ATO and Campus Living Are Awkward Partners

13 03 2014

When this blog started, I think Alpha Tau Omega (henceforth ATO) was the first renovation in progress that I had ever taken note of, in mid-summer 2008. Here was a before pic, which dates from July 3rd, 2008.

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Here’s an after pic, which dates from August 15th, 2008.
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The house had had structural issues that were fixed before this blog started, and the external renovations were finishing up when the first photo was taken. I assume the repaint was all that was left to do.

ATO was one of two fraternities that closed in the summer of 2013, the other being Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT). In both cases, the closing was called for by their nationals, who were displeased with the quality and conduct of their Cornell chapters. This article notes that ATO’s alumni group hoped to rent the house to graduate students while they wait for the chapter’s return (generally, that means that all the once-current members have graduated). ZBT is targeting a return in 2014/2015. The process isn’t new, Kappa Sigma did the same thing from 2010 to 2012. I’ll even go as far as to suggest that someday, another couple years from now, Sigma Alpha Epsilon will make a return to Cornell, though Hillcrest is being used as a dorm in the meanwhile (I dunno if they’ll ever be back in 122 McGraw, which is owned by Cornell; I tried checking Kappa Sig’s house for reference, and couldn’t find anything. But I do see that they liked my photo so much it’s on the front page of their website, guy standing on the roof and all).

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Anyway, reading the Cornell is leasing the house for the upcoming year is no big surprise. In fact, it brings back memories of my friends in 112 Edgemoor. Edgemoor was a fraternity house until 1985, when Triangle closed. Being purchased by Cornell some time earlier, it became a small dorm. The fact that most of my meteo friends even ended up in Edgemoor is kinda my fault. A bunch of my meteorology classmates wanted to go in together on a suite on West Campus. When I found out I would have to be on a Cornell meal plan, I balked; I wanted to be on my fraternity’s meal plan for dinners and manage my own (cheaper) lunches. When I caused that suite plan to fall through, a lot of them went into Edgemoor, and a couple others gravitated towards that group and moved in as well. I think meteorologists and their friends made up about half of Edgemoor’s residents, and there were about 21 at the time. I spent more time there than my own dorm (and Cascadilla and Edgemoor were close to each other at least). It was a nice house, but from my own observation, almost everyone else in Edgemoor saw it as just a place to sleep.  For the student in the article that hopes for more intimate social connections, I would set the expectations low but hope for the best. For the record, I don’t have high opinions of ATO either. Some years back, ATO thought it was a good idea to take my freshman roommate to Kuma Charmers as a rush activity. He came back with bruises on his legs from what he described as the worst lap dance ever. My roommate ended up joining a different house. Furthermore, I went there once to meet him after one of their events, and the inside of the house was in shambles, with a giant pile of wood furniture tossed helter-skelter in a corner, and broken glass everywhere. So someone describing the house as a health hazard is no surprise either.

I think that unless people already have connections to their housemates, that the intimacy of non-specialized small group housing is overrated; upperclassmen have generally built their social networks and have their coteries. I don’t imagine Cornell’s thrilled to have to clean house, nor ATO to have it occupied by someone that’s not an active membership. But this is better than an empty house, the cleanup is appreciated, and I suppose that at least a couple dozen fewer people won’t have to do the manic search for off-campus housing.





News Tidbits 2/6/14: A Sorority Totally New To Cornell

7 02 2014

Image Property of Phi Mu sorority.

Courtesy of the Cornell Sun and Cornell Chronicle comes news of the latest addition to Cornell’s Greek Life – social sorority Phi Mu.  According to the news articles, sorority interest has increased in the previous few years, from 670 registrants in 2010 to 873 in the latest rush (Chronicle claims 871…don’t know which is correct). This moved the Cornell Pan-Hel system to add a 13th sorority. If one views Phi Sigma Sigma as a replacement for the departed Alpha Omicron Pi, then Phi Mu would mark the first time there have been 13 Pan-Hel sororities on campus since 2003, when Delta Phi Epsilon and Chi Omega closed, and were replaced by Alpha Xi Delta the following year. If you go a little further back, there were 14 as recently as 1996, before Alpha Gamma Delta closed (comparing the old photo in that link to my 2008 shot, their physical house went downhill fast).

Given that there are a number of sororities that used to have a presence at Cornell, it’s rather unusual to see a colonization rather than a re-colonization; Phi Mu has never previously been installed on Cornell’s campus. Lookins at their wikipedia page, it would seem that most of their 117 chapters are based out of the South and Mid-Atlantic; so being in the northeast is unfamiliar territory for this sorority.

