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A building can be considered historic if it is listed on—or is eligible to be listed on—any of three historic registers:


  • National Register of Historic Places  

  • California Register of Historical Resources

  • A local historic register


A building does not have to be listed on the register to be historic just that in a professional’s opinion it qualifies for listing. If it does qualify for listing, then it is protected under California law (California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA.)


The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the model for the other registers; it’s the official federal list of historic resources that have architectural, historic, or cultural significance at the national, state, or local level. To be eligible a property must be historically significant under at least one of the four criteria:


Criterion A (Event): Properties that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.


Criterion B (Person): Properties that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.


Criterion C (Design/Construction): Properties that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.


Criterion D (Information Potential): Properties that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history. (This usually concerns archaeology and I don’t provide this service.)  

A structure usually must be more than 50 years old, must have historic significance, and must retain its physical integrity.

If a building has historic significance, then it must have physical integrity, that is, the ability to convey its historic significance.


Integrity consists of seven aspects:

  • Location,

  • Design,

  • Setting,

  • Materials,

  • Workmanship,

  • Feeling, and

  • Association.

These aspects are not the same thing as a building’s physical condition. A building in need of repair can be and often is historic. 

The California Register of Historical Resources uses similar criteria, but there is no age requirement—merely that sufficient time has passed to gauge significance.  The California Register is also more lenient when it comes to historic integrity. Local historic preservation ordinances usually are patterned after the National Register and often have additional criteria.

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