722 University Avenue Ithaca, New York

722 University before its demolition
722 University prior to demolition.

Report by Caroline Weston


An Observation about this Demolishing Story

This was a parcel owned by Cornell University. Due to the cost of rehabilitation, Cornell officials decided to demolish the property rather than invest in its upkeep or improvement. According to Cornell Associate Professor Jennifer Minner, this seems like a missed opportunity to preserve the character of the area, retain and improve housing units, while striving toward greater sustainability on campus and in the community. She notes that a source of housing that was adjacent to campus was destroyed, materials dumped in a landfill, and a vacant lot left in its place. No plans for redevelopment were required for the demolition. 

Site Context

The project site is located at 722 University Avenue in Ithaca, New York. The 0.48-acre site is owned by Cornell University and is within the University Hill neighborhood. The project site is approximately 109’ wide where it interfaces with University Avenue, and approximately 180’ long where it interfaces with the adjacent parcel, 726 University Ave. The site is entirely pervious, and void of any structures or improvements and landscaping. The site is bounded by University Avenue to the south, a four-story residential building immediately east (726 University Ave.), a three-story residential building (Campus Hill Apartments) to the north, and a driveway/permit parking lot to the west. Student housing is located across University Avenue in Alice Cook Hall, directly across from the project site. The site is accessible by vehicle via the adjacent driveway to the west and by foot from the sidewalk running alongside University Avenue that interfaces with the project’s southern boundary. The nearest public transit stop to the site is TCAT bus stop 1511 (Boldt Hall), located directly across University Avenue from the site. The site does not contain natural resources identified by the City of Ithaca and is not within a City-designated flood zone. The site has slopes of approximately five to ten percent.

 Site History

The previous 5,738sf structure on the project site was built by Cornell in 1900 and designed by prominent local architects, Vivian & Gibbs, (Rash, 2014). The house was built for Cornell chemistry instructor, Louis Munroe Dennis. The site was a subdivided portion of the former 30-acre McGraw Fiske estate, whose primary residence burned in a fire in 1906 (Engst, 2015). L.M. Dennis and his wife lived in the residence on-site until his death in December 1936. The residence was officially deeded to Cornell in 1928 (Thommen, 2021). In the decades following L.M. Dennis’ death, the house was the residence of a handful of Greek fraternities and sororities including: Pi Kappa Phi fraternity (1952-1980s), Alpha Gamma Delta (sorority, Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, and lastly, Lambda Upsilon Lambda. The last occupants of the residence, Lambda Upsilon Lambda vacated the property in 2006 upon expiration of its operating permit. The residence remained vacant from 2006 until it was demolished January 2017. The former structure on-site was not a local, or nationally registered historic resource and the site is not located within a City-designated historic district.

Property Ownership and Demolition

Demolition of 722 University

The subject property has been owned by Cornell since 1928 (Thommen, 2021). Over the course of its history, the occupants of the house have changed but Cornell has remained the property owner. Given the age of the structure and its lack of ongoing maintenance, the former residence onsite was not rehabilitated for a new use due to high cost (Crandell, 2017). In a Conditions Assessment prepared for the former structure in 1998, the structure was found in need of significant capital repairs to upgrade the structure to meet to current Ithaca building code requirements (Einhorn, 1998). Additionally, the structure had asbestos containing materials due to the age of the structure (City, 2016). Ultimately, Cornell applied for a demolition permit for the structure in December 2016. The structure was demolished in January 2017 due to the significant investment needed to rehabilitate the structure which was prohibitively expensive.

Future Site Development

The project site’s flexible zoning regulations and close proximity to Cornell make it an ideal site for residential development by the University. The site has historically been used as a residence for students and will likely return to use as a residence given Ithaca’s high demand for housing and low market supply. Although the site has been vacant since 2017 and there are no active development proposals nor active building permits for the site, it is reasonable to expect the site to be developed in the coming years.

Empty lot where 722 University once stood



  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (September 2015). A Vision for Our Future – City of Ithaca Comprehensive Plan. Accessed March 17 2021, www.cityofithaca.org, http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/4054/Plan-Ithaca?bidId=

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (April 2018). Official Zoning Map of the City of Ithaca, New York. Accessed March 17 2021, www.cityofithaca.org, http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/1436/City-of-Ithaca-Official-Zoning-Map- PDF?bidId=

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (February 2018). Section 325-8: District Regulations Chart. Accessed March 17 2021, www.cityofithaca.org, http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/4481/Zoning-District-Regulations-Chart-PDF?bidId=

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (N.d.) Section 325-8: District Regulations Chart R-U Use District. Accessed March 17 2021, www.cityofithaca.org, http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/142/R-U-PDF?bidId=

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning, Building, and Economic Development. (May 2013). The City of Ithaca Historic District and Landmark Design Guidelines. Accessed March 16, 2021, www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/78/Historic-District--Landmark-Design-Guidelines-PDF

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (2015). General Neighborhood Map. Accessed March 16 2021, www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/3091/Draft-PlanIthaca---Appendix-CMaps-? bidId= City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Planning & Development. (2015). Environmental Features. Accessed March 16

  • 2021, www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/3091/Draft-PlanIthaca---Appendix-C-Maps-?bidId=

  • City of Ithaca Dpt. Of Public Works. (2016). Demolition Permit – 722 University Ave.

  • Crandell, Brian. (January 2017). A little piece of Cornell history disappears. March 17 2021, www.IthacaVoice.com, https://ithacavoice.com/2017/01/little-piece-cornell-history-disappears/#

  • Einhorn Yaffee Prescott. (May 1998). Condition Assessment Report.

  • Engst, Elaine & Friedlander, Blaine. (December 2015). Cornell Rewind: The fluid landscapes of yesteryear. Accessed March 18 2021, www.news.cornell.edu, www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/12/cornell-rewind-fluid-landscapes-yesteryear

  • Rash, David. (May 2014). The Works of Clinton L. Vivian, Architect of Ithaca (Volume 2). Cornell University.

  • Thommen, Lynn. (2021). Draft 722 University Avenue Narrative.

  • Tompkins County. (2021). Tompkins County Property Viewer. Parcel ID: 500700-29.-3-9. Accessed March 17, 2021 Available at: https://geo2.tompkins-co.org/html/?viewer=tcpropmo

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