A new sorority is all and well and good, but my primary interest lies in this sentence from the Sun article:

According to [Katherine-Rae Cianciotto, dean of students], Phi Mu is currently researching housing options and will likely have a house beginning in Fall 2015.”

There are options ladies. It will be interesting to see where the sorority ends up making its physical home, and hopefully build upon a house’s history.

 





News Tidbits 1/23/2014: Cashing in One’s Chips

23 01 2014
Property of O'Connor Apartments

Property of O’Connor Apartments

About six weeks ago, I made a quick little news tidbit entry regarding 115 The Knoll, which had turned to Craigslist to try and fill its quarters starting this June. Now, we can also mention that the house is not only looking for renters, it’s also looking for buyers. From Warren Real Estate:

Gorgeous arts & crafts mansion steps from Cornell. Built circa 1915 with up-to-date sprinkler & fire alarm. Living room, chapter room, dining room, commercial kitchen. 13 rooms for up to 25 occupants. There is also [a] 1 bedroom cottage with a separate driveway. Approximately 18 parking spaces.

The real estate listing uses the same photo from the rentals website, so this is indeed the same house (the listing agent is Edelman Real Estate’s John O’Connor, who by my guess is likely associated with the family-run O’Connor Apartments). If interested, this house could also be yours for a cool $1.35 million (Ex-Ithacan take note). Taking a stab in the dark, my assumption is that the current owners have finally given up the ghost, and no longer want to be responsible for the property and its taxes.

Notably, this isn’t the first time the house has been on the market, but in summer 2009, it was only asking for $795,000. The house waited until January 2010 for a sale to be finalized. Whether it ends up a private home, home to another GLO, or yet another parcel owned by Cornell, remains to be seen. If 210 Thurston was any indicator, this one could be on the market for a while.

Around and around and around she goes, where she ends up, nobody knows.





More Than Just Cherries On Top: The Purity Redevelopment Plan

11 01 2013

Now, a part of me was tempted to write something up about a Cornell fraternity that just was thrown off campus for “sexually humiliating” hazing…but then, I realized I’m too far out to care for the stupid crap of the current crop of students. No matter how absolutely, unfathomably asinine it is. Stay classy TEP, it’s a miracle your trashed house didn’t collapse first.

So onto something that catches my interest in a more positive way. I have to issue a slight mea culpa on this, because the news regarding the Purity Ice Cream project has been floating around for a good six weeks already. For those who have yet to experience it, Purity is a fairly well-known local ice cream company, in operation since 1936. The current building, a rather plain one-story brick structure, was completed in 1953.

Of note and of particular relevance here, Purity is in a high-traffic but fairly low density area, on the Corner of Meadow and Cascadilla Streets, west-northwest of downtown. In what I would describe as a rarity for Ithaca, I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a photo of the store. Thank Heaven for aerials and Flickr.

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Purity’s parcel is outlined in red in the above image from Bing Maps. It lies on the cusp of low-to-moderate density residential district (Northside), part of a small commercial district of mostly retail and warehousing. So it lies quite a ways outside the traditional dense clusters of development.

The plans are still pretty conceptual at this point. The owners, Bruce and Heather Lane, seek to keep the original structure and build vertically; rental office and retail space on the lower floors, with 13 to 26 1 and 2-bedroom apartments on the third and higher floors. The facade, in keeping with the original structure, will be brick. The number of stories is to suggested at 4-5, but the first floor would have 16′ ceilings, so it would be fairly likely to top out around 60′, and the new building would be a visual focus point in the generally low-rise neighborhood. Although the area is less built up than some other parts of the city, the owners are seeking to tap into new urbanist concepts, touting the walkability to Greenstar and the Waterfront Trail. The goal is to get the project underway in fall 2013, and the ice cream store will remain open throughout the duration of construction. A structure like this would have a 12-to-18 month time frame.

Not all of the structure would be saved, as the manufacturing space for the Ice Cream would be eliminated; but then, Purity has contracted out the ice cream manufacture to Byrne Dairy since 2006. It seems it would be a loss of underused space at worst.

Now here’s the consequence of my inattentiveness; the rendering is missing. I can come up with some ideas, since John Snyder Arch. is in charge, and they’ve been prolific in the area as of late (their flavor of choice being geometric forms/ modern design). But even with that knowledge, and knowing it was just a sketch plan, I would have liked to have seen the render. But unfortunately, it is missing from the IJ and its sister pubs, and even the article has been deleted (at least there were cached versions; but those did not have the render). Granted, it’s not like I’d be able to post it anyway, given the whole paid subscription thing. But, as the project continues to evolve over the next couple of months, I will attempt to stay on top of this for once, and post a rendering as a soon as a free version becomes available.

