Pavilion Complex

Pavilion Complex: OverviewRenwickGarden1_1000pix14025

The Ithaca Street Railway Co. (ISR) started running trolleys
throughout Ithaca in 1893.  As was common in many cities at the time ISR developed a trolley destination park on a 40 acre lakefront site, with a bandstand, three pavilions, and a water tower and extended a seasonal trolley line – the Cayuga Lake Railway – to the Renwick site by 1894. They offered many attractions including fireworks, live music by the Ithaca Concert Band led by Patsy Conway, and boat and bicycle races.  The park’s three pavilions – the Picnic, Dance and Tea Pavilions – were designed by Ithaca architects Vivian and Gibb who subsequently designed the shingle-style Cascadilla Boathouse, now on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.  The historic pavilion complex has gone through many changes since 1894 – the Dance Pavilion was converted to a silent film studio in 1914, the Bandstand and Water Tower are gone and replaced by an asphalt parking lot.  Yet the pavilions still remain as the historic heart of the park in their spectacular lakeside location with great potential to once again functions as the social centerpiece of the park.

Picnic Pavilion RestorationW25-7_200dpi

The Picnic Pavilion (often referred to as the Large Pavilion) is a beautifully- designed seasonal pavilion enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors who rent and use the facility for special events, weddings, parties and gatherings of all sorts. The Pavilion has also hosted the Stewart Park Day Camp and thousands of Ithaca’s youth for more than 25 summers of fun on the lake.   While the building has retained some of its historic charm and is, for the most part, structurally sound, it is in very poor cosmetic condition. The Pavilion will benefit from a major restoration effort to bring it back to its former grandeur and stabilize it for years to come. Fortunately, this work has already begun. Volunteers repaired, prepped, and painted the building exterior in 2008. The City of Ithaca with Tompkins County Tourism Program and County support, completely rebuilt the restrooms during the winter of 2015. One of seven of the historic door and window units is now being restored and repainted with a new, more historically accurate paint palette.  In 2016, a campaign will be conducted to raise funds needed to restore the remaining six door/window units. $35,000 of the $75,000 Tompkins County Tourism Program grant will also help fund other needed improvements that may include interior repairs, painting and lighting and repairs and painting of the veranda that wraps the pavilion’s east, west and north elevations. Eventually the roof will be replaced and an addition to the south side is under consideration to house the Day Camp boats and recreation equipment currently stored at present in the Wharton Studio building/DPW Maintenance Pavilion. Building restoration priorities will be determined by a Building Condition Survey that is currently underway. The City is currently awaiting the results of a State CFA grant application submitted in August 2015 that would provide needed matching funds to replace the Picnic Pavilion’s roof.

Wharton Pavilion

Just west of the Picnic Pavilion  is the Wharton Studio building. The Wharton Studio Museum (WSM) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a silent movie museum in this historic Wharton movie studio building where, from 1915-1921, over 100 silent films were directed and produced by filmmaking brothers Theodore and Leopold Wharton and other producing entities.   The building is one of only a handful of silent movie studios still standing in the country. Ted Wharton initially came to Ithaca in 1912 to film a Cornell-Penn State football game and some typical scenes of campus life for the Essanay Company.  So taken was he by the interesting rustic and urban locations the city and region offered — gorges, waterfalls, forests, Cayuga Lake and a downtown cityscape — that he returned to Ithaca in 1914 and, alongy30-39 with his brother Leo, established a silent movie production studio in what was then Renwick Park (today Stewart Park) in 1915.

Click here for a short video on the history of the brothers and their studio.

Wharton Studio Museum is a major stakeholder in the Stewart Park Revitalization Plan, as well as in the Friends of Stewart Park’s plans to revitalize the park.  WSM co-founder Diana Riesman and volunteer Executive Director is a member of the FSP Board. FSP is working to support and facilitate WSM’s plans to rehabilitate the former silent movie studio and to create the “bricks and mortar” location of  theWharton Studio Museum.  The future museum will feature a permanent exhibit on the history of silent film in the region, other rotating exhibits, educational programs, lectures and workshops, as well as a cafe and giftshop.  WSM is collaborating with a number of local organizations such as Tompkins County Public Library, Cornell Cinema, The History Center in Tompkins County, The Park School of Communication

In 2014, as part of a park-wide interpretive signage project, Wharton Studio Museum designed and created a panel on the north-facing facade of the Wharton Studio building which recounts the building’s illustrious history with text and graphics. IMAGE WITH LINK

The current park maintenance function, now housed in this building, will be relocated to a new Park Maintenance Building to be located at the southeast corner of the park.

Performance Plaza

GrApp - RenwickBandshellHistorically, the asphalt parking lot now located between the Pavilions was a major pedestrian gathering space with a lovely Water Tower overlook a bandshell and Cayuga Lake. Ithaca residents and visitors would gather, listen, and dance to the renowned Paddy Conway Concert Band and enjoy the beautiful lake view. Many previous park improvement plans, including the 1934 Master Plan, the 1987 Stewart Park Master Plan, and the 1997 Tompkins County Waterfront Plan, have proposed that this performance function be restored to this important area between the historic pavilions. Current plans are to construct a beautifully paved Performance Plaza  in place of the existing parking lot, one that can host both large and small performances and be used by the Day Camp and other special events and festivals.   Parking function be relocated to the east side of the Picnic Pavilion with access off of the turnaround to the east. Performances can be held on the plaza, on a temporary stage trucked into the park with seating on the plaza and overflowing into the lawn that extends towards the Memorial Flagpole Garden. A lake overlook is proposed on the edge of Cayuga Lake, directly north of the Performance Plaza. Consideration should be given to constructing a bandshell on or adjacent to this lakefront overlook. Many arts organizations have expressed great interest in performing at Stewart Park, including the Ithaca Concert Band, Ithaca College’s Whalen School of Music, the Ithaca Festival, Grassroots Festival, and even the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The feasibility of successfully accommodating such large groups will need careful study.

Tea Pavilion ReconstructionTea Pav Today WEB

The Tea Pavilion is located west of the Wharton Pavilion between the playground area and Cayuga Lake. The City of Ithaca accepts reservations for shared or exclusive use of the Tea Pavilion as described here. The City’s Department of Public Works crews rebuilt the Tea Pavilion to its beautiful historic design with ADA-required design modifications. Major construction was completed in 2013 at a cost of $125,000.   While the major construction is completed, the City DPW crews will be soon be completing some detailed trim work along with caulking and preparations for painting.  Friends of Stewart Park is planning to finish painting the pavilion during the Spring of 2016.