In the 1970s, while the business community downtown was declining, interest in the historic neighborhoods began to grow. The city designated an "Old Towne" area of about a mile square as worthy of special care, and families began moving into the old neighborhoods and rehabilitating the old homes.
Groups and individuals began to take an interest in Orange's rich history. The Orange Community Historical Society was founded in 1973. In 1979 the City Council formed an Old Towne Steering Committee. The first short-lived preservation group, Preservation Orange, began in 1982, and the Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA) was formed in 1986.
In 1977, the historical society began the drive to have the Plaza placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The plan soon grew to include 41 of the surrounding historic buildings, and in 1982 the Plaza Historic District was created. In 1997, under the leadership of the OTPA, more than 1,200 homes and other buildings in the heart of old downtown Orange were added to the National Register as the Old Towne Historic District - the largest National Register district in California.
In 1983 a historic preservation element was added to the city's General Plan, and in 1988 the first set of design guidelines was issued for new construction and remodels downtown. After more than 30 years of effort, interest in the historic neighborhoods in Orange remains strong.