New preservation group launches in Naperville

A new group focused on historic preservation has formed in Naperville.

Naperville Preservation Inc. aims to help save examples of architecture from various periods by promoting preservation and connecting owners of properties worth keeping to grants, loans and tax incentives that could help make repairs and renovations possible.

"We want to demonstrate to property owners, both commercial and residential, how preservation is good for their bottom line, preservation is good for business, and help to hook them up with resources they can use to make preservation happen," said Becky Simon, the new group's president. "We want to make preservation a win-win for everybody."

Naperville Preservation formed out of the Save Old Nichols group, which helped persuade city leaders and a developer to retain more than just the facade of the city's first library.

The property on Washington Street was designated a local landmark and now is being remade into Central Park Place, a retail and condo center that keeps in place the majority of the historic library and adds new structures to the east and south.

After succeeding at saving old Nichols, preservationists decided they wanted to expand their focus.

"More than any one particular building, it's just a matter of trying to encourage a preservation mindset," said Joe McElroy, a city planner and former city council member who is the new group's secretary.

Naperville history already is protected and shared by the Naperville Heritage Society, which governs and operates the Naper Settlement museum and has a mission to "collect, document, preserve and support the history of Naperville, Illinois past and present."

Heritage Society board Chairman John Koranda said the theme of the organization is "celebrating community."

The society achieves that aim, he said, by providing education that puts the city's stories in context with broader American history; by retaining and displaying artifacts; and by managing the grounds donated by historic Naperville resident Caroline Martin Mitchell as a community gathering place.

But members of Naperville Preservation said they see an opening for themselves as a grass-roots, independent group that "is working for preservation of all of Naperville," Simon said.

The group has about 10 members and is looking to grow from its start with the 121-year-old library into work to highlight diverse types of structures.

"It's not just about saving and preserving old Victorian homes," McElroy said. "It's also about trying to keep at least some examples of more recent architecture."

One style that intrigues Simon is midcentury modern houses, especially those by builder Don Tosi, which were built in central Naperville beginning in the 1950s. She said these houses have long, horizontal roofs and are one example of "wonderful, vernacular architecture" that is found in many places around town.

"We don't want to be tied down by history," she said. "But we want to remember where we've come from."

McElroy said he hopes Naperville Preservation can work to identify financial incentives that make preservation possible. He said he's been encouraging the city to offer such assistance for roughly a decade and plans to continue the push.

"None of this is going to work well unless more of an effort is made to provide incentives to save and renovate old buildings," McElroy said. "What we have now in our historic district is regulations, but we're lacking on incentives."

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