Common Ground Dance Club original location, 1978 - 1988, 132-134 W. State Street

Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Common Ground Dance Club original location, 1978 - 1988, 132-134 W. State Street

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College


Common Ground was founded in 1978 by Doug Miller and Kris Marshall. By chance, they came upon the original State Street location while on their way to the laundromat. Their vision was to create a haven where everyone was welcome.

“The whole purpose behind naming it ‘Common Ground’ was to bring in all different types of people from all different walks of life,” Miller said. “Gay, straight, bisexual, old, young, men, women, anything, all different types of occupations, students as well as townspeople — all in one place to have a fun time.”

Another member of the community, George Ferrari, recalls, "Another bar called Cactus Jack's was right next door. Sometimes patrons ended up accidentally in the Common Ground when they meant to be at Cactus Jack's, or vice versa. Someone always kindly took those wayward customers back to the bar that they intended."

It’s original location was here in downtown Ithaca, but on June 30, 1988 the bar was completely destroyed by a day-long fire. The entire building was condemned the next morning, and later demolished. The Common Ground lost everything, including record albums, equipment, business records, and beverages.

The fire was discovered at 6 am, and it took all day and more than 70 firefighters to control the blaze. Plumes of smoke rose up into the sky hundreds of feet. The fire quickly spread throughout the building, up several floors and to the roof, where it spread to the roof of an adjoining building. The second building sustained minor damage.

That night, patrons held a candlelight vigil outside the bar. They looked on as parts of the brick building were demolished by a wrecking crew. The crew was attempting to make sure the fire was out, and removing dangerous pieces that could create a hazard if they fell to the ground.

The cause of the fire was determined to be a burning mattress in a room on the third floor. But there was also an unexplained ten foot hole in the dance floor of the Common Ground when firefighters arrived, and the basement underneath the bar was engulfed in flames. Despite several theories as to how this could happen, the Fire Chief at the time found this unusual. Many members of the community then and still today believe the actual cause of the fire was arson.

After the fire, Common Ground relocated just past Ithaca College on Comfort Road in Danby. With a DJ, spacious dance floor, big screen TV and extensive music library, it hosted club nights, drag shows, and live entertainment.

But Common Ground also served as a de facto community center for the area, holding weekend barbecues on the patio for individuals, couples and families of all ages, an annual Super Bowl Party, and frequent benefits for local LGBTQ organizations and community members in need. It also hosted regular meetings of groups like a Pinochle club, a group for LGBTQ elders, a parenting group, and the Tompkins County LGBT Democratic club, among others.

Clay - “Just one name, like Cher or Madonna” - who worked as a bartender at Common Ground for 25 years, loved the homey, family atmosphere. “People still consider this their home,” he said in 2008, when the bar changed ownership and the name changed to Oasis.

Said Miller of his legacy in creating this important community space, as the bar changed hands,"We cater to everyone. It's pretty much 50/50, men and women. Gay, lesbian and straight with the age group from 18 to 70. Well, it's the Common Ground."

This point of interest is part of the tour: Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour


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