage Chapel in order to carry out a large preservation effort. The primary motivators for the project are the conditions of the slate roof, roof flashing, and brick and stone masonry. The lead architect, John Milner Associates specialize in historic preservation, the same group that has assessed and designed the repairs for the Washington Monument, which will be reopening May 12th this year. Robert Silman Associates has been working on the structural engineering aspects, along with Princeton Engineering Group for mechanical engineering needs.

Photos property of Cornell University

The original Chapel was built in 1873, and was designed by Reverend Charles Babcock, one of the founding members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and Cornell’s first Professor of Architecture. It was the first non-denominational chapel built on a college campus in the United States, a gift from Henry William Sage, a lumber-magnate and early benefactor of Cornell. The Chapel has undergone four separate additions, with the Memorial Chapel addition in 1882, the 1898 addition, the 1903 addition, and the 1940 addition (pictured above), all of which maintained a design consistent with the original building.

The planned work is fully detailed in the application to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. The design team has documented areas where the ribbon slate is nearing the end of its service life, necessitating replacement, flashing and seams on the roof (especially rake and gable ends) that must be reconstructed, and deteriorated brick and stone masonry on the memorial chapel. There are also a few stained glass windows that have gap seams to repair, work to be done by stained glass conservator E.S. Taylor Studio. Several items will require repainting decorative finishes, work to be done by John Tiedemann, Inc.



Historic Structures: First Presbyterian Church

February 20, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

First Presbyterian Church (1900), southeast corner of Cayuga Street and Court Street

From Ithaca and its Past:

Presbyterians organized the first permanent church in Ithaca in 1804. On this spot in 1816 they built the first church building, a Federal structure that faced the park. In 1853 they replaced it with a Gothic structure designed by James Renwick, who designed Grace Church in New York City [his first major design commission- he went on to design many other famous works in America, perhaps best known for the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City]. The current Romanesque building is thus the third church to occupy this site. It was designed by New York City architect J. Cleaveland Cady [South End, American Museum of Natural History] and is most noted for the stained-glass windows in the western apse.

And, concerning DeWitt Park: When Simeon DeWitt began laying out the area, he planned for a town green… and gave some of his land to religious denominations and donated a lot for the courthouse in 1817. Around the green he laid out a few very desirable house lots. In the late 1810s he sold about half of the present park area to the Presbyterian Church, which actually built the first park here. (The church acquired the rest of the land in an exchange with DeWitt.) The park became known as the Publick Square, but the name was later changed to honor DeWitt. The original deed contained the stipulation that the land be maintained as a public walk and promenade. In 1856 the church and the village made an agreement whereby the village took over the care and control of the park but the church retained the title, an agreement still in force.

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

Photographs of the previous churches built in 1816 and 1853 from the history page of the First Presbyterian Church website:

Church Buildings 1816Church Buildings 1853




Historic Structures: Tompkins County Courthouse and Old Jail

January 22, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Excerpt from Ithaca and its Past:

“A particularly interesting case is that of J. Lakin Baldridge, who practiced from 1923 to 1937. Baldridge was born in Cincinnati in 1892 but grew up in Jersey City, N.J. He studied architecture at Cornell and graduated in 1915. After serving in the Navy, he returned to Cornell for his M.A., which he received in 1922, and then became an assistant professor. In 1924 he opened his own office. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Baldridge designed several handsome Neo-Georgian (Colonial Revival) buildings downtown, including the new county courthouse and the jail (both 1932); the Cayuga Apartments (1930), 100 W. Buffalo; and the Seneca Building (1928), 121 E. Seneca. He also did Thurston Court in Cornell Heights and several Cayuga Heights residences, including his own, which he named Robin Hill, at 511 Cayuga Heights Road [7 bedroom, 6.5 bath mansion]. After the courthouse was completed, however, Baldridge did little work. He had inherited a large amount of stock in 1931; with the worsening of the Depression, he apparently felt he shouldn’t take commissions away from those who needed the money more. He then built a home in Bermuda and spent much of his time deep-sea fishing [Baldridge commissioned Sparkman & Stephens to build a boat for him, the “Cleopatra”, which was finished and launched in 1959- you can see pictures and plans of it here]. He died in London in 1969.

