New Naperville Preservation Group Aims to Promote Saving Places Citywide

(Photo: Becky Simon, President of Naperville Preservation Inc., second from left, in front of Old Nichols Library with other local advocates.)

October 30, 2019 

What began years ago as a small, grassroots effort in Naperville to save one historic building has grown into an official nonprofit dedicated to preserving places citywide. The newly formed Naperville Preservation Inc. was launched earlier this month and is dedicated to promoting preservation and growing awareness of the community’s historic and significant places. Those involved in the nonprofit, including President Becky Simon, created the former group, Save Old Nichols, years ago to help prevent demolition of Landmarks Illinois 2018 Most Endangered site, Old Nichols Library. That successful campaign helped designate the library a local landmark and have the now 121-year-old structure incorporated into an adaptive reuse project. Below, Landmarks Illinois asks Simon about Naperville Preservation Inc, its goals and any advice she can give to others who want to save special places in their communities.

Landmarks Illinois: What is the goal of creating Naperville Preservation Inc. and what does the group hope to accomplish in its first year?

BECKY SIMON: Our mission is to advocate for historic preservation throughout Naperville- beyond the Naperville Historic District. Our first-year goals are to create awareness of historic preservation as a win-win and promote preservation as good for the bottom line and for local charm. We also plan to highlight Naperville’s historic structures that are a bit off the beaten path and have less visibility.

LI: Save Old Nichols had success having Old Nichols Library designated as a local landmark and incorporated in a new development. How do you hope to take lessons learned during that advocacy campaign and apply it to saving other historic places in your community?

BS: Naperville Preservation is working to be proactive in protecting historic structures in Naperville — we can’t wait until the 11th hour to take action or we will be playing an endless game of whack-a-mole. To that end, we need to be aware of potential upcoming development and be better networked in with the City of Naperville.

(Photo: Becky Simon speaking about Old Nichols Library at LI’s 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places press conference in Springfield.)

LI: What is unique about Naperville and its historic places? Why do you and those involved in Naperville Preservation Inc. believe these places are worth saving?

BS: Naperville has a vibrant local economy mixed with beautiful historic buildings that give it a hometown magic! Naperville has many great examples of adaptive reuse, and we hope to see that grow. Naperville is also home to a one-of-a-kind collection of midcentury modern houses designed and built by Don Tosi.

LI: What advice would you give to other Illinois citizens who want to save historic places in their community and create coalitions with this goal? What tools, resources, organizations, etc., did you find most helpful for local efforts like this?

BS: Landmarks Illinois was key to saving Old Nichols Library! The limited condition assessment Landmarks Illinois helped secure pro-bono for the library clearly demonstrated that the building was structurally sound, and with that report we were able to persuade our city council to save Old Nichols. Without Landmarks Illinois’ help, Old Nichols would be a pile of rubble.

As for advice: First, be aware of the timeline that you have to work within. When will hearings be held? When will key votes be held? Second, network and connect with all of your local decision makers who will be involved in a specific project. Before you go to speak at public meetings where decisions will be made, give these board members, city council members, etc., a phone call and meet over coffee to talk. Be friendly and don’t burn your bridges. And, third, publicity, publicity, publicity. Let people know what is going on!


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