The Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County (PACA) was officially incorporated as a not-for-profit organization on March 6, 1981, but the idea for the group originated years earlier with the Champaign County Historical Museum. In the 1970s, the museum’s preservation sub-committee identified historic sites for the Bicentennial, held house tours, moved and preserved the Greek Revival Cottage and placed it on the newly established National Register of Historic Places. Committee volunteers began renovating the Cottage (the oldest documented residence in Urbana, c. 1852) and coordinated a successful drive to save the Cattle Bank (the oldest documented commercial building in Champaign County, 1857).
In 1980, the Champaign County Historical Museum began directing more energy toward internal matters and focused less on preservation. In order to build on the committee’s successes, PACA was established as an independent organization committed to broad-based preservation efforts. As founding member Patricia Miller stated, the group hoped to develop a “network of people who shared a commitment to preserve our natural and built environment.” The founders believed they needed to raise awareness about the importance of Champaign County’s historic structures and the need to preserve them.PACA’s founders wanted to encourage appropriate renovations of both public and private buildings, but were also very practical; they believed in adaptive use as an alternative to demolition, moving houses to new locations, and salvaging parts that could not be saved for use in remodeling or new construction. The organization was envisioned as a forum for the discussion of current preservation issues and as a mechanism to proactively voice the county’s preservation concerns.
PACA’s founding members were Diane Farber, William Schmidt, Pattsie Donahoe-Petrie, Michael Lambert, Willis “Bud” Baker, and Patricia Miller. Neil Strack designed the group’s first logo, Lachlan Blair came up with the organization’s name, and Bud Baker provided the finances to get PACA off the ground.Although there was latitude in the group’s constitution to embark on multi-county projects, the founders felt that Champaign County should be PACA’s primary focus. Unlike many volunteer community groups, PACA was well planned from the start. Founding board members studied governing models, bylaws and constitutions of similar organizations, and implemented and enforced them in the group’s early days. This solid organizational structure provided PACA with a means to act quickly and effectively.
In the early 1980s, PACA’s ability to raise public awareness about historic preservation was important.At the time, many buildings were being torn down and, although community residents were upset about changes to the area, there was no organized opposition to urban development.Materials from demolished buildings were not saved and ended up in landfills.Founding member Pattsie Donahoe-Petrie voiced PACA’s early philosophy, “Our first concern was, of course, to save a building; if you couldn’t save it, see if you could move it; if you couldn’t move it, figure out how much of the building could be salvaged before it got to the dump.”
The group had its hands full in its early years and seemed to move from one crisis to another.Several large-scale projects occurred in downtown Champaign, one of which razed a block of North Neil Street, a late nineteenth-century stone church, and a half-block of commercial buildings.One of PACA’s first efforts was to salvage parts of these structures. Another development was delayed for a few years, but the commercial buildings in the 100 blocks of West University and South Neil streets were lost even after PACA launched a well-publicized campaign to save them.
PACA’s founders realized that future developments would not be sensitive to historic buildings unless the organization could educate the public about the importance of preserving historic resources.In order to help determine which buildings should be saved, PACA conducted intensive building-by-building surveys in the mid-1980s. Surveys were conducted of downtown Champaign, residential West Urbana, and the entire campus of the University of Illinois. Architectural and research data acquired in these surveys continues to be instrumental in preserving structures in Champaign County. More recently, PACA has shifted its emphasis to preparing National Register of Historic Places and city landmark nominations for the Historic Preservation Commissions of Champaign and Urbana, created in 1997 and 1999, respectively. PACA extensively lobbied for the passage of preservation ordinances in both cities, and both Champaign and Urbana have attained Certified Local Government status and are actively designating properties under their ordinances.
PACA has also had some success saving and salvaging buildings owned by the University of Illinois. Due to PACA’s efforts, some homes slated for demolition were offered for moving, while others, including the historic Stephen A. and Clara Forbes House (1884), have been successfully moved and adapted to new uses. The Forbes House was moved in 1994 and is now part of the Center for Women in Transition.However, campus losses occurred in the early 1990s: five historic engineering buildings, including the National Register-listed Aeronautical Lab B, were demolished for an engineering quadrangle. But some good came out of the controversy surrounding these demolitions in the form of an official acknowledgement by the University administration of the importance of historic preservation.The University has done excellent renovation work on Foellinger Auditorium, the Arcade Building, and Engineering Hall. In spite of these successes, a strong commitment by the University administration to preserve and sensitively renovate the historic buildings under their stewardship is needed.