Update 1/17: And in fact one has, from Google image search. Sweet. Pun intended.

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News tidbits 1/6/2012: If You Screwed Up Once, You Can Screw Up Again

6 01 2012

As time has gone on and I become more removed from my days at Cornell, this blog focuses less and less on student-specific events, such as Greek Life. But then, news articles like this pop up:

http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2012/01/06/after-hospitalization-tke-may-lose-recognition

After Hospitalization, TKE May Lose Recognition

January 6, 2012
By Jeff Stein

Cornell will revoke its recognition of Tau Kappa Epsilon following reports of an alcohol-related hospitalization of a freshman unless the fraternity succeeds in its appeal of the decision, according to multiple sources.

In a memo obtained by The Sun on Thursday, University administrators faulted TKE for reportedly failing to ensure the safety of a highly intoxicated individual — the same oversight that officials say led to the death of George Desdunes ’13 last spring. Sixteen former pledges of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity in which Desdunes died, joined TKE a few months later.

The freshman, who had been consuming alcohol before attending TKE’s event, arrived at a recruitment dinner hosted by TKE at the China Buffet on Nov. 11. While it “remains unclear if he continued to consume alcohol at the dinner,” TKE did provide both beer and hard alcohol at the event, the report states.

But as early as September, the University had reason to believe “rumors that SAE has been operating through TKE,” according to the report, when administrators learned of plans for the “White Party” — an event “historically hosted by SAE [as a] social activity attracting hundreds of community members.”

“Out of great concern for the safety of attendees, considering that TKE would not be prepared to host a large event such as this, due to their inexperience, we placed the chapter on interim suspension,” the report states.

The memo then notes that, in a meeting with administrators, fraternity leadership agreed to cancel the event, terminate plans they had to “induct ‘little sisters’” and work with the TKE national organization toward building TKE “traditions that the community could support, as opposed to adopting SAE traditions.”

Despite these promises, “it became clear in that meeting that SAE’s former members, those who were fully initiated and have no affiliation with TKE, have significant influence on TKE as an organization,” the report states.

***

I read stories like this and I cringe. I’m a fairly avid supporter of Greek Life at Cornell. But stories like this make me rethink my stance. I understand that the person may or may not have consumed beverages at their recruitment dinner. Okay, innocent until proven guilty. But you’d think for a group of pledges that watched some of their pledgebrothers be indicted for killing someone, they’d use a little more precaution than “we’ll just drop him back off at his room and hope he’ll be fine”.

But that seems to merely be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The administration was bothered by how the chapter became SAE with a different set of letters. I couldn’t agree more. I am strongly bothered by the open flaunting of the SAE connection, and figuratively (maybe literally?) pissing on TKE’s original brotherhood and traditions (not that it wasn’t expected). I don’t know how much of the comments on the article to believe, but I don’t think they’re far from the mark. Calling yourself “Epsilon” because you feel the fraternity that took you in is so inferior you still have to tie it in to SAE (stating the obvious here, but it’s a nod to the fact that both Tau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon share that letter). It just disgusts me. You’re not SAE. SAE of Cornell was doomed the moment George Desdunes died due to alcohol poisoning administered during a pledge kidnapping.

It’s sad. Sad that TKE was so desperate for social status and growth that they sold out everything their brotherhood was. Sad that SAE let someone die. Sad that one organization is gone completely and the other one is about to be kicked off campus. Sad that this reflects on the whole system, which is in a percarious enough position as it is.

What an ignominious way to go. I hope as a Greek alumnus that if my fraternity was ever in TKE’s position that they would just close instead of selling out.

 

 





News Tidbits 8/22/11: Kappa Delta’s Swanky Renovation

22 08 2011

It would be nice to live in Ithaca, but since I don’t, I increasingly find about construction projects from word-of-mouth rather than investigating on my own. In correspondence with “BB” from the Milstein Hall entry, he briefly mentioned that he’d take some photos of KD’s renovation project.

It piqued my curiosity because that was the first time I had ever heard about it. My first thought was that it may not have been an immense piece of work because I hadn’t seen anything in the planning board minutes from the city. But, I decided to quickly check online to see if there was anything special about this construction project.

I barely recognized the house.

Here’s the before photo, from my own archives (dated July 16, 2008).

Here’s an after image from a construction blog on their website:

It’s a pitifully small photo, but I’ll rectify that when I take a photo at Homecoming. Note that the west wall (right side) visible in the before image is now the front entrance.

