From Another Era

By James Baratta ’22, September 4, 2020
Downtown art exhibit highlights Ithaca College’s past.

Before being moved to South Hill, Ithaca College enjoyed a rich history in the city’s downtown. For decades, students, faculty and staff were intertwined with local residents, living in dorms and houses in the heart of the city. Now, more than 50 years after the college’s footprint left downtown, a new virtual exhibit showcases IC’s unique roots.

“Ithaca College in the Downtown Era” is a collaboration between the Ithaca College library and the Community Arts Partnership ArtSpace, which is located in the Tompkins Center for History and Culture on the Commons.

The exhibit features an array of archival images from long-time Ithaca College photographer C. Hadley Smith and other photographers. Some of the images date back to the early 1900s, and include photographs of dormitories with familiar names like Landon House, Williams Hall and Egbert Hall. There are also images of buildings that have either been demolished or gradually repurposed over time.

Take the Tour

“Ithaca in the Downtown Era” is free and open to the public for virtual viewing throughout the month of September

The idea for the exhibit came from Paula Younger, executive director for government and community relations in the Office of the President, who broached the subject last fall.

Library systems specialist Dan Taylor ’98 and natural sciences librarian Abby Juda worked steadily for months to curate the exhibit with photographs from the New York Heritage Digital Collection.

Boardman House

Boardman House became the Conservatory’s headquarters in 1911 and remained the administrative building for Ithaca College until 1965. (Photo by C. Hadley Smith)

The duo selected images from a combination of slides and silver-gelatin prints—a common photographic process for making black and white images toward the end of the late 19th century. Taylor then spent two weeks retouching the photographs.

“The fact that the college has only been on South Hill for 55 years, when most of its history was actually downtown, just kind of blew my mind,” said Taylor. “I knew that, but actually touching it and seeing it was something else.”

Due to restrictions posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance made “Ithaca in the Downtown Era” accessible online via the 3D virtual exhibition tool KUNSTMATRIX.

The collaboration between the college and community partners highlights a tenet of the strategic plan, while shedding an important light on the college’s past.

“When I went to Ithaca College, I had no idea the [South Hill] campus was only 10 years old, nor did I know that the campus was originally downtown” said Robin Schwartz ’79, program director for the Community Arts Partnership. “I think you appreciate where you are more when you know the history.”

Juda expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’m not an alum but I did grow up here... so seeing buildings that I’ve seen all my life that I had no idea had a connection to Ithaca College was really fun,” Juda said. “We’ve changed massively in the years that we’ve existed, and it’s been really interesting to think about that.”