Backdrop: 601 Tully: From Drug House to Community Home

By Jon Harris

Just a few years ago, a drug house occupied the corner of Tully and Oswego Streets in Syracuse's West Side. Guns and marijuana populated the space—mere yards from the neighborhood middle school and a community park across the street. But today, the reconstructed house stands as a hub for art, education, and community involvement.

From fall 2009 until the location's opening this past June, Syracuse University students rebuilt the house's structure and reputation through "Social Sculpture: 601 Tully," a class led by Marion Wilson, associate professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and founder of 601 Tully. "I remember being in it when it was a cold shell of a building with holes in the floors," recalls Samantha Harmon, a 2009 SU graduate and research fellow at 601 Tully, as she flips through old pictures of the once-decrepit house. Harmon has worked at 601 Tully since the start of the project.

When Wilson began teaching "Social Sculpture: 601 Tully" in the building a few years ago, the class occasionally met throughout the semester inside the boarded up space. "The neighbors would say, 'Even though you're here during the day, it's still a drug house at night, you know,'" Wilson says.

The building's light blue siding hides its dark history. In 2009, two larcenies, two burglaries, an aggravated assault, and a case of arson occurred on the 600 and 700 blocks of Tully Street, according to the Onondaga County Reported Crimes database. Now, a well-kept community garden surrounds the wooden ramp that leads to the entrance. Inside, silence fills the air along with the aroma of coffee emanating from Café Kubal. The Syracuse franchise, which specializes in hand-brewed beans, opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. 601 Tully has seating available on the first floor, along with free wireless Internet. There's also a Connective Corridor bus stop across the street and street parking available next to the building.

The second floor reveals the building's classroom and meeting space. Near the center of the room, several chairs and ten filing cabinets pushed together form desks, creating a makeshift meeting area. The floor holds book and poetry readings, an adult nutrition class—held this fall—and various other workshops and meetings.

Although 601 Tully is a public space, few drop in, says Stephen Walton, a 22-year-old college graduate who works at Café Kubal and lives on the West Side. Kids from Blodgett Elementary School on Oswego Street curiously wander in before or after school. "I think a lot of people don't even know what we are yet in the neighborhood," Wilson says. "They think, 'Oh, it's a nice house or something, or a house with a nice ramp.'"

Wilson hopes this isn't the case for too long. She wants the neighborhood to ultimately sustain the building—a space she has written 14 grant proposals for and has been working on for the past few years.

"I love being in that building and in the neighborhood, and that certainly wasn't the case before," Wilson says. "It's a really welcoming, warm space."