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criteria for historic designation
benefits / rewards
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
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
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
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
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
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;
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
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
“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.
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
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.”
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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What IS historic preservation?
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.
Preservation is about taking a very long-range view of the entire
cultural landscape that defines a community through its built
is NOT about wallowing in the past at the expense of the future.
Should you desire
to investigate more detail, please contact the following: