The Masonic Temple on North Cayuga Street

Like an old, rotting barge chained to a downtown pier, the former Ithaca Masonic Temple building at 117 N. Cayuga Street has sat idle and all but abandoned in the heart of our city for nearly three decades. All around it, creative designers and developers are revitalizing our city’s core with attractive buildings and public spaces. Yet this eyesore, built in 1926, remains cold and lifeless. The neglected form invokes a sense of mystery and intimidation for locals and visitors alike.

Originally designed by the prominent architectural firm, Gibb & Waltz, they would surely be ashamed of what’s become of their work. In 1994, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and Common Council designated the building a landmark, which sets in place a strict set of rules for altering the look and use. County tax records show the building was acquired by Jason Fane in 1993 for $325K. It’s now assessed at $500K.

Can’t we put our collective heads together and find a use for this monolithic structure? In a city full of creative, industrious people, surely there must be a use. How about co-working spaces, a youth hostel, alternative energy training center, or a food hall?

My big idea: The City of Ithaca and Jason Fane need to decide that 30 years of prime real estate monstrosity is enough, set aside regulations and preconditions, and find a way to transform this property into something we can all be proud of.

(5) comments

Merydith Mcmillan

I love this building and it is NOT an eyesore. I agree it should be in use. I think it's the electrical and plumbing that are the big issues.

Tracey Austin

I love that building and always wondered why it sits vacant. Why didn't the Chamber or Historic Ithaca consider using it? How about and Arts & Music Center where people can come listen to music, mingle, enjoy craftspeople at work, watch demostrations of various things like glassblowing, Metal or wood craft, etc. Have a small cafe there too. Come on people, this isn't rocket science! It is a great location, but parking needs to be discussed.

Karen Edelstein

This building is one of the few examples of Egyptian Revival architecture remaining in our region, and while it is truly heartbreaking that Fane has let the building sit vacant all these years, it has *never* been an eyesore. Is it a tragedy that, as a rental property, it is not viable? Absolutely! Perhaps it's time for Fane to let go of this building and turn it over--at a price that allows its best use to be realized--to a capable and visionary new owner.

Deborah Justice

Should be an axe throwing bar!

Maura Stephens

That a wealthy landowner has been permitted to let this historic building sit uninhabited and unused -- especially when it could be rehabilitated and repurposed for the entire community's benefit -- points to one of the biggest problems in our capitalist system. I was part of a couple groups that tried to find ways to purchase the building for mixed public use -- indoor "bazaar" for artisans and entrepreneurs, meeting spaces, art studios, performance space, etc. -- but the place was locked up and grossly overpriced by an owner who clearly couldn't care less about the community that enriches him. I've just gone through the 2021 and 2022 tax rolls to see how much has been paid in taxes on this property, but 115-117 N Cayuga Street is not listed in the rolls. The Historic State Theatre is, and even as a nonprofit it pays property taxes. I suspect the owner keeps the property vacant to use as a tax write-off against his myriad other properties in Ithaca. That should not be permitted. A wiser public policy would be to enact more fees from property owners who deliberately leave properties vacant with the city, as their deterioration and uninhabited status can serve as a breeding ground for crime, vermin, and related diseases. In 2017 the corporation under which Jason H. Fane owns this property, Ithaca Renting Company, filed for and received from Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission a building permit to make improvements, stating the reason for these improvements (repair of crumbling entrance steps, all new windows, paint, gutters) to be "necessary in order to secure a tenant for the space, as well as to provide security for the occupants." Who's fooling whom? If someone can find documentation about how much this building has cost the city in annual taxes over many years, that number should be made public. And a strong city council and mayor should enact policies that don't permit such abuse to continue.

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