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Cornell students tackle preservation projects in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 April 2013 at 12:00 am

Agenda: Glazing windows, mortaring and documenting artifacts

Photos by Tom Rivers – Ke Tong applies shellac to a wooden window from the Pratt Opera House in Albion. Tong and 32 other Cornell University graduate students are working on preservation projects in Albion this weekend.

ALBION – Max Taffet was hunched over at a table this morning, writing down dimensions and details from the Grand Army of the Republic room in the historic Pratt and Day complex on Main Street.

Taffet, 25, is a graduate student in Cornell University’s City and Regional Planning Department. This weekend he and 32 other students are getting a hands-on education

in how preservation can help rejuvenate a downtown.

The students arrived in Albion on Thursday evening and toured the business district, the Erie Canal and some of the historic churches.

“It’s beautiful,” Taffet said about the buildings from the 19th Century. “This strip here is so rich. It’s gorgeous.”

Taffet lives in Boulder, Colo., which he says can’t match Albion in historic assets. He joined a few other students in making an inventory of the GAR room. The spot was used as a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans more than a century ago.  The room still includes GAR symbols on the walls that proclaim “Loyalty, Fraternity and Charity.”

Max Taffet, a graduate student in Cornell’s City and Regional Planning Department, catalogs details from the Grand Army of the Republic room in the Pratt and Day complex on Main Street.

Other Cornell students were working today to clean 100 wooden-framed windows, applying shellac, glaze and fresh paint.

Caitlin Kolb, a Cornell graduate student from Nebraska, said she was in awe of the historic fabric in Albion, a canal boomtown in the 1800s.

“It’s pretty exciting to be here and see this,” she said. “In Nebraska, we don’t have such old buildings.”

She drove past the old freight depot on West Academy Street, a building that has long been vacant. Kolb sees potential in that site and the community.

The Cornell students are also removing loose mortar from the walls of the former Pratt Opera House, and will apply new mortar.

Luis Martinez, a student at Cornell University, removes loose mortar inside the Pratt Opera House today. Martinez and other students will re-mortar the walls over the weekend.

The students removed tin from the back stage of the opera house. That revealed signatures of former stars and stagehands who worked in the building. Those signatures will all be documented.

Building owners Michael Bonafede and Judith Koehler welcomed the students for the annual preservation project by the Cornell program. Every year students go to a community for hands-on work. Last year they went to Lyndhurst, an estate along the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY.

Gina DiBella of Rochester is doing her master’s thesis on historic theaters the canal. She has toured and researched the former opera houses in both Albion and Medina.

“Their rehabilitation can help revitalize the community,” DiBella said. “There are a lot of hidden treasures in these canal communities.”

The students connected with Albion through Katelin Olson, the Albion Main Street Alliance director who is pursuing a doctorate at Cornell.

Students will be in seminars, learning from local contractors, including Jeremiah Knight, Neal Muscarella, Tom Snyder and Mark Scarborough. Local preservationists also will lead students on tours of the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church, Mount Albion Cemetery, Courthouse Square and the Cobblestone Society Museum.