Nabokov's Homes in Ithaca

*All the quotations and chronological information are from Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).

*All the pictures were taken by Akiko Nakata on November 29, 1997.

957 East State Street (July 1948 --, September 1953--)
. . . the home of an electrical engineering professor and the first of the ten professorial homes the Nabokovs occupied in Ithaca: an acre of lawn sloping down under a giant Norway spruce to a screen of trees and a stream, with a study at ground level at the rear of the house overlooking this receding series of greens. At the start of the summer, Nabokov was not fit enough for butterfly expeditions or tennis, but at least he could watch tiger swallowtails flying across the garden as he reclined in the speckled shade. "We are absolutely enchanted with Cornell," he wrote soon after arriving, "and very very grateful to the kind fate that has guided us here." (129)

802 East Seneca Street (August 1948--)

. . . "a dismal grayish-white frame house," Nabokov would write in retrospect, "subjectively related to the more famous one at 342 Lawn Street, Ramsdale, New England." Although 802 East Seneca Street was much bigger than they had wanted--two living rooms on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second--it seemed at first a welcome relief to them after their "wrinkled-dwarf Cambridge flatlet." . . . The Nabokovs too found they lived in a dreadfully drafty dacha: when they relinquished the house in 1950, the landlady's one complaint would be that they had removed all the keys to the internal doors and stuffed the keyholes with cotton wool. (131)

The large house they had rented since September 1948 at 802 East Seneca Street was ruining them financially: they would have to move. Selling off their few items of furniture, even their piano, they piled their remaining belongings high up behind the frosted doors of Nabokov's offices in Goldwin Smith Hall and left the rest in storage with Dean of Ithaca. From now on they would become nomads, renting cheap accomodations in the West every summer and moving, during the months they had to be at Cornell, from one home of a professorial family absent on sabbatical to another. (200)

623 Highland Road (late August 1951--)

Smaller than their big box house on Seneca Street, their Highland Road home was far quieter, more comfortable, and more picturesque, nestled among leaves already showing hints of autumn orange. (204)

106 Hampton Road (September 1952--)

. . . a little house on the top of a hill, with an enormous picture window overlooking most of Cayuga Lake and the hills beyond. (219)

101 Irving Place (February 1954--)

At the beginning of the spring term, the Nabokovs moved into another faculty home, at 101 Irving Place, not far from their State Street address. (257)

700 Stewart Avenue (September 1954--)

After an uncomfortable squeeze into Anna Feigin's apartment on West 104th Street, the Nabokovs were able to move back to Ithaca on September 1, two weeks ahead of schedule, into number 30, Belleayre Apartments ("sic!" notes Nabokov), at 700 Stewart Avenue, right on the edge of the campus. (262)

808 Hanshaw Road (July 1955--)

In mid-July the Nabokovs left their small Stewart Street apartment for 808 Hanshaw Road, yet another cozy little professorial house in Cayuga Heights. Remaining in Ithaca was proving to be a mistake. The heat was intense, the humidity oppressive. Ithaca old-timers rated it the worst summer they had ever known. (269)

425 Hanshaw Road (August 1956--)

For the next half year they settled in another professorial home in Cayuga Heights, at 425 Hanshaw Road, comfortable but too large for them and their few belongings. (297)

880 Highland Road (February 1957--)

A cedarwood ranch-style house designed by a local artist, 880 Highland Road was the Nabokovs' favorite Ithaca home and the one that resonates most in his work, in the echo chambers of Pale Fire. A large picture window looked down through the snows of a bare beech wood. At night, uncurtained, the window made all the furniture appear to stand out in that crystal land. (303)

*Regretfully, their favorite house was under reconstruction. If anyone would kindly let me use a picture of the house (if possible, I prefer a picture taken before the reconstruction), I would be much grateful. AN []

404 Highland Road (February 1958--)

Early in February, in a driving blizzard, the family moved from the Sharp's house to another professorial home in Cayuga Heights, 404 Highland Road, their final Ithaca address, a large red-brick house that proved much colder than the compact ranch-style home they had just vacated. This would be only the second full winter they had to spend in Cayuga Heights, one and a half winding miles through snowdrifts to the Cornell campus, and they felt its force. Other blizzards followed, and by mid-March, when snow had made driving impossible and walking difficult, Dmitri had to play the Saint Bernard, donning skis and knapsack to bring back supplies from the nearest shop, a mile away. (358)


The Hall of Belleayre Apartments

Ithaca Fall


Copyright 2003 Akiko Nakata
No reproduction or republication without permission.