All safe and accounted for as Chapter House and adjacent building destroyed by fire early Tuesday

April 14, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

Ithaca fire and police officials say all residents of two buildings are safe and accounted for in the wake of a fire that erupted early Tuesday morning and destroyed the Chapter House pub and the next door apartment house on Stewart Avenue. The day has brought an outpouring of nostalgia, and assistance.

The Chapter House building and adjacent apartment house were destroyed in Tuesday's fire. 14850 Photo.The Chapter House building and adjacent apartment house were destroyed in Tuesday's fire. 14850 Photo.Firefighters were on the scene at about 4am after residents were awoken by smoke and blaring alarms. IFD spokesperson Lt. Thomas T. Basher Jr. tells us all of the residents of both buildings had gotten out safely by the time firefighters arrived.

Cornell officials and community members have risen to the occasion to offer help to displaced residents and employees affected by the fire. Cornell University says the Mortar Board Society is setting up a collection point on Ho Plaza this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, from noon to 4pm each day, for campus and community members who'd like to donate clothing, gift cards, or cash. A "quick and dirty" benefit fundraiser event at Lot 10 is scheduled for Friday from 5-7pm, planned so that members of Ithaca's "service community, past and present," can help Chapter House staff who find themselves without a job. The Shop Café at the foot of Seneca Street has set up a collection box to help, as well.

Lt. Basher tells us both Cornell University and the American Red Cross have offered assistance finding displaced apartment residents temporary living accommodations, and according to Cornell University, landlord John Novarr is providing displaced students with furnished apartments for the remainder of the semester. The Statler Hotel provided a hot breakfast to residents, Cornell Dining has given them Big Red Bucks credit for use in campus eateries, and the Cornell Store has distributed clothing to the students. 

"We have to make tough decisions when we arrive at a fire scene with two firefighters on the truck," Basher told us this morning. "Do we start going knocking on every door to make sure everyone is out? Do we start pouring water on the fire?" He tells us officials on the scene were surprised to find that most residents weren't standing nearby, as is often the case, but had left for friends' homes or their cars. One building resident who was unaccounted for at first turned out to be traveling out of town, and had not been in the apartment when the fire started. "We got hold of him on Facebook," Basher says.

The Chapter House dates back nearly a century as a Collegetown establishment. Cornell history specialist Corey Ryan Earle said on Twitter this morning that the business, the oldest bar in Collegetown, first opened as Jim's Place in the mid 1920s. 

The popular tavern became the Chapter House in the 1960s, and has had multiple owners and multiple incarnations since. Through the 1980s and most of the '90s, it was operated as a brewpub by owner James Clement, and served house beers, housemade ginger ale and root beer, and little else, until Clement sold the bar to John Schaeffer, the current owner. Schaeffer says the bar generally has at least 50 microbrews on tap at any given time, and several years ago added liquor so he could serve cocktails and mixed drinks.

The bar has at various times sold pizza and hot subs, but these days has just popcorn. It's known as a live music venue, and has been popular with local acts such as The Jeff Love Band, Mike Brindisi and the New York Rock, Boy with a Fish, Plastic Nebraska, Marc Berger and Ride, The Rungs, the Johnny Dowd Band, and the Fly Rods.

Two former bartenders have decided to take up a collection to help rebuild the Chapter House. David Garlough and Peter Bondi have each donated $200 to kickstart a GoFundMe drive that Garlough created with a goal of $100,000. "If it's not possible to rebuild, or if the owners decide against it, all money will be refunded within 60 days," Garlough says. "The Chapter House paid a good part of my tuition," says the Cornell alum, who worked at the bar from 1998-2000.

For more, follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Wings Over Ithaca


335 Pine Tree Road
East Hill Plaza
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 607-256-9464

Read the review

AGAVA Restaurant


381 Pine Tree Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 607-319-4366

Read the review