Architectural History Minute
Kappa Alpha Theta – 519 Stewart Ave
Designed/Built: (1900), William H. Miller
Miller was hired by Sigma Chi Alumni to design this 3 story Italian Renaissance Revival chapter house. The rusticated stone on the main level is topped with a rough plaster on the upper floors and topped with a heavy projecting cornice. A prominent entrance, and pilastered corners adds to the monumentality of the structure. The entrance is clearly marked by a porte cochere supported by Tuscan columns.
Construction began in mid-1900 and was completed within 5 months at a total cost of $30,000. The public rooms on the first floor include elaborately decorated salons and a Turkish smoking room, with bedrooms and studies upstairs to accommodate 20 residents. Only heavy oak columns divide the main spaces on the first floor, providing a open floor plan perfect of parties and social events. The building served as the Sigma Chi fraternity until 1924. the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority purchased the building in 1984 and had undertaken extensive renovations. It is the only sorority on west campus. K A T was the first Greek letter society for women founded in 1870, and it is Cornell’s first female fraternity, established in 1881.
Chi Psi – 810 University Ave
Designed/Built: (1907-09), Arthur N. Gibb and Ornan Waltz
Chi Psi is one of the earliest fraternities at Cornell, founded in 1869. In 1896, Chi Psi purchased the former Fiske-McGraw mansion designed by William H. Miller. The site is spectacular, situated near Fall Creek. The house was massive, inspired by the French chateau at Blois. Originally built of the wealthy heiress Jenni McGraw, she died before moving in to the house.
Chi Psi occupied the palatial residence until a tragic fire in 1906. the house burned to the ground killing four fraternity brothers and three Ithaca fire fighters. The frat built the present red brick Jacobethan Revival house on the site in 1907.
A graduate of Cornell, Gibb worked briefly in Millers office before forming partnerships with other Miller apprentices, including Ornan Waltz. Stone window and door surrounds, the prominent chimney and high pitched roofs create a distinct profile for the house.
Theta Delta Chi (Thumpty) – 800 University Ave
Designed/Built: (1928-30), Unknown
Located near the site of the Fiske-McGraw mansion, the Theta Delta Chi house was built on land acquired when the McGraw property was subdivided.
The English Tudor revival residence fits in well with its neighbors Chi Psi and Alpha Delta Phi. The chapter was founded in 1870 and built this house with the help of alumnus Waldo F. Tobey, a Chicago lawyer. With its location on the West Campus, the house is situated close to the original male dormitories known as the “Gothics”, a proximity that was surely advantageous for the frat during new member rush.
The house is clad with stone, stucco and half-timbering on the exterior, and casement windows are used throughout the house. A prominent porte cochere is located on the East side of the house. The interior is notable for the very large oak staircase dominating the entry hall. The grand stair hall features a spectacular fireplace to complete the stately atmosphere. Tucked away in the basement staircase wall paneling is a speakeasy, not a uncommon feature of many house of this era.
· Historic Ithaca
· Pictures: yours truly
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HOLT Architects, P.C.
217 N. Aurora St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
phone 607 273-7600 Ext. 151
fax 607 273-0475