For the fifth year, the Champaign County Preservation Alliance is holding its Urban Loft Tour in historic downtown Urbana. The tour is scheduled 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3. Eight upstairs locations will be on the tour.
The tour will include finished apartments, unfinished lofts, office spaces, fraternal halls and more. It will allow participants to experience downtown Urbana in an entirely different way.
Tickets for the tour are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Advanced tickets may be purchased at the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and at downtown Urbana banks until Friday. Advance tickets will be exchanged for tour booklets on the day of the tour at the Gloria Theatre where same-day tour booklets will be sold.
After WWII the commercial development across the nation has been largely single-story in design and mostly developed on the outskirts of towns in strip malls. In the 19th and early 20th century, commercial structures were multi-storied with retail spaces on the ground floor, offices on the second and residences or public and fraternal halls on the third.
During the 1960s many of these upper floor units were converted to storage and were forgotten. They are forgotten no longer and the tour will stir the imagination.
The Champaign County Preservation Alliance is committed to the preservation and viability of Champaign County’s historic spaces and structures. It is a not-for-profit educational organization. All funds raised are returned to the community in the form of commercial and residential facade grants and preservation of historic county properties. The Preservation Alliance expressed appreciation for tour goers’ patronage.
216 S. Main St.: Gloria Theatre (Open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. only)
This Late Art Deco style structure has been the center of entertainment over a century. It was originally built in 1904 by Vaudeville star and Urbana native Billy Single Clifford. Its stage was graced by all of the stars of that era including Lillian Gish. As movies became popular it added a silver screen and was dual purposed.
In 1918 and 1919 the third floor of the Clifford Theater burned and was not rebuilt. The ground floor shops remained open but the theater was closed until 1941 when the current Gloria was built around the remains of the earlier theater. It operated for many years as a dual screen movie house and was closed in 2014.
The members of the Urbana United Methodist Church purchased the building and contents. Since 2014 the GrandWorks Foundation has overseen the fundraising and restoration of the theater and brought performance art and movies back to Champaign County.
107 Scioto St.: Nanarone Building
This 3-story stone-clad brick building was built around 1880 in the High Victorian Italianate style. It was originally used as a retail space and lodge for the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, a fraternal benefit society open to people regardless of creed, race or sex. The order was dedicated to Americanism. During the early 1950s the nation-wide order was directed from the second floor offices of this building.
This building has undergone a remarkable renovation and the owners are moving in soon. The second floor has been completely restructured, new plumbing and electrical service installed, and new HVAC added. The space includes 3 bedrooms, a kitchen/dining room, and a huge living room. Unique lighting fixtures have been found and installed.
The third floor fraternal hall has been left intact and is being re-purposed as a multi-purpose room and musical “Jam” space. The whole building is a testament to historical preservation and reuse.
117 Scioto St.: Thackery Apartment
(1811 Federal with Italianate Additions Finished Apartment)
The building at 117 Scioto St. bears the year 1811 on its center pediment. There certainly has been a building at this site since then, but not this one. According to U.S. Army records, during the War of 1812 a double-pen log structure stood on this site.
Today’s two-story brick building was probably erected around 1835 as a five-bay Federal style building and was originally similar in style to the Mosgrove House on Miami Street. This structure has been modified over the years with the addition of the ornamented cornice, the center pediment and the Italianate hood-moulds over the windows.
The building is owned by a couple who have dedicated themselves to the renovation and creative reuse of buildings throughout downtown Urbana. Today the building houses offices and a bakery on the ground floor and four apartments on the second. The finished apartment on the tour has a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath.
The apartment reflects the interests of the gentleman who lives here. He is a popular blues guitarist who performs all around the area. Note how he has zoned the spaces for his needs. Also note the fireplace surround and hardwood floors.
121 Scioto St.: Crosby Apartment
According to tax records the two-story brick structure at 121 Scioto St. was built in 1894. Its straight forward five-bay construction and simple detailing mark its style as “American Folk.” It has long served as a mixed-use building and currently houses multiple offices and a bookstore/tea shop on the ground floor and two apartments upstairs.
