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San Buenaventura Conservancy

P.O Box 23263

Ventura, CA 93002

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"Historic Preservation is about managing change, not preventing it." ~ – Linda Dishman, L.A. Conservancy, quoted from L.A. Times, 07.10.10


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criteria for historic designation

historic resource

younger buildings
benefits / rewards

10 myths about historic property preservation

Myth No. 1:
If a property is designated as a historic landmark, it's protected forever and can never be demolished.
Fact: Landmark designation ensures a more thorough review of demolition proposals, but it does not prohibit demolition outright. In Los Angeles, designation as a city historic landmark allows the City's Cultural Heritage Commission to object to a demolition permit, but only for 180 days. The City Council may then extend the objection for an additional 180 days.
Editor's Note: In Long Beach, a request for a demolition permit automatically triggers the need for an environmental impact report and a delay of six months to a year.

Myth No. 2:
Historic designation will reduce my property values.
Fact: Study after study across the nation has conclusively demonstrated that historic designation and the creation of historic districts actually increase property values. Why? In part, historic designation gives a neighborhood or an individual historic site a cachet that sets it apart from ordinary properties. Many buyers seek out the unique qualities and ambience of a historic property.

Myth No. 3:
If my property is designated as a historic site, I won't be able to change it in any way.
Fact: Owners of designated historic structures may make very significant changes to their structures. Historic preservation laws are not meant to prevent change, but, rather, to manage change. The tool to manage change is the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, the nationally accepted benchmark for evaluating changes to historic structures. The most significant, or character-defining, historic elements of a property should be retained.
Myth No. 4:
Preservation is only for the rich and elite, and for high-style buildings.
Fact: Today's preservation movement is increasingly diverse. Preservation today also focuses not just on grandiose architectural landmarks, but on more modest sites of social and cultural significance.

Myth No. 5:
Historic preservation is bad for business.
Fact: Historic preservation is at the very heart of our nation's most vibrant economic development and business attraction programs. From Southern California examples such as Old Pasadena or San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, to traditional, historic Southern cities such as Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga., to the recent boom in "heritage tourism," today's economic development strategists no longer see preservation and business development as competing values. The National Main Street Center, a program that uses historic preservation to revitalize town centers and neighborhood commercial districts, found in 1,700 Main Street communities nationally that more than 231,000 new jobs were created and resulted in more than $17 billion in reinvestment to date.

Myth No. 6:
Preservation is more expensive than new construction.
Fact: This is certainly true at times, but historic preservation is typically more cost-effective than new construction. In Los Angeles, the State of California learned the potential savings from historic preservation in comparing the construction of two state office buildings: the new Ronald Reagan State Office Building and the Junipero Serra State Office Building just two blocks away. The historic renovation delivered office space at about half the cost per square foot of the Reagan building.

Myth No. 7:
If I buy a historic property, there's lots of government money available to help me fix it up.
Fact: Few large government or foundation grants are available to owners of historic properties. What is available tends to be tax incentives for private owners of historic buildings. The state's Mills Act program allows historic property owners to take often-significant property tax reductions.

Myth No. 8:
Old buildings are less safe.
Fact: Although historic structures do sometimes require structural retrofits or the addition of fire sprinklers to enhance their safety, historic buildings typically perform better than newer construction in earthquakes and other natural disasters. Los Angeles' signature historic structures have survived every major temblor of the past eight decades.
Myth No. 9:
Preservation is an un-American violation of property rights.
Fact: Historic preservation laws no more infringe on property rights than do many other laws and private rules that Americans have long accepted. Zoning laws prevent you from replacing your single-family home with an apartment building or a five-story vertical mansion.
Myth No. 10:
Preservationists are always fighting new development and only care about the past.
Fact: Historic preservation is not about stopping change and is certainly not about squeezing out creative and exciting new architecture and development. Preservation allows the community to retain the best of shared heritage to preserve sites of unique quality and beauty, revitalize neighborhoods, spur economic revitalization, and, quite simply, create better communities.
- Source: Ken Bernstein, Director of Preservation Issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy from L.A. Conservancy Web site www.laconservancy.org

What IS “historic”?

National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the official federal list of properties recognized for their significance and deemed worthy of preservation.  The National Register Criteria for Evaluation offer “an authoritative guide to be used by federal, state, and local governments, private groups, and citizens to identify the nation’s cultural resources and to indicate what properties should be considered for protection from destruction or impairment"  (36CFR60.2).  As established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, to be listed in the National Register, or determined eligible for listing, properties must meet certain criteria for historical significance.  Qualities of significance may be found in aspects of American history, architecture (interpreted in the broadest sense to include landscape architecture and planning), archaeology, engineering, and culture.  A property is eligible for the NRHP if it is significant under one or more of the following criteria:

A.   It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B.   It is associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C.  It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or possess high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D.  It has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

To be eligible, qualities of integrity must also be evident in the resource, measured by the degree to which it retains its historic location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.  In general, the resource must be 50 years of age to be considered for the NRHP, although there are exceptions and overriding considerations to the criteria.
Listing in the NRHP does not automatically provide protection of an historic resource although federal agencies must consider a property’s eligibility in managing significant resources.  The primary effect of listing or determination for the owners of historic buildings is the availability of financial and tax incentives.  In addition, for projects that receive federal funding, the Section 106 process must be completed.  State and local laws and regulations may apply to properties listed in, or eligible for, the NRHP.  For example, demolition or inappropriate alteration of a National Register-eligible structure may be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

For example, the Top Hat Burger Hut (although not architecturally significant) could qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A. 

