ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca’s Collegetown neighborhood is a development hotspot, with tens of millions of dollars in new investment since the 2014 rezoning. However, in a city with a long and storied history, development and history can sometimes be at odds, and it’s often a delicate balance in determining what’s old and worth protecting, and what’s just old.
Since the rezoning was first considered nearly a decade ago, there’s been a long debate over what’s worth individual local landmark designation in Collegetown. Unlike historic districts, individual designations protect just one property. However, the impacts are similar – any exterior changes have to be approved by the stringent Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC).
The first suggestions were compiled list of over thirty properties, in which several property owners were not pleased because the city officials who put it together hadn’t asked them about it beforehand. Eventually, those were whittled down to two immediate candidates, the John Snaith House at 140 College Avenue, and Grandview House at 209 College Avenue, which were landmarked in September 2011. More recently, the city considered a small district of seventeen properties with fifteen buildings, but since only eight were considered historic contributions, it may have been legally difficult to justify, so the city decided to look at buildings on a case-by-case basis.
Now, two more candidates from the original list are set for landmark consideration, on what’s arguably Collegetown’s most iconic block – the Chacona Block at 411-415 College Avenue (also known as “the Collegetown Bagels Building”) and the Larkin Block at 403 College Avenue (also known as “wait, that was Stella’s, right? Why did Stella’s close anyway?”)
The Chacona Block dates from 1911-12, and takes its name from its original owner, John Chacona, a Greek immigrant who was the owner/proprietor a candy company on the first floor. Chacona originally ran his candy shop on Eddy Street, but it was destroyed when a fire wiped out most of the block in 1907. Designed by architect John Wilgus, it was a big deal at its time, because it was made from relatively fire-proof concrete, and had the apartment bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens all on the same floor. The building was owned by a number of the old Greek families who built and rented out the old wood-frame houses of Collegetown, and was purchased by student-run company Student Agencies Inc. in 1977.
The Larkin Block, a couple buildings further south, and was built a year after the Chacona Block in 1912-13. The Larkin Brothers were grocers in the early days of Collegetown, and Egan’s IGA followed; later, from the 1960s through the early 2000s, the building was known as the home of Triangle Book Shop. Some older photos of the pair can be seen here in about 1969 courtesy of Mike Harris, and here in 1986 courtesy of Tom Morgan.
The Ciaschi Block (401 College Avenue) and 409 College Avenue date from the 1980s, while Travis Hyde opened 407 College Avenue in 2000, after a fire in the ground-floor Chinese restaurant destroyed the original building two years prior. There haven’t been any formal redevelopment plans proposed for either of the properties, although Larkin Block owner George Avramis floated the idea several years ago.
The meeting to discuss whether the pair merit historic designation will be held at the ILPC meeting Tuesday the 11th at 5:30 PM at Ithaca City Hall. If given the nod by the ILPC, the designation will be taken up for a vote by the city’s Common Council at a future meeting, possibly as soon as August.