History of the Building


Building restoration receives award

Based on local historical archives and building department records.
by Jane Marie Law

This record has been prepared for future generations who, for one reason or another, may need to reconstruct an architectural, landscaping or usage history of this building at 404 North Cayuga Street. As part of Ithaca’s historic district, it is imperative that this building and its history be preserved for future generations.

The building at 404 North Cayuga Street is an Italianate house built between 1867 and 1873. It was built for Mr. William Ireland (b. 1822, d. 1904), son of James and Nancy Ireland of Danby, New York. According to the New York State census of 1850, his occupation was listed as a school teacher, although he was also a cobbler by trade. It was common for school teachers in the nineteenth century to have an additional skilled occupation. It appears that Mr. Ireland may have operated his boot and shoe business out of his home. [1] Mr. Ireland lived in this house until 1904. He died on December 22 of that year.

The original structure of the house consisted of the first and second floors of what is now considered the south end of the building, excluding the glassed in porch (which as of 2000 now serves as a doctor’s waiting room). The south bay window was added between 1893 and 1898, and the north sections were added between in 1904 and 1910.

Following the death of Mr. Ireland, his widow continued to live in the house for six years, from 1904 until 1910. During this time, the north section of the house (which consists of the upstairs suite to the north of the staircase) was added. It appears that this was added as a rental income section of the house, and was rented primarily as business office and residential apartment space over the years. Mrs. Ireland died in 1910.

From 1910 until 1919, the house remained vacant. In 1919, Anna Haylett, possibly the widowed daughter of the William Ireland, moved into the house. At this time, a Charles D. River also lived on the first floor of the house. He was a molder by occupation. The first listing of 404 and 1/2 in the city directories occurs in 1919, when the house is again occupied after nearly a decade of remaining vacant. The north section of the building (the rental space, 404 and 1/2) was leased to an Andrew Hetherington, who was a realtor, and used this space as a business office. Haylett and Rivers continue in the first and second floors of the house at the south end until 1929.

In 1929, the house was purchased by Walter J. Holmes, a real estate broker, who rented the section previously known as 404 and 1/2 (the north section of the upstairs) to Rolla Tallcott, the dean of the William School of Expression. Mr. Holmes owned the building until 1957, during which time he used it as his primary residence and later his primary office for real estate. He also rented the north section of the house out to various people, with a turnover rate of approximately once every eighteen months. Many of the people to whom it was rented appear to have been elderly widows, judging by the way their names were listed (Mrs. Jane Doe, for example, the proper listing for a widowed woman).

Beginning in 1951, the building at 404 North Cayuga appears to have been solely the real estate office of Walter Holmes. [2] This continued until he sold the building to Henry C. Whitlock in 1957. Historical records in the blue papers on the house show 404 North Cayuga Street as Whitlock’s primary residence with rented out units on the second floor. Mr. Whitlock continued to live in the building until 1963. There was a nine year period of owner vacancy for the house after Mr. Whitlock moved out, during which time the occupancy of the building was changing every three or four months. A Mrs. Mary McDougal, however, lived in the rental section (404 and 1/2) of the building from 1969 until 1972, the longest period of tenancy in this part of the building in over fifty years.

In 1972, the building was purchased by Dr. Salerno, who used the entire building as medical office and examining space, leasing sections of it to other physicians. He removed the back yard of the building and the garage, and converted the back of the building to a gravel parking lot. In these renovations to the back yard of the house, a number of historic plantings from the house remained, including large lilac trees, continental varieties of peonies, and rose bushes. Old wisteria vines, possibly dating from as early as the 1920’s judging by their size, adorn the apartment porch. They bloom each year. [3]

Dr. Salerno also received permission to remove the back porch, though did not undertake this renovation. At the time Dr. Salerno purchased this building, medical use in a R-3a zone was permitted. He undertook considerable conversions to remove and transform the interior of the house from domestic space to medical office space.

During the renovations undertaken by Dr. Salerno, a number of certain historic features of the house were maintained and the house was brought back from total disarray. Among these is the “unusual rope molding surrounding the arched transom and double doors of its entrance,” [4] clearly hand carved of white chestnut, the original banister leading to the second floor from the main entrance to the house, the ornate chandelier molding in the front entryway, and the original glass in the front windows. Otherwise, all historic features of the house no longer existed. The color of the house was changed from brown to yellow. Dr. Salerno also landscaped the front of the building for easier maintenance as an office in a style popular in the 1970’s, adding concrete and bush plantings, and planting a dogwood tree. He also landscaped the rear parking area with peripheral evergreen plantings.

