What Is a Historic District?

Updated

Local historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review, and encompass buildings deemed significant to the city's cultural fabric.  A property included in a historic district, valued for its historical associations or architectural quality, is worth protecting because it is a virtue to the special and unique personality of the city. For example, the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District in San Diego, California, has maintained the unique turn-of-the-century architectural character of the area through its pedestrian focus with shops, restaurants, galleries and street vendors.  A primary planning goal of this historic district is to preserve the richness of the past while providing continuity with the present and future. 

The first historic district was formed in 1931 when the city of Charleston, South Carolina enacted a local ordinance designating an "Old and Historic District."  This ordinance prohibited changes to exterior architectural features that were visible from a public street.  Other cities soon followed: the Vieux Carre Commission was created in 1937 to preserve the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana; San Antonio, Texas passed an ordinance in 1939 to protect an original Mexican village marketplace La Villita; the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. came under protection in 1950 as a result of legislation enacted by Congress.  By 1965, 51 communities across the country had similar preservation ordinances, a number that has grown exponentially to over 2,300 communities in the U.S. today.