Historic preservation is a strategy for conserving significant elements of the built environment in order to maintain a tangible physical connection to the past.
Preservation of significant historic and cultural properties is an important aspect of planning in San Francisco. Much of San Francisco's character, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike, depends on the retention of its rich historical building fabric. In practical terms, maintaining and rehabilitating older buildings and neighborhoods can mean savings in energy, time, money, and materials; preservation is an inherently "green" strategy. The Planning Department's Historic Preservation program therefore plays an important economic, environmental, and cultural role in the ongoing development of San Francisco. As a Certified Local Government, the Planning Department has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the standards set forth by the California State Office of Historic Preservation.
Historic Preservation program staff are responsible for a variety of tasks, including project review, environmental review, Historic Preservation Commission support, and historic and cultural resource surveys. Please read the information on this web page and refer to the Preservation Bulletins in order to learn more about the program. Property owners interested in repairing or altering their building will find additional useful information at Frequently Asked Questions.
November 2015: voter-approved Local Measure J modified the definition of a Legacy Business and established the Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund. Learn more about the Legacy Business Registry here.
Window Replacement Standards: The Planning Department recently developed a comprehensive guide to help property owners choose the appropriate window treatments and to efficiently apply for a permit. To download a PDF of the new guidelines, click here.
The Historic Preservation Commission is a seven-member body that makes recommendations directly to the Board of Supervisors, bypassing the Planning Commission, on the designation of landmark buildings, historic districts, and significant buildings. Six members are required to have professional backgrounds in planning, architecture, historical conservation, and related fields.
The Historic Preservation Commission replaces and retains most of the responsibilities of the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (Landmarks Board).The Landmarks Board was a nine-member body, appointed by the Mayor, that served as an advisory board to the Planning Commission and the Planning Department. The Landmarks Board was established in 1967 with the adoption of Article 10: PRESERVATION OF HISTORICAL ARCHITECTURAL AND AESTHETIC LANDMARKS of the Planning Code. The work of the Landmarks Board, the Planning Department and the Planning Commission has resulted in an increase of public awareness about the need to protect the City's architectural, historical and cultural heritage.
The new Historic Preservation Commission makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on building permit applications that involve construction, alteration or demolition of landmark sites and resources located within historic districts. The Historic Preservation Commission may also review and comment on projects affecting historic resources that are subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), or projects subject to review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Historic Preservation Commission also approves Certificates of Appropriateness for Landmarks and properties within Article 10 Historic Districts.
The Historic Preservation Commission meets the first and third Wednesday of each month at City Hall. For more information about upcoming Historic Preservation Commission hearings and past minutes, please click here. An explanation of the review procedures and role of the Landmarks Board can be found in Preservation Bulletin No.1.
The City of San Francisco maintains a list of locally designated City Landmarks and Historic Districts, similar to the National Register of Historic Places but at the local level. Landmarks can be buildings, sites, or landscape features. Districts are defined generally as an area of multiple historic resources that are contextually united.The regulations governing Landmarks, as well as the list of individual Landmarks and descriptions of each Historic District, are found in Article 10 of the Planning Code.
Owners of Landmark properties, or of contributors to Historic Districts, may be eligible for property tax relief (see the Mills Act section, below) and other incentives. Consult Preservation Bulletins No. 5, 9, and 10 for more information about Article 10 Landmarks, Historic Districts, and the landmarking process.
Conservation Districts in San Francisco are located exclusively in the City's downtown core area. The regulations governing properties in these districts, and descriptions of each, are found in Article 11 of the Planning Code. Similar to traditional historic districts, which recognize historic and cultural significance, Conservation Districts seek to designate and protect buildings based on architectural quality and contribution to the character of Downtown. These downtown districts contain concentrations of buildings that together create geographic areas of unique quality and thus facilitate preservation of the quality and character of the area as a whole. For more general information about Conservation Districts, see Preservation Bulletin No.10.
The Mills Act is an important economic incentive program available in California for use by private property owners of qualified historic buildings. Enacted by the State of California in 1976 and amended in the San Francisco Administrative Code in 1996, the Mills Act provides for a potential 50 percent reduction in property taxes on qualified historical properties in exchange for the owner's agreement to maintain and preserve the resource in accordance with standards established by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. For more information on the Mills Act and the recently expanded definition of "qualified historical properties," see Preservation Bulletin No.8.
There are two Historic Preservation Specialists assigned to each of the four quadrant teams in Neighborhood Planning. These Technical Specialists are available for consultation on projects at the Planning Information Center (PIC), located at 1660 Mission Street on the ground floor. Check here for hours of availability.
The PIC phone number is 558-6377. If a project cannot be approved over-the-counter at the PIC, it will be assigned to a Technical Specialist who will contact you directly. For larger projects or ones with more complex, multi-layered issues, applicants can schedule a Project Review with a Technical Specialist.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides the legal framework by which historical resources are identified and given consideration during the planning process. Two main steps are involved in the process; determination of whether or not the property is a "historic resource," and if so, whether the proposed changes to the property would cause a "substantial adverse impact" to the resource.To learn more about CEQA as it relates to historic resources, consult Preservation Bulletin No.16. Additional CEQA information is found in the Preservation FAQs.
- Article 10 of the Planning Code
- Article 11 of the Planning Code
- Preservation Bulletins
- Historic Preservation Commission
- Historic Preservation Fund Committee
- Planning Commission
- Planning Dept. Fee Schedule
- State Office of Historic Preservation
- National Register Bulletins
- National Register of Historic Places
- Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
- California Preservation Foundation
- National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Window Weatherization Guide