Tompkins County Courthouse (1932) 320 North Tioga Street
This is the third and most recent courthouse in Tompkins County. (The second one is two buildings west on Court Street.) Designed by J. Lakin Baldridge in the Neo-Georgian style, it features a double staircase leading to the main entrance, bronze double doors in an elaborate entranceway, a central bay that is set forward slightly, tall pilasters, and a round window in the main pediment. Inside is a marble-lined lobby. Formed in 1817, Tompkins County was named after Daniel D. Tompkins, vice president elect of the United States at the time. Tompkins had been a lawyer, congressman, state supreme court justice, and governor of New York before serving as vice president during the two terms of James Monroe’s presidency.

Tompkins County Jail (1932) 125 East Court Street
You will not be surprised to learn that this jail was built at the same time, and designed by the same architect (J. Lakin Baldridge), as the new courthouse.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Court sits in the 6th Judicial District (basically the Southern Tier), serving as the main courthouse for prosecuting crimes within the county, with exclusive authority to prosecute felonies, and shared authority with the Towns, City and Villages for minor misdemeanors and minor violations. The Old Jail is now office space, housing the County Administration, Attorney’s Office, Finance Department, Purchasing Division, Personnel Office, Public Information, Training and Development, and the County Treasury.

The Tompkins County Courthouse:



The Tompkins County Old Jail:


Historic Structures: The Boardman House

January 11, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The Boardman House (1866)- 120 East Buffalo Street

From Ithaca and its Past:

“..George McChain, a publisher and twice president of Ithaca, built this Italianate mansion on land he bought from Ezra Cornell. After a fire destroyed his business, however, he was forced to sell the house. It was purchased by Douglass Boardman, lawyer, judge, and first dean of Cornell Law School, in 1884, and his family owned the house for many years. In 1910 his widow sold it to the Ithaca Conservatory of Music (later Ithaca College), which used the house as its administration building and built other buildings nearby… (A double building at 119-121 East Buffalo Street around 1913 on the Boardman House…). Most of these buildings were torn down in 1972, however, after the county bought them [in 1969] and the Boardman House from the college. Then in 1975 the County Board of Representatives voted to tear down the Boardman House as well, but community protests have so far prevented this action [in addition, the structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, a year before the Ithaca College Museum of Art discontinued its lease with the owner, Tompkins County]. A. B. Dale designed the house, which features an elaborate porch with Ionic columns, ornate cast-iron window hoods, rope molding over the door and windows, a square cupola, and paneled chimneys. The exterior was renovated in the late 1970s by a local nonprofit organization, using, in part, historic preservation funds granted by the city.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The local nonprofit organization is Historic Ithaca, which renovated the building from 1976-1977, and previously, the Ithaca College Museum of Art ran a gallery in the building from 1966 to 1972, now located on the South Hill campus, called the “Handwerker Gallery“. The City of Ithaca owned the property for several decades, until it was sold to Joseph Ciaschi, whom passed away in 2011, and is particularly remembered for the work he has done for historic preservation in Ithaca, a part of which included the Boardman House, and the former Lehigh Valley Railroad Station, which was converted to the Station Restaurant, an establishment he ran for 25 years (now a bank branch for Chemung Canal Trust Company). The Boardman’s front yard was tastefully landscaped this past Summer, and lights now illuminate the front facade at night.




Watercolor by Glenn Norris


“Part of the downtown campus of Ithaca College as seen from DeWitt Park. On the right is the Boardman House; attached to the back of the house are the Little Theatre and an administrative annex. The Steeple of the First Baptist Church is at the far left.”


