Work beginning on Garner President’s House

Construction has begun on the renovation of the Garner President’s House, which is funded by Cornell College Trustees and other friends of the college. The project, first announced in 2010, will include an expansion to the public area of the 162-year-old building that’s been home to Cornell presidents since 1864.

Work has begun to renovate the Garner President's House.

John McGrane, chair of the Board of Trustees, is championing the project with his wife and 1973 Cornell classmate, Martha (Marty) Benson McGrane. They have given a lead gift for the project and have recruited architect Stephen Muse of Muse Architects in Bethesda, Md. for the redesign. Among the firm’s 120 awards are two from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cornell’s entire campus is listed on the National Historic Register.

The goal of the project is to build on the strengths of the President’s House while mitigating existing problems with the structure and its layout. Preliminary plans call for renovation and expanding the public space, and renovating and revising the residential area. The removal of several rooms will simplify the design to focus on the original architectural design elements, and will assist in the restructure of residential space.

The 1850 house is the oldest building on campus, predating the founding of the college by three years. Cornell President William Fletcher King bought the house in 1864 and gave it to the college when he retired in 1908. The most recent major work on the home was in the late 1960s, when the heating and plumbing systems were upgraded. The house serves as both the primary residence for the president and family and as a social space where college events are held.

An architectural rendering of plans for the Garner President's House

According to John McGrane, the project is important for two reasons. “First, Cornell needs a fully functional home for its president, both to live in and to host alumni, fundraising, community and other events that are critical to Cornell’s future,” he said. “Second, the house is historically important, both to Cornell and to Mount Vernon. The original house, built before Cornell College even existed, has been an important part of the town and the college from the beginning. The proposed renovation and expansion plans attempt to emphasize the historic character of the house and create a wonderful focal point for the College and Mount Vernon.”

A larger renovation and expansion project will begin in June. The Thomas Commons project will include a majestic entrance and lobby, glass-enclosed dining addition, and marketplace dining.