April 20, 2007

Antique cars find new home

Their former carriage house home — once used as a speak-easy — has been sold to the New Visions Housing project.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Phil Houck, right, pushes his 1924 Ford Model T truck from an Argyle Street garage with the help of his buddies, from left, George Anderson lll, Bob Payne and Chuck Wilson. Houck sold the barn — a former speak-easy in the 1920s, acccording to Houck —  to the New Visions Housing project.

Staff Reporter

The cars hadn’t belonged to gangsters — they were simply classics. But there was something about the way they were parked in the carriage house at 2 Argyle Place that might make thoughts of Al Capone and Tommy guns run through a bystander’s head.
Standing behind his jewelry repair and design business, Ed Grant watched the commotion surrounding the carriage house, which he had been told was once a speak-easy, and wondered if two arch-shaped cutouts on the second floor might have been gun ports for defending the bar.
But the explanation was slightly more mundane; although the homing pigeons are gone, the entry points to the roost are still visible.
“They should turn it back into a bar: The Speakeasy,” Grant said.
The building had actually been a speak-easy during Prohibition, according to its previous owner Phil Houck; pictures of Houck and his wife, Jean, show a heavy wooden door with a sliding peephole through which a password could be muttered and admittance gained.
The door was rotting off its hinges when the Houcks bought the property, formerly known as 150 Main St., and unfortunately that relic has not survived.
“We bought it 25 years ago for the garage, and the house came with it,” Phil Houck said as he stood in the afternoon sun in front of the carriage house Thursday, behind the large Victorian home that had been separated into apartments.
The Syracuse-based nonprofit Housing Visions Inc. closed on the property on April 5, and it will be renovated as part of the $8 million Cortland Crown Homes project.
The collection of antique cars in the carriage house had to go elsewhere, and the Houcks and many of their friends gathered Thursday on Argyle Place to get the collection on its way.
“I basically wanted a car from every 20 years since 1901,” Phil Houck explained, beginning with the replica of a 1901 Oldsmobile (circa 1965), kept in a garage at the Houcks’ home on Kinney Gulf Road, along with 1961 AMC Rambler and a 1981 Volkswagen Dasher — he’s currently looking for a 2001 PT Cruiser to round out his personal collecton, which will be kept in storage.
The 1921 Oldsmobile touring car was kept in the carriage house, as was the 1941 Cadillac Fleetline, and these two were kept company by a 1924 Ford Model “T” Huckster Truck, and a 1930 Buick Marquette.
A 1924 Larrabee chemical fire truck, built in Binghamton and formerly owned by the South Otselic Fire Department, had been moved a few days before.
Family friend Chuck Wilson of Truxton wondered about the red fire truck as he stood looking into the recesses of the Victorian garage.
“I’m a little disappointed that you got rid of my fire truck — I wanted that for myself,” Wilson said.
But there was little time for reminiscing as the moving day kicked into high gear, at least figuratively. None of the cars were driven out of the carriage house, but were instead pushed and pulled into the sunlight.
“Boy, this brings back memories,” said Tom Straight, the owner of the cars’ new resting place at Port Watson Park, as he put a shoulder against the wooden frame of the Ford. “I had several Model Ts.”
For some of the cars, Houck hooked his much-loved and much-repaired John Deere tractor to the undercarriage and gave his friends a short and much-deserved break.
Eventually, the cars were all sitting in the back yard, and Houck hooked the Model T and the Buick to the tractor, one behind the other.
A slow procession with a city police escort puttered down Randall Street and onto Pendleton Street, taking the cars to their new storage spot, a brick warehouse in Port Watson Park.
“Now, the only problem is that it’s a 15 mile per hour school zone, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up to that,” Houck joked.
The Cadillac followed during a separate trip behind the tractor, trailed by a flat-bed tow truck hauling the Oldsmobile.
The cars were stacked in their new home one after the other, and after wrestling the final car into place — these cars didn’t have power steering, and the wheels didn’t turn easily at low speeds — the men wiped the sweat off their brows.
City historian Mary Ann Kane said she did not know of a speak-easy at 2 Argyle Place, but she was able to dig out a file with several newspaper clippings from the Prohibition era.
A bust at the Mont Royal Hotel in Homer was documented in 1930, and there were many busts at the Venetian Gardens, which Kane could not pinpoint with any certainty.
Luckily, the Houcks and their friends were able to step into Ivan’s Bar & Grill on south Main Street for their celebration without the fear of federal agents busting in.


Legislature to vote on land purchases

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A resolution to purchase the two commercial properties involved in Cortland County’s controversial land deal will go before the full county Legislature at its  meeting on Thursday.
Whether the plan to purchase will receive the needed two-thirds majority vote remains to be seen.
The General Services Committee, in a special meeting Thursday, voted 3-2 to forward a resolution to the full Legislature calling for the purchase of the Moose Lodge and Robbins Vending properties on south Main Street.
The committee was hopeful the county could negotiate its way out of contracts for the remaining properties involved in the deal, all of which are residential properties.
The Moose Lodge property at 151 and 157 Main St., along with a parcel behind 6, 8 and 10 Randall St., would cost the county $250,000, while the Robbins Vending property at 159 Main St. and a parcel behind 7 Williams St. would cost $300,000.
Those were the agreed-upon prices prior to the county’s reversal of an initial decision in December to purchase the properties.
Those voting in favor of the purchases — committee Vice-chairman Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward), Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward) and John Daniels (D-Cortlandville) — supported the decision as a way to leave the county with options, while also saving the county from a costly settlement or lawsuit with the possibility of nothing in return.
“We can’t move forward with _the different projects we need to do if we’re stuck in litigation,” Daniels said. “I just think we should get the properties purchased and hopefully we can do something positive with them.”
The two committee members opposed to the resolution — Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville) and Newell Willcox (R-Homer) — countered by saying they had no interest in purchasing the properties without knowing how they would be used.
“I’m just not hearing what our alternatives are — if these properties are bought, what are we going to use them for?” Breed said.