Historic Structures: The Old Tompkins County Courthouse

January 2, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The Old Tompkins County Courthouse (1854) – 121 East Court Street

Excerpt from Ithaca and its Past:

“The oldest Gothic Revival courthouse in the state, this building was the county’s second courthouse. Designed by John F. Maurice, a Union Springs architect, it replaced a small cheap wooden Greek Revival building that had been hastily built in 1818 to insure that Ithaca would become the county seat. Simeon DeWitt [arguably, the chief non-Native founder of Ithaca], who laid out the early village of Ithaca, gave the land to the county. When the new courthouse was built in 1932, the county exchanged the building for another lot. Public outcry forced the county to buy it back in 1934, however, and the building has housed county offices since then. The second-floor courtroom is especially handsome. The room originally featured an open timber (cathedral) roof, but an attic and the present ceiling were added during the Victorian period because of the high heating costs. The large brackets are part of the original roof trusses. The building was completely renovated in 1975-1976 as a Bicentennial project.”

Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Planning Department occupies the ground-level floor, and the second-level houses the newly-renovated Legislature Chambers. The chambers were relocated from the County Courthouse Building next door, which had housed the Legislature until mid-June 2013 for about 80 years. The New York State Court System forced the move in order to make space for a Supreme Courtroom, and had previously committed to fund renovations for the relocation, which it later declined to fund. The new chamber renovations cost $1.2 million (originally pegged at $100,000 to $200,000), which sparked public criticism in the newspapers, and has provided some political ammunition for Congressman Tom Reed’s face-off with Tompkins County Legislature Chair, Martha Robertson (whom just stepped down in January, 2014) for the 23rd NY Congressional District‘s 2014 election, with a constituency spanning 11 counties, of which, Tompkins County was redistricted from the former 24th & 22nd in the start of 2012 and into the new 23rd (formerly the 29th).

The 2012 to mid-2013 renovations added new interior wood trim, four private offices, fresh paint, lighting, audiovisual equipment (meetings are streamed online via the Meeting Portal), seating, legislature desks and chairs, the bench, gallery seating, and new flooring. HOLT Architects (the renovation designers) has some nice images here. The contractors for the project were McPherson Builders, Climate Control Technologies, and Richardson Brothers Electrical.






The photo above is part of a 1930s Watercolor Map by Walter Glenn Norris (1895-1969), a painter, author, Tompkins County Clerk, and Tompkins County’s first appointed Historian (the work is on display in the first level DeWitt-side entrance foyer of the Old Courthouse). He painted many wonderful watercolors of Central New York, and authored three history books: Early Explorers and Travelers in Tompkins County (1961), Old Indian Trails in Tompkins County (1969), and The Origin of Place Names in Tompkins County (1951). Gosh, if only it cost $415k to build all that today..

Historic Structures: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church

December 24, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Ithaca is awash in historic structures with fascinating stories. This site was setup with the intention of providing information on current construction projects, however, there’s just too much to appreciate in the downtown area to ignore, so here’s the first installment in a series about some of Downtown Ithaca’s historic structures, and one appropriately timed for Christmas. As a basic source of information, I’ll be drawing from Ithaca and its Past, a great resource written by Daniel R. Snodderly, and published in 1982 by the DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, now the History Center in Tompkins County. I’ll do my best to provide links to further information available online about the architects, the parcels, politics, and any pertinent history that has transpired since the book was published.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (1907)

This Romanesque church structure was originally built back in 1907, designed by Architects William R. Brown and David D. Davis, or Brown & Davis, of Cincinnati. The pair worked together from around 1901 to 1907, designing a handful of Methodist churches (in upstate NY and also NJ) and educational buildings. Brown was a specialist in church design, and the church in Ithaca is probably one of the most ambitious structures in the downtown area. Although I’m unaware of any official verification, it’s commonly been said that the main sanctuary is the largest enclosed space in downtown Ithaca by air volume- I definitely wouldn’t doubt it.


