Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 3-part series previewing the Urban Loft Tour.
This Saturday, visitors to downtown Urbana can spend an enjoyable day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. while they satisfy their curiosity about seldom-seen locations and also get some exercise while they climb to the upper floors of buildings in the historic downtown core.
Nov. 4 marks the fourth anniversary of the Champaign County Preservation Alliance’s Urban Loft Tour. Several of the 2017 sites were “in the raw” or under construction when they were originally on the Loft Tour and are being shown this year as re-imagined and revitalized spaces. Visitors are sure to enjoy these beautifully-completed spaces. Other spaces that are still awaiting renovation offer the opportunity to dream about what might be accomplished in space still awaiting someone with vision to give them a new and exciting future. Perhaps a Loft Tour participant this year will decide that they would like to tackle such a project.
The Champaign County Preservation Alliance is committed to the preservation and viability of Champaign County’s many historic structures. We seek to emphasize their continuing importance to the vitality of our community.
Commercial development in post-World War II Urbana has been largely single story in design. However, for the 19th and early 20th century, multi-story buildings were the norm. They were constructed with a variety of uses in mind. Retail spaces dominated the ground level with office, auditorium, lodge hall and residential spaces on the upper levels. Downtown Urbana has been blessed with a varied streetscape that includes Federal, Romanesque, Renaissance Revival, Classical Revival, Art Deco and Modern styles.
Real Living Darby Creek is once again the corporate sponsor of the CCPA Urban Loft Tour. Two of the sites on this year’s tour are past recipients of CCPA Façade Grants. The CCPA offers its congratulations and thanks to the owners and residents who have demonstrated both dedication to the concept of adaptive reuse of historic structures and great creativity in the design of these vibrant living spaces. It thanks all of the owners for their generosity in making these seldom-seen spaces available for the Loft Tour.
The Champaign County Preservation Alliance would also like to thank the Champaign County Public Library and the Champaign County Historical Society whose collections have helped us document the buildings on the tour. The library’s digital newspaper database makes it possible to search and view nearly two centuries of Champaign County newspapers. The newspapers are an unequaled tool for anyone interested in local history. Likewise, the collections of the Champaign County Historical Society include an extensive selection of historic photographs. They are truly a window into our county’s history. For anyone interested in local history and genealogy these wonderful resources are available round the clock to those with an internet connection.
Visitors to the 2017 Urban Loft Tour have the opportunity to literally follow in the footsteps of nearly two centuries of Champaign County residents. They will see the upper floor of a home built by a physician who first came to Urbana as a surgeon in the Kentucky militia during the War of 1812. They will visit a newly-renovated second floor apartment in the old Union Hall Block where in 1853 the world renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke in the meeting hall on the floor above. They will climb the stairs that for decades after the Civil War echoed to the steps of soldiers who had fought for the Union in the 1860s. One building on the tour was built for an agricultural implement business at a time when horse power was literally just that, animal not mechanical. The ticket sales for the tour are located in the lobby of the Gloria Theatre, a building which has been the entertainment hub for the county for more than a century as both the Clifford Theater and the Gloria.
Equally important, visitors will have the opportunity to view beautifully-renovated spaces that are bringing new life to historic buildings. The owners and residents of the renovated tour locations have demonstrated both dedication to the concept of adaptive reuse of historic structures and great creativity in the design of these vibrant living spaces. They are part of a growing number of people who choose to make their homes in historic buildings in downtowns across the country.
These urban pioneers benefit from living in unique and exciting spaces. They also attest to the importance of the built environment to our community’s character and vitality. Social historian Walter Havinghurst referenced John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in linking the concept of historic preservation with the trials of the Dust Bowl’s immigrant families of the 1930s as they left Oklahoma for California. “’The women knew how the past would cry to them … How will we know it’s us without our past?’ … We do not choose between the past and the future, they are inseparable parts of the same river.” The buildings on this year’s Urban Loft Tour are indeed part of time’s continuing river in Champaign County. The tour celebrates the creativity and successes of those who have adapted historic structures to modern living. It opens for view other spaces with great potential which waiting to find someone to turn promise to reality as the river of time moves from past to future.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of the series, including detailed descriptions of some of the tour sites and ticket information.