The two apartments share a gorgeous curving staircase and common landing. The finished apartment on the tour includes a large multi-purpose room, bedroom, bath and efficiency kitchen. This apartment is delightfully decorated with antiques and collectibles. Of architectural note is the ornate stained glass window in the bath that allows light to enter from the staircase and landing.
This apartment provides a great visualization of how these Urban Loft spaces can be finished and put back into their original usage. Enjoy.
221 N. Main St.: Skylofts, LLC Apartments
This circa 1885 3-story brick building with decorative tin hood-moulds, intricately detailed brick work and heavily ornamented bracketed cornice has dominated the streetscape for almost 140 years. It is built in the High Victorian Italianate style, popular in Urbana through the 1890s. The loft spaces on the second and third floors are rough, but show tons of promise.
Through the 1940s the upstairs spaces were offices and residences. Since the 1940s the space has been sealed, locked and unheated, so it is a time capsule to the past.
Skylofts LLC is the owner of this space and aims to restore the space to its original purpose, that of being a live and work commune of 8 apartments sharing the public spaces among them.
The interior retains all of its original late 19th century woodwork, doors and interior windows. The third floor has the original skylights in place. Let your imagination run with the possibilities.
These spaces are under construction and touring participants are advised not to enter spaces closed off with yellow safety lines and tapes.
222 N. Main St.: Urbana Masonic Temple
This Adamesque style edifice was dedicated in 1915 for the Freemasons in Urbana. It was originally designed with kitchens, locker rooms, a bowling alley and offices in the basement; library, and dining room on the first floor; fraternal spaces on the second and third floors. The current configuration dates to the early 1970s when the bowling alley was removed and the dining room was relocated to the basement.
Of special note is the second floor lodge hall with its dominating stage, wrap-around balcony and ornate hand-formed plaster moldings, cornices and crown moldings.
The Masonic Fraternity in Urbana includes Harmony Lodge No. 8 (founded in 1809), Golden Square Lodge No. 23 (PHA), Urbana Chapter 34 Royal Arch Masons, Urbana Chapter 530 Order of the Eastern Star, Urbana Council No. 59 Royal and Select Masons, and Raper Commandery No 19, Knights Templar.
Members of these groups will be available to answer questions and talk about the building and the organizations.
127 W. Court St.: Bancroft House
This circa 1855 house was the long-time home of the Bancroft family. Three generations lived in this home from the 1880s through 2000. It was constructed in the Italianate style of the Victorian era and the symmetrical exterior features a flattened pyramidal roof and prominent corbels. Construction is of brick and limestone.
In 2005 the residence was converted into commercial space with new electrical and plumbing services installed, and structural issues were addressed. The original doors and woodwork remain in the office. For many years this was the office of a real estate firm.
The building is undergoing a second commercial renovation to convert it into two office spaces and is now the home of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau and the United Way.
644 Miami St.: NX-23 Railcar
The last stop on the tour isn’t actually a loft, but has all of the basic housekeeping amenities. It is the Champaign County Preservation Alliance’s NX23 Railcar. This car was originally constructed in 1913 as a boxcar for the Pennsylvania Railroad and saw service all over the country. During WWII, when most metal was being used for the war effort, it was converted into a caboose.
This car is a true rarity. It is one of only 75 built and one of 4 remaining in existence. The caboose modifications include two bay windows, ten round windows, a bunk, table booth, coal bin, three lockers and a cooking/heating stove.
After WWII this car served as a maintenance-of-way car on the PRR from Columbus to Bradford, Ohio. In 1966 it was sold to Marion W. Parks of Urbana, who used it as an office and storage. In 1999 the Parks family donated it and a twin car to the Champaign County Preservation Alliance who, with the aid of a dedicated group of volunteers has saved, restored, donated materials, and preserved this historic piece of Champaign County history.
Submitted by the Champaign County Preservation Alliance.