The most substantial change is the construction of a generous wrap-around porch from Sisson Place onto Triphammer Road. The construction itself isn’t expanding the structure much, about 800 sq. ft on the first floor (based off what my strained eyes can pull from the elevations image at top). But the exterior reclad with an emphasis on a traditional appearance does wonders for what was arguably one of the more rundown-looking sorority houses on campus, creating a more graceful, less bunker-like presence. According to the webpage, the renovation cost is around $400,000.

Regarding the comment on the webpage about Triphammer Road being the original entrance location, I don’t have any verification of that, but it is quite likely. KD moved to its current location around 1923 and underwent several renovations/expansions in the years since.

In terms of exterior alteration, this is probably one of the most substantial changes since Sigma Pi built a new house in the mid-1990s. I must admit that the final result looks impressive.





News Tidbits 6/28/11: The Lawsuit Everybody Expected

28 06 2011

So, the Cornell Sun (on its bare bones summer staff) has noted that the mother of George Desdunes ’13, the SAE brother who died in a hazing event this past February, is suing the national fraternity for $25 million. I’m no expert on legal matters, but I do know this has significant precedent with cases from other universities, and SAE has been slapped with three wrongful death lawsuits  in just the past five years. Most of the wrongful death cases were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts, although at least one, a case against a University of Texas chapter of SAE, was awarded $16.2 million (I’m not positive, but I believe it’s the fraternity’s insurance company that pays out, but the fraternity then finds it that much more difficult and expensive to have adequate coverage for their liabilities, which is necessary for recognition on many campuses. So although the fraternity doesn’t pay out directly, their finances still detrimentally impacted).

Now, here’s my question: is she bring a lawful death lawsuit against Cornell?

In a previous entry, I described how a similar incident had occurred at M.I.T. back in the late 1990s with the death of a pledge at their FIJI chapter. In that case, the Kreuger family held M.I.T. responsible for a lack of supervision of the fraternity that allowed the death to occur. Although a formal lawsuit against the school was never filed, MIT did pay out $6 million to the family, of which $1.25 million went to a memorial scholarship. In hazing-wrongful death lawsuits, it seems, at a casual glance, that while it’s common for the fraternities local chapters and national organizations to be sued, it unusual for the school to be sued, perhaps because its much more difficult to build a case. But, I would not hold out against the possibility that if the lawyers are zealous enough, they can use the lack of supervision against Cornell and receive a similar settlement.  For one thing, SAE lived in a university-owned property and the incident allegedly took place in the Townhouses on North Campus.

So, the obvious take-away from this news is that SAE is screwed and totally responsible for their members’ actions. But in the bigger picture, one does wonder if the plaintiffs are going to try and go after Cornell as well.





News Tidbits 5/6/2011: Some of Us Can’t Be At Slope Day

6 05 2011

Oh graduate finals. You take way the afternoon of one of the biggest social days of my year. Well, I’ve studied a fair amount, and since final #1 is at 3 PM, I figured I would take a brief break to tackle a few of the many news pieces to have been released lately, before they become really old news.

1. SAE’s pledge class joining TKE. Do I think this is wrong? On many levels, yes. Playing Devil’s Advocate here, I can see why they might’ve pursued this idea. It’s no great secret that TKE’s numbers have been declining recently, and the fresh blood of a sizable class adopted from a fraternity with a strong social reputation could definitely help in some respects. In a historical sense, there’s nothing particularly like it.  When Phi Sigma Kappa and Phi Sigma Epsilon merged in the mid-1980s, even though both had houses at Cornell, there’s no indication the bortherhoods merged; it seems Phi Sigma Epsilon simply closed. There are some cases of entire fraternities merging, such as Zodiac and ATO in the 1930s. In all my fact-checking, I found only one case; pledges of Theta Chi, which was booted off Cornell’s campus in 1999, asked if they could join Alpha Epsilon Pi, and the offer was accepted. AEPi partially operated out of the Theta Chi house until 2001 (first they operated both their house at 140 Thurston and the house at 40 Ridgewood, then just Ridgewood), when it became too expensive and they reverted back to just their Thurston property.

On a related note, four of the former SAE pledges (not affiliated with the TKE group) were indicted on charges related to the death of George Desdunes ’13.

