The neighborhood has undergone significant change since the Gifford Park Association formed in 1979. That is the year a small group of neighbors, passionately concerned about the destruction of historic architecture and the growing density of their neighborhood, met on a porch overlooking Gifford Park to discuss strategies to deter this trend. Brainstorming, they came up with ideas such as enacting a preservation ordinance and applying for historic district status. This informal meeting was the beginning of what would later become the Gifford Park Association. Historic preservation, crime prevention, overcrowding, property neglect, and community building became the focal issues for the group. In their original mission statement, the charter members identified saving the integrity of the Elgin Historic District as the first goal.
In a relatively short period of time, the newly formed Gifford Park Association took several strategic steps to reverse the decline of the neighborhood:
1. They acquired local Historic District status for the neighborhood in 1981;
2. They acquired National Historic District designation in 1983, thereby “protecting” all structures within the neighborhood;
3. They actively participated in the restoration of “Old Main” – a significant city and neighborhood landmark;
4. They spearheaded efforts to establish a Heritage Commission that would review and approve the appropriateness of modifications to buildings within the Historic District;
5. They encouraged the City to bring Neighborhood Housing Services, a national organization, to Elgin;
6. From 1981 to the present, they hosted the annual Historic Elgin House Tour to raise awareness of local history, architectural styles and to inspire continued home restoration. The proceeds from this event are used for a variety of neighborhood and city-wide improvements;
7. In one of GPA’s most herculean neighborhood improvement efforts, using the proceeds from the Annual Historic House Tour, City of Elgin grant programs and bank loans, they purchased, rehabbed and restored problem properties and returned them to single family use. GPA has completed seven such projects, three of which were in conjunction with other groups. While these projects come at a significant financial loss to the organization, the impact on the surrounding neighborhood is immeasurable;
8. They produced and disseminated educational materials, including a walking tour booklet of the Elgin Historic District and a guide to architectural styles;
9. They designed and installed historic street signs throughout the neighborhood;
10. They procured historic street lights throughout the neighborhood;
11. They conducted and sponsored architectural salvages of local buildings scheduled for demolition. GPA has hosted 50+ salvages throughout the city of Elgin – only two of which were in the Elgin Historic District. Profits are typically split with the host neighborhood or the salvage property owners. These salvages make available difficult-to-find old-house materials and demonstrate to the community the value of recycling these architectural components;
12. GPA’s donations of cash and volunteer time spurred the expansion of one of its most widely publicized programs to Elgin’s two other Historic Districts. The “Great Unveiling” encouraged homeowners to remove inappropriate siding and restore the facades of their historic homes to the original look. Free labor and a $1000.00 cash prize to help with painting and/or repair were the incentives. Encouraged by the results, the City began a similar program that now rewards homeowners $4,000 throughout the year for unveiling their own homes. In addition, the City began an unveiling program for commercial structures in the central business district.
13. GPA also hired or hosted local experts for educational seminars on such topics as masonry restoration, faux finishes, period landscaping, exterior enhancements, and paver brick installation.
Reflecting back on the last quarter century, GPA’s mission and strategy have evolved while the organization’s values remain rooted in promoting an awareness of the community’s historic and architectural heritage.
Historic Designation information taken from GPA Neighborhood Master Plan document.