It appears that from 1974 to 1975, the apartment section of the building was left vacant, as city records do not indicate any tenants at this time, or list only “students.”

By 1981, the Ithaca directory lists the following physicians as having office space of some sort at 404 North Cayuga Street: Drs. Carol Fineout, Lynne Greene, Phil Iorio, and Munger. 404 and 1/2 is listed as leased to residential tenant, although the space was actually used as a billing office for medical offices.

In 1981, Dr. Salerno received a building permit to renovate the second floor of the south end of the building for medical office use. He did not undertake the renovations, however. It remained general office space.

In 1985, most of the physicians except Dr. Salerno (the owner of the building) stopped practicing in or using the space at 404 North Cayuga (and many moved to the new space near the hospital). At this time, Dr. Salerno leased the south end of the second floor to Mr. David Gersch, a lawyer who practiced in this space until 1996. Dr. Salerno applied for a use variance for this section of the building, to convert it from legal medical use (grandfathered from the zoning on the entire building when he purchased it) to general commercial (not grandfathered), to allow for an attorney to practice in the building. His argument to the city was that it was not possible to get physicians to practice in the building because it was too far from the hospital and most doctors preferred to work there.

Dr. Salerno stopped practicing medicine in Ithaca the early 1990’s. There was a period of time when the office section of the building was largely vacant, with Carol Bass practicing audiology in the back section of the building. Mr. Gersch continued practicing on the second floor of the building. The section of the building known as 404 and 1/2 was rented to students, with a very high turnover rate of about every six months, affected through complex sub-leases.

In 1996, Dr. Adam Law and his wife, Jane Marie Law purchased the building, to use it as the primary care medical office for Dr. Law. Dr. Law wanted to actualize a vision of a medical office in the center of the community it served, and not located closer to the hospital but removed from the community of patients. At this time, extensive internal renovations were undertaken to transform the office space into a two-physician medical office. The apartment section of the building was left as an apartment, though renovated and updated. External renovations on the building were limited to the following: The color of the building was changed to white with pale green risers on the front steps (historic for immediate post-civil war Italianate houses), the rear porch was enclosed and made into a lab for the medical office, and the parking lot and driveway were paved. One window was added on the southern facade of the building and a handicapped access ramp was added.

From 1996 until the spring of 2000, the building has been used as a medical office and the apartment has been leased to two different tenants; two women (in the first lease) — a physicist and a library acquisitions restorationist and one woman (second lease) — a Japanese language teacher and Victorian clothing designer.

The following physicians and medical care providers have practiced in the building since Dr. Law purchased it: Dr. Adam Law, Dr. Eileen Lucey, Karen Briggs (R.N.), Nancy Peckenpaugh (Diabetes Nurse Educator and Dietitian), and Anne Neirynck (Nurse Practitioner).

In the spring of 2001, the remaining apartment section of the second floor was renovated as medical office space, following a zoning variance granted by the City of Ithaca Board of Zoning Appeals in May, 2000. As a result of this variance, sought by Dr. and Mrs. Law (the hearing for which was attended by over 100 people) steps have been taken in the City of Ithaca Zoning code to once again allow primary care physicians to work closer to the actual communities they serve, reestablishing the model of community centered medicine.

End Notes:
[1] It appears that the numeration on North Cayuga Street was changed in 1901, because prior to this date, all Ithaca directories list Mr. Ireland’s residence at 64 North Cayuga Street, although this was the only home he had. By 1901, all directories list this as 404 North Cayuga, although the Ireland family did not move.

[2] Mannings Ithaca Directory, 1951, p. 439, s.v.,real estate.

[3] One of the lilac bushes was destroyed in the 1996 renovations to the parking lot. The peonies were relocated to 16 Muriel Street, the garden of Jane Marie Law, when they were repeatedly damaged by cars. Some of the rose bushes still remain.

[4] Dewitt Historical Society Blue Paper on 404 North Cayuga Street, page three with photo. One wonders if this nice molding is courtesy of the molder who lived in the house from 1919 until 1929.