  • What IS a “historic resource”? 

Cities conduct “Historic Resource Inventories” (or surveys) in order to officially record structures and sites that have historic significance (based upon the Criterion above) to their community in telling the story of their past (social and built environment).  These are official documents on file with the State of California-Resources Agency, Department of Parks and Recreation.  The most recent one for Ventura was conducted in 1982-83.  Being listed on this inventory puts the structure or site on an equal legal plain with the resources of land, water, and air. 

This is why any action by a city or a private developer that affects this “listed” resource is subject to a review under the California Environmental Quality Act.  Very simply put, if the proposed action to the resource is determined to produce an “adverse affect” upon the resource (in the case of historic preservation, a building or site), an Environmental Impact Report may be generated.

  • Why is that important, NOW, for the city of Ventura?

Normally, a building or site must be 50 years old to be deemed eligible for evaluation under the Criteria mentioned above to be considered “historic” and/or a “historic resource”.  What that means in simple terms is that the “Historic Resource Inventory” conducted 20 years ago does NOT include buildings that since that time have gained significance under the Criteria (i.e., 1940s and 1950s).  Most importantly, that means these newer, potentially historically significant structures and sties are NOT IN THE CITY’S DATABASE, as referred to in the memo from Susan Daluddung, Community Development Director to Rick Cole, City Manager, on April 30, 2004 as “properties identified in our database as potentially significant.”

  • What about younger buildings, PRIOR to 1954?

In the May/June 2004 issue of the National Trust Forum, the article by David Marshall recognizes the international movement to preserve buildings (and sites) constructed since 1954 as historically significant because “historic significance” is based upon either quality of design, craftsmanship, associations with famous people (locally, State-wide, or Nationally) or events, and integrity.   

Because of this, the National Register of Historic Places has a special Criterion Consideration G which allows a building or site to be considered for listing if it has “achieved significance WITHIN the past fifty years and if it is of exceptional importance.”

ADDED COMMENTARY: Currently there is a huge interest on the part of the National Trust in the social and cultural landscape created by residential suburbs.  In 2002, the “Historic Residential Suburbs/Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places” was published by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and National Register of Historic Places.  This bulletin is a tool for communities to document and record the suburbanization of American civilization from 1830 to 1960.  Suburbs are of great interest to scholars of the American landscape and built environment and have design significance in several areas, only a few of which are social history, community planning and development, architecture, and landscape architecture.  This is why Ventura Architecture Weekend attempted at its debut to illustrate the architectural and social growth of the city of Ventura by highlighting examples of different decades from the Mission to Midtown.

The fact that this bulletin concludes it’s current time span of suburbanization with the 1960s is a clear message that the “fifty year rule” need not always apply in determining “historic significance”.   

  • What are the so-called “RESTRICTIONS”? (or, the “Stick”)

Most of the time, the number one reason given by a property owner for not listing the building or site on the National Register or declining to have it designated as a local landmark is the fear of the “restrictions” thought to be placed upon such a designation. 

Those commonly referred-to ‘restrictions’ are in reality, the federally mandated Secretary of the Interior’s STANDARDS for Rehabilitation.  These STANDARDS were first published in 1979 and have been revised a number of times to adapt to evolving methods of construction.  They are brief and clear guidelines that allow a building to change over time in order to survive through adaptive reuse and still maintain their “historic character”.  A close examination of these STANDARDS reveals that they are written in a general format so that they can be applied individually to each project so as not to impose a burden upon the future life of the building or site, or upon the developer.

Additionally, local governments have the ability to impose “penalties” upon property owners who either violate the STANDARDS during the process of rehabilitation upon a local, State, or National designated landmark (radically changing its historic character), or who, altogether destroy such landmarks (as in the case of the Magnolia Tree).  This is done through local, city approved ordinances.  This is one of several topics to be discussed at the meeting on May 17th.

  • What ARE the BENEFITS/REWARDS? (or, the “carrot”)

This brings us back to the “carrot” at the beginning of this discussion.  As it does require more thought, care, and expense to maintain and adapt a “historic” structure or site for future use (as opposed to demolition and new construction), the Federal, State, and local governments can and do offer “financial incentives for historic preservation and rehabilitation”, some of which are outlined above.

 SUMMARY:  What IS historic preservation?

Historic Preservation is about maintaining and creating an identity for a city that is revenue generating through cultural tourism and adaptive reuse.  It is about utilizing financial incentives for new development and growth.  It is about creating a continuity of visual literacy of the local social/cultural heritage (past, present, and future).  And it is about fostering an on-going multi-generational civic pride. 

Historic Preservation is about taking a very long-range view of the entire cultural landscape that defines a community through its built environment.

 It is NOT about wallowing in the past at the expense of the future.

Should you desire to investigate more detail, please contact the following:

Mr. Gene Itogawa, State Historic, Level III, State Office of Historic Preservation
Ms. Christy J. Mc Avoy, Principal, Historic Resources Group
Ms. Erica Stewart, Program Coordinator/National Trust’s Community Partners


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