The site itself was home to two church structures previous, one built in 1820 after the formation of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in 1819, and then a brick building in 1866. The towers seen in the photo of the drawing and old photograph (from an Ithaca Journal scrapbook) here were removed after the main tower began to succumb to awkward settling in the 1920s, shortly after being built. As the story goes, the concern began after the enormous section of stained glass forming the roof for the sanctuary dome underneath the tower began to crack and break under pressure- what a sight it must have been before that happened though.
The Church just recently underwent some interior renovations along the Aurora Street side (two bathrooms, some offices and classrooms), as well as new copper gutters, window cleaning, and additional exterior work that looks to be ongoing. The interior has been redone in certain areas, and you wouldn’t know it from looking at it, but there’s actually a gymnasium on the second floor. It’s quite a large building, with all sorts of hallways, offshoots, and rooms you’d never guess were going to be there once inside.



Below, instead of showing some photos of the sanctuary, I wanted to share this marvel that is the attic (but definitely peek into the sanctuary if you get a chance- it’s amazing). Since the main tower had to be carefully disassembled, the majority of the entire roof structure had to be supported and re-framed to accommodate the demolition work, as well as the addition of a new section of roof. Pictures here don’t quite do it justice- it’s a lot like being on a movie set actually. The previous tower roof was supported by those open columns, and beneath that, a series of arcades that would allow light from the Sun to cascade through and over the horizontal dome of stained glass on the interior roof, illuminating the sanctuary from above. If only it had survived- structural engineering has come a long way since then, so everything tended to be overbuilt (especially in the early days of reinforced concrete), but with a structure as ambitious as this was, the main tower didn’t make it. Still, it’s a tremendous structure, and certainly worth the visit.




Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove

December 23, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Cornell has just proposed a landscaping project for 2015 to celebrate its Sesquicentennial Anniversary (that’s 150 years, Cornell was founded in 1865) on the Arts Quad. The sketch plan proposal (embedded below) by Weiss/Manfredi (see Museum of the Earth and the future Vet School) shows a series of stone benches and surfaces below Central Avenue with lighting above in the treeline, and engravings of significant events in Cornell’s history along the main path going West, and quotes by famous Cornellians on the benches. Looks to be a neat project. As shown in the plans, the intent is to align the Grove with the statue of Ezra Cornell between McGraw and Morrill Halls, and the statue of Andrew D. White in front of Goldwin Smith Hall.

May, 2014 Update: Project cost is estimated at $521,700



The Ithaca Commons, A Salute to Nearly 40 Years

August 20, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

As we roll towards 2014, I couldn’t help myself from digging-up the original Ithaca Commons (then the “Ithaca Mall”) plans done by Anton J. Egner & Associates back in 1974. It’s hard to imagine Ithaca without the Commons; it’s an enduring icon of our downtown, and I think it’s unlikely to ever revert back to a street serving automobiles. Just as Ithaca has experienced over some recent years, pedestrian malls in many towns have tended towards decline, but changing urban demographics are reversing this trend, as younger and even older generations flock towards more urban areas offering a walkable lifestyle. I can’t help but think this is a positive trend, due to the inherent economic efficiencies found in urban areas.
Pedestrian malls are much like town squares, plazas, or piazzas in function. They provide a necessary open public space for events and public assemblies. You could think of the town square as the oldest idea in urban planning, essentially pre-dating written history, when villagers arranged tents or huts in a fashion as to allow for a central open space to gather around a fire to stay warm. The modern versions in urban areas are significantly different in appearance and amenity, but not so different in the fact that they still function as a societal center or heart. People play music, display or make art, gather, speak, rest, eat, shop… it may not have a campfire or huts, but the idea hasn’t changed- it has adapted to the modern context.
So I hope you enjoy browsing these images, and if you’re interested in the full as-built set, you can download them here. Stay warm.



Detailed section plans: ithaca_mall_2






The Old Fountain that was removed: ithaca_mall_8



Planters and planting layouts:





Entry sign:



Section & Paver Plans:ithaca_mall_13