If I were an alum of TKE (which I’m not, thankfully) I’d be livid. It sets a horrible example, that even though the members of your pledge class had an indirect role in someone’s death, that you’re high enough on the social ladder that another house will come to your “rescue”. For all practical purposes, the size of this group, and their former association, will likely cause Tau Kappa Epsilon to become a hybridized version of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Arguably, that might help the house’s perceived social standing, and it provides some measure of stability, but at great expense to the house’s integrity, and it speaks volumes on how much the SAE group actually cared about their own fraternal association. It just seems ethically wrong to me.

2. Then again, being ethically wrong seems to be a running theme of the semester. I have to say, having an IFC officer mock MGLC’s step show will sexual gestures towards a large audience that included Ithaca high and middle school students, and then voting to not remove him until the associate dean “strongly advises” it and he tenders his own resignation…like really? Is the system trying to get dismantled, because honestly I can’t tell at this point.

3. last on the pieces of news to tackle, the fatal fire at 107 Cook Street. We all talk about how some of the houses in Collegetown are unsafe, but never would anyone want a tragic event such as this to happen. Argue about zoning and landlords and proper maintenance all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone has lost their life just as the semester was wrapping up. As an aside, I actually knew two guys from my major who lived in this exact apartment last year, and by their accounts it wasn’t in terrible shape. But right now, what matters is that someone is gone all too soon. As a final aside, the last fatal apartment fire was on Heights Court near North Campus back in May 2006. That house was renovated, and at last check, was up for sale.

P.S. I have a backlog of entries to write; once my schedule clears up, activity on this blog should pick up.





News Tidbits 4/18/11: Fraternity Seeks Recolonization in Turbulent Times

18 04 2011

Image property of Alpha Phi Delta

Seems a second fraternity is seeking to reestablish itself on Cornell’s campus this year.  According to the Daily Sun, an interest group has been preliminarily approved for recognition of the recolonization of the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity (in other words, the first step to recognition has been taken). Unlike Phi Kappa Sigma, this interest group has taken the route of forming a group first and then seeking the recognition of a national (which is the way it’s traditionally done with fraternities), rather than the national coming in and seeking to revive or start a chapter (more common for sororities, but an increasingly appealing option for large fraternal orgs).

Alpha Phi Delta has existed previously at Cornell’s campus. It was a historically Italian-American fraternity founded at Syracuse in 1911, and still draws most of its chapter membership from colleges in the Northeast. The Cornell chapter (Mu) was founded in 1922 and closed in 1968, three years after the fraternity opened itself up to membership for all men(and not just ones of Italian heritage). From old Cornellian yearbooks, it can be determined that they stayed with one house during their time at Cornell, but I’m having one hell of a time trying to determine its location – I can’t find it anywhere nearby on the 1928 and 1954 Cornell maps, which suggests to me it might have been far from campus.

Anyways, given the closure of Theta Xi and the recent fallout due to the SAE tragedy, I’m unsure as to how successful they will be. But, I wish them the best of luck. Oh, and if they’re still looking for a house, it would make my heart jump if they could move into an unused property that could use some revitalizing, like 722 University Avenue.





How the Mighty Have Fallen

19 03 2011

So it’s official. Sigma Alpha Epsilon, up until now the second largest chapter in the Greek system, is being booted from campus for a period of five years. All members must vacate the university-owned facility by the end of the month. I think the following passage is the most disturbing:

“At this time, the information provided to the university indicates that George Desdunes, 19, was provided alcohol while in the care of certain members and associate members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and became incapacitated. Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died.”

Let’s be honest. Associate members = pledges in this case. Also, just about anyone who’s been in a fraternity can vouch they knew “that” guy who got really, really drunk one time at a frat party or a mixer, so they gave him some water, a bucket just in case, and laid him on a couch to sleep it off (or maybe that was just in my experience). But this time, either members failed to recognize the severity of the situation – tragic but not impossible – or they realized the extent of the situation and did nothing. Which I really, sincerely hope wasn’t the case, especially since a number of criminal charges are likely in the upcoming weeks.

It’s hard to imagine a system without SAE occupying its lofty Hillcrest estate. But, there is a habit in recent years of the largest, most visible houses being shut down for one reason or another. Pi Kappa Alpha was one of the largest chapters in the system back in the 1980s and 1990s, their recognition was suspended after an incident a couple years ago sent three rushees to the hospital. Before In the mid 2000s, the largest chapter was Sigma Pi, which was suspended and forced to reorganize in 2007 after they sent Thanksgiving attendees to the hopsital with alcohol poisoning. It seems that the largest houses are more apt at screwing up.

It’s difficult to picture Cornell’s Greek Life without one of its prominent members. But under the circumstances, I would’ve been even more surprised if they had been allowed to continue on campus.








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