Syracuse University Magazine

Rebirth of a Campus Landmark

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Renovations to the Psi Upsilon chapter house restore the historic structure to its former glory

By Amy Speach

For more than a century, fraternity brothers in the Pi Chapter of Psi Upsilon have been proud to call the big house at 101 College Place their home. But a few years back, the chapter’s alumni leaders noticed something about the house that threatened that longstanding sense of pride: It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was an eyesore. It was in disrepair and had been for quite a while. That realization launched a $350,000 renovation of the building’s facade, an extensive project that was carried out in phases between 2009 and 2013, with the crowning touches completed this September. The results are splendid, returning the imposing structure to its earlier beauty, turning the heads of passersby, and providing a home that the fraternity can once again regard with appreciation. “This was a long time coming, and we’re exceedingly proud of what we’ve accomplished,” says Jim Cornacchia ’86, vice president of the Pi Chapter’s Psi Upsilon Trust Association, the alumni board tasked with the governance and upkeep of the chapter house. “It means a lot to us to occupy that particular spot on campus, so we take our position seriously and want to be a good neighbor.”

Founded in 1875, just five years after the University itself, the Pi Chapter of Psi Upsilon has the distinction of being the University’s oldest continually operating fraternity. Although the chapter house was closed temporarily during World War II, when it housed military officers in training, the chapter itself has never shut down or recolonized. The house was built in 1898, one of few wood-based buildings on campus, and is believed to be the first structure at SU that was constructed specifically for use as a fraternity house. It was designed by architecture student Wellington Taber, a Pi Chapter member who graduated in 1899. In 1985, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, considered significant for its neoclassical design—another important point of pride for the fraternity. “In doing the renovations, we wanted to bring the house back to its historical architectural integrity,” says trust association president Mat Ross ’86, a trial partner with the Wilson Elser law firm in New York. “We also needed to make sure it was physically and structurally sound and could continue to stand up against Central New York winters.”

The project was fully funded by donations from chapter alumni, and, according to Cornacchia, wouldn’t have been possible without them. “This is a big deal to all of us,” says Cornacchia, director of technology at Wells Fargo Securities in the Greater New York area. He and Ross have served together on the trust association for 14 years, working closely with undergraduates to ensure the fraternity’s traditions are preserved and its principles are upheld. Both consider it a labor of love. “There are a number of very involved alumni who all have an equal love for the place we called home for four years of our lives,” he says.

Among those loyal alumni is Pete Daly ’80, who, as lead general contractor on the restorations, is an expert on the challenges and rewards of returning the chapter house to its glory days. “The house was looking pretty decrepit,” says Daly, president of the Daly Company and an alumnus of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “There were a lot of leaks, the roof was damaged, and much of the siding was falling off.” Work began with refurbishing the cupola and then tackled one side of the house each year, incorporating more modern materials when possible so less maintenance will be required in the future. The project also included repainting the house its original crisp white color, as well as consultations with the city’s preservation board to assure the building’s architectural integrity was being honored. “I’ve always felt a strong tie to the house,” Daly says. “Those were some of the best years of my life, and I made lifelong friends there. So I was happy to be involved in this project. It was a lot of fun.”  

Current chapter president John Tummino ’15 also calls his connection with Psi Upsilon “one of the best things that’s happened” in his years at Syracuse. “We’ve got a great group of guys—diverse, from all over the country,” says Tummino, a broadcast journalism and political science major. He takes pride in how great the house looks now and often receives compliments from people impressed with the renovations. “We love the house and are proud to keep it going,” he says. “We needed to make sure that it’s kept in the best shape, and thanks to a lot of great support and an outpouring of donations from our alumni all over the world, we were able to do that.



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Under construction, 1896



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1898



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1905



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February 13. 1907 fire; photo courtesy of John Dowling



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1939



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Winter Carnival 1950



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During restoration, 2014



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Restored pillars, 2014; photo by John Dowling