This is an image of the Galesburg Antiques Mall Company, Seminary Street Historic Commercial District, Galesburg, Illinois. A girl on a bicycle is in the foreground. Photo: Jay Matson.
People Protecting Community Resources
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Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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What is a local historic district?
" Local historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review. Historic district ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities using powers granted by the state. Historic districts comprise the city's significant historic and architectural resources. Inclusion in a historic district signifies that a property contributes to an ensemble that is worth protecting by virtue of its historic importance or architectural quality…"
City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.


 

 

Beyond a general description, it’s best to go directly to the source—the local governments and communities that create and care for historic districts. Although there are many legal and administrative similarities to historic districts, at the heart of it, each historic district defines itself differently—and should! Each district across the country has a special story and unique personality. Consider these examples:

 

This is an image of the Public Market Center, a focal point of Pike Place Market Historical District in Seattle, Washington. Photo: Courtesy, Pike Place Preservation and Development Authority.
In Seattle, Washington, Pike’s Place Market Historical District was rescued from an urban renewal project in 1971 and subsequently listed as both a local and National Register Historic District.
“Today, it is a healthy, bustling community of merchants and residents.”

 

This is an image of Oakwood, Raleigh's first designated local historic district. Photo: Dan Becker.
Raleigh, North Carolina designated Oakwood as its first “local historic district” in 1975 to ensure the long-term protection of this diverse collection of 19th and early 20th century residences. As part of the local historic district designation, the design of all proposed exterior change is reviewed by the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission.

This is an image of 'F' Street in the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District. The district encourages pedestrian-oriented uses, while retaining the 19th century architectural character. Photo: Courtesy, 'GoThere.com'In San Diego, California, the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District retains the unique turn of the century architectural character of the area, encouraging pedestrian-oriented uses, such as shops, restaurants, galleries, street vendors, and cultural facilities. Preserving the richness of the past and providing continuity with current and future development are dual planning goals of the local historic district. It is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Why local design review?
Many towns, cities, and counties nationwide have already said “yes” to local historic district designation. More than 2,300 districts have historic preservation commissions that conduct design review and many such commissions work with multiple districts in their local jurisdictions! Why are the number of historic districts growing yearly? Residents know that their historic districts are far more than attractive places for tourists to visit, shop, and perhaps have lunch. Residents know that one of the best ways to keep the look and feel of the place they call "home" is through a local design review process.

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This is the National Register definition: "A district possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.". (How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, p. 5)


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