The Old Towne Preservation Assn. has lived through its share of triumphs and defeats since it began in 1986, but last week the group celebrated its biggest victory.
After struggling four years with government forms, surveys, maps and community detractors, the nonprofit group won a recommendation from the State Historical Resources Commission to put the city’s mile-square Old Towne on the National Register of Historic Places.
Group members said the commission’s unanimous vote validated all of their preservation efforts over the years.
“It was so gratifying to hear intelligent people concur with our findings,” said Shannon Tucker, who joined the group in 1988, the year of the city’s centennial. “I’m so proud of this organization. It took so many people, well over 100 people. This is what we can do.”
Founding member Russ Barrios recalled buying a turn-of-the-century house in Old Towne in 1975 and noticing that city maps described it as being a blighted area.
“I think at that time the city had more of a frontier mentality,” he said, “a mentality of ‘Let’s just tear it down and build new.’ Now, people are saying, ‘Hey, slow down. We have a cultural resource here.’ ”
The group, which now has about 500 member households, formed when the city announced plans to tear down a historic structure to expand a parking lot. “That’s what got OTPA started,” Barrios said. “That’s what galvanized everybody.”
The group promotes community activities, such as preservation awards, ice cream socials and home-decorating contests, to promote civic spirit.
Much of its work also consists of helping homeowners with information on rehabilitation and where to find materials and expertise.
Membership includes architects, planners, designers and others who are interested in preservation. They have managed to help renovate the Hart Park band shell, saved a Queen Anne Victorian structure from demolition and aided the city’s design review guidelines for Old Towne.
Group member Mary Anne Skorpanich told the state commission that the goal of the group is to “create a place where history lives, rather than a museum town.”