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C-U Buildings on Preservation Group’s ‘40 Over 40’ List

The restoration of the clock and bell tower at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana is one of 40 success stories that a statewide preservation group is highlighting to mark its 40th anniversary.

Landmarks Illinois isn't taking credit for the entire list of 40 landmarks across the state. Instead, the group's president, Jim Peters, says they show what can be done when people in local communities pull together to save a piece of their history.

In the case of the Champaign County Courthouse, Peters said the county and local donors were able to both preserve the crumbling brick walls of the courthouse --- and rebuild a clock and bell tower that had been shortened by lightning strikes.

"I think people for decades have been trying to get the (courthouse) building restored, and the long-missing tower put back," Peters said. "So we thought that was just an amazing effort. So that kind of --- you know, it was emblematic of that grassroots effort, that stick-to-it-ivness - figuring out they wanted to do something, and just kept at it until it was accomplished."

Champaign's Orpheum Theater is also on Landmarks Illinois' "40 Over 40" list. Local preservationists reopened the old movie house as a children's museum in the 1990s. Other landmarks on the list include the old Chicago Public Library (now a cultural center), the old city hall and fire station in Pontiac (now operating as the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas house in Springfield.

Peters said most of the preservation efforts have one thing in common--- strong community support.

"What we wanted to focus on were grassroots efforts: community-wide efforts to either save a building, restore a building --- in some cases, even move a building to keep it from being demolished," he said. "You know, a community, a neighborhood group or a city itself."

Landmarks Illinois was founded in 1971 as the Landmarks Preservation Council. Its first project was an unsuccessful effort to save the Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building. It claims the preservation of the old downtown Chicago Public Library building as the city's Cultural Center as its first major success. The group expanded its scope to cover Illinois in the late 1970s, and changed its name to Landmarks Illinois in 2006.

Peters said he hopes the "40 Over 40" list can inspire other communities to work to save their important historic buildings.

View a slideshow of some of the sites that made the list:

Categories: Architecture, History