What IS “historic”?
On the national level, that is determined by four basic criteria only one of which is based upon significant architecture. A structure or site need only qualify with one in order to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Local communities adopt variations of these in determining local landmarks.
The four criteria are:
Association with an important event (or series of events) that have made a Significant contribution to the broad patterns of American History, or to the development of a local community
Association with significant persons important to the broad patterns of American History, or to the development of a local community.
The work of a recognized master architect (local, state or national - as in the Mayfair), and/or a type or style that embodies the distinctive characteristics of an architectural type, period or method of construction
The site of structure has yielded, or may yield information important in prehistory or history
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.
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.
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.”
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 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”.
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.
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.