Wickwire site could factor into land options

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The interest of McNeil Development in the Moose Lodge property could have a serious bearing on how the county moves forward with its various land needs.
McNeil Development has made a verbal offer of $200,000 to the Moose Lodge for its property and it may also have an interest in the Robbins Vending property, John Daniels (D-Cortlandville) said Thursday at a special meeting of the General Services Committee.
The McNeil’s are also interested in selling the former Wickwire Building property on south Main Street to the county, Daniels said, and some sort of mutual and equitable trade of properties could be in the works.
“I’m hoping they’ll have something to present soon,” said Daniels, who said he thought some sort of proposal might be ready in a week or so, but likely not before the April 21 legislative session.
“I think one thing we should look at is working with them on that Wickwire site, either us buying the property or having them build something for us,” Daniels said.
Dave McNeil did not want to comment Thursday on any potential proposals, but he did confirm the McNeil’s verbal purchase offer for the Moose, and the fact that they were interested in working with the county on the Wickwire property.
Should the county consider the Wickwire property, it could potentially be a good spot for a health facility similar to the one proposed farther north on Main Street said Dan Tagliente, vice-chairman of the county General Services Committee.
“The only difference is it would probably be shaped more like an ‘L,’” Tagliente said, noting that an ‘L-shaped’ building would allow for a degree of separation desired by employees of both the Health and Mental Health departments. “I’d like to try to do a full health facility.”
The former Wickwire property owned by McNeil includes a 1.9-acre lot at 190 Main St. assessed at $46,700 and a nearly 1-acre lot at 4 Crawford St. assessed at $25,000, however the latter’s assessment will likely drop due to the removal of a fire-damaged home on that property, city Assessor David Briggs said.
The McNeils also own the adjacent former Potter Paint property along Crawford Street, which includes a total of 4.8-acres and a total assessment of $312,500, due to the large plant still in place on that property.



Water, sewer concern in Dryden annexation

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Concerns about adequate water and sewer were raised during a joint village and town annexation hearing Thursday night that would bring close to 50 acres of property into the village.
The property includes an empty 46-acre parcel owned by Smith Realty and between 2 to 3 acres that includes the A-1 Restaurant, owned by St. Johns Realty Corp. The property is on Route 13 and North Road and also borders Mott Road and Ellis Drive.
Preliminary plans would build a 9,000-square-foot Dollar General on a portion of the property at the intersection of North Road and Route 13 and there also has been interest in building a 20,000-square-foot hotel or motel on a site just north of the A-1 Restaurant.
In a letter, village Planning Board Chairman Gene German wrote that in general the board was “supportive of growth to the village,” but had two “critical concerns” —water and sewer service.
He pointed out that the village had no plan in place to upgrade these systems and no estimate on the increased cost to provide them. He also said maintaining the small-town atmosphere was important.
Debbie Hattery, a member of the Planning Board, said she agreed in part, but was not aware of the water situation in the village so had not been in favor of sending the letter.
Mayor Reba Taylor said the village is “looking into the water problem noted by the Tompkins County Board of Health.” She said the Board of Health’s concern is that the village would not have enough water to supply current customers if the main water pump had to be taken off-line for any reason.
She said the pump on Jay Street could handle the load temporarily if its head is replaced, allowing it to pump more water.
Ed Bugliosi, who is on the Planning Board and also works for the U.S. Geological Survey, asked what extra demand would be anticipated.
Gary Wood, who is the project engineer for the annexation of both properties, said he did not know yet.
Bugliosi, who is working with the village to help site a new well, said he was not sure where it should be placed. “I think it’s a pretty important issue,” he said.


Jurors acquit man of burglary charges

Staff Reporter

A man who says his cousin fabricated a story to falsely implicate him in a 2003 burglary was found not guilty on all counts Thursday.
Christopher Humphrey, 25, whose address was not available through the court, was acquitted of second-degree burglary, third-degree criminal mischief, third-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree grand larceny, all felonies, after a three-day jury trial in Cortland County Court.
Humphrey’s attorney, Public Defender Keith Dayton, said Humphrey’s cousin, Cody Humphrey — who pleaded guilty to the crime — lied about his involvement in order to receive preferred treatment from the District Attorney’s Office
“I think the jury did the right thing,” Dayton said after the verdict. “Justice was served.”
Humphrey was accused of breaking into a house at 625 Long Road, Scott, with his younger cousin Cody Humphrey, 20, of 5984 Route 11, Homer, on March 2, 2003. The two were accused of stealing $3,500 in cash, several guns valued at a total of $7,150 and causing property damage worth $1,225, according to court documents.
Humphrey was also accused of a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge for committing unspecified acts of abuse against a German shepherd dog but those charges were dismissed during the trial because of statute of limitation issues.
Cody Humphrey testified on Wednesday against his cousin. He told the jury that he and Christopher Humphrey were “like brothers” at the time of the incident and the two committed the crimes together and then split up the money.
He said he and Christopher Humphrey broke into the house at around midnight and stole the money as well as several guns. He said he got the idea to commit the crimes after a classmate of his — who lived at the Scott residence — told him there was a large amount of loose change in a bedroom closet of the home.
Christopher Humphrey did not testify at the trial.