The Clinton House

The Clinton House was named for DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York from 1817-1822 and again from 1824-1827. The original building was five stories high including attic and basement, and was topped by a circular cupola which rose 90 feet above street level. Construction costs were between $25,000 and $30,000. The Clinton House was built in partnership by Jeremiah Beebe, Henry Ackley and Henry Hibbard. These men also built Clinton Hall next door, which was built as a commercial enterprise to serve the hotel patrons and was purposely setback from the street to avoid competing visually with the Clinton House. It was designed in the Greek Revival style and built between 1828-29, possibly by local architect Ira Tillotson. An ambitious project for its time, heralded in 1832 by one regional newspaper, the Casket, as "a hotel of superior order and of the first class...equalled by few and surpassed by none in the State." The building contained over 150 rooms, including "offices, bathing rooms and spacious halls". The lobby staircase was originally circular and contained 81 steps. The front columns are each composed of a single oak tree, surrounded by layers of brick, with a stucco outer coating. In 1872 Ithaca's most prominent architect, William H Miller, renovated the structure into the then more fashionable Second Empire style, adding two new floors. These additions were made directly above the cornice level of the original building and were contained within a mansard roof. The original round cupola was replaced by a square tower. The exterior was painted lead gray with charcoal trim. After a fire in 1901 which destroyed the upper two stories, the Clinton House was rebuilt in a design by Clinton L. Vivian, using Colonial Revival details such as the Palladian window in the pediment and balustrade on the roof. The existing lobby was created at this time. A new brick addition, thirty-nine by forty-eight feet, was attached to the rear wall of the south wing. In 1949, the entire first floor of the 1902 wing was remodeled into the Mural Lounge. Architectural design of the lounge was done by two Cornell architecture professors, Thomas H. Canfield and Frederick M. Wells. The mural was painted by J. O. Mahoney also from Cornell University.

From its construction to the present, the Clinton House has been Ithaca’s most important landmark building. Ambitious and grand for a time when Ithaca had a population of less than 4,000, the Clinton House venture embodied the boundless ambitions of a rural community, and reflected a local economy on the upswing and in tune with the young nation’s growth.

The Clinton House quickly found its place as the hub of Ithaca’s social and intellectual life. Surveyor-General Simeon DeWitt lived and died in its rooms. Frances Perkins breakfasted every Sunday in the Clinton House during her final years. At least four Presidents of the United States have been guests, and the Clinton House registers record a host of notables, from participants in the westward expansion of the nation to the many movie stars working in Ithaca during the town’s brief stint as the seat of America’s young, pre-Hollywood film industry. The Ithaca Gas and Light Co, which today provides gas and electricity to communities across New York State as NYSEG, signed its articles of incorporation in a room in the Clinton House. The Clinton House was Ithaca’s first professional building, housing medical and law offices from its earliest days. The Clinton House is the central structure of the community, and its dining halls, ballrooms, and its veranda, beneath the imposing portico, have been witness to the important ceremonial events of the region for 172 years.

The economic hard times of the 1960’s and 70’s found the Clinton House in a state of physical decline, and in the name of urban renewal the building was scheduled to be razed to make way for a Holiday Inn. In 1972 Historic Ithaca bought and remodeled the Clinton House as office space, stabilizing the infrastructure while beginning the ongoing process of preserving and restoring the building to its proud history. Today the second and third floors still house many of Ithaca’s foremost professionals, while the first floor is occupied by the Community Arts Partnership, the Kitchen Theatre, the community arts ticketing center, and a branch of the Tompkins County Visitors’ Center.

In 2002, thirty years after first acquiring the building, Historic Ithaca surveyed the Clinton House to determine which projects were most needed to maintain this building as a vibrant contributor to the community into the twenty-first century. Among the building’s most pressing needs was a new boiler to replace the cracked steam boiler that serviced the building for the past thirty years. The boiler replacement was completed in fall of 2002. Other projects were completed in summer 2003: the main roof was replaced; the attic ceiling insulation was removed and replaced with attic floor insulation in order to extend the life of the new roof; exterior masonry was repaired and painted; and the building’s second and third floor spaces were recarpeted. Future plans for the Clinton House include the repair and replacement of the roof's balustrade, and further interior renovations.

The State Theatre

The site upon which the State Theatre stands today was originally occupied by the Bank of Newburgh (1820) that was moved to 106 E. Court St. in 1912. The large second-story windows are a clue to the building's original use -- an automobile showroom. Designed by Henry N. Hinkley in 1915, the building underwent an elaborate conversion from the Bovard Brothers' Security Garage to a state-of-the-art theater. The building was purchased in 1928 by the Berinstein family, owners of a chain of Upstate theaters operating under the name Cornell Theaters, Inc. Redesigned by architect Victor A. Rigaumont, the new theater sat 1,818 patrons; boasted a magnificent $26,000 organ, said to be the largest ever built for a theater by the Link Organ Company of Binghamton; eight dressing rooms, two projectors, and 32 drop sets for vaudeville acts. When the State Theater opened, it was billed as Ithaca's first "semi-atmospheric" theater.
Its interior, perhaps Ithaca's most unusual and significant, is an exuberant mix of Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance motifs. The elaborate painted ceiling has tiny lights resembling stars. A cloud machine, heightened the sense of illusion. Outside, both the ticket booth and billboards feature Renaissance detailing. In 1996, the State Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an excellent example of early 20th century "movie palace" architecture. The theatre was recently recognized by the New York State American Institute of Architects in their recent publication, Celebration and Reflection: 100 Years of Architecture in the Empire State. In 1998 Historic Ithaca purchased the theatre when it was threatened with demolition and is in the process of restoring the structure.

 

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