The Importance of Landmark Status

The National Park Service administers two federal programs for the preservation of historic structures: the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmarks Program. What’s the difference between the two designations? The National Register of Historic Places designates that a property is worthy of preservation and recognizes the architecture’s importance to its local, state, and national communities; while the National Historic Landmarks Program is more rigorously monitored, requiring a property to support the narrative of the nation as a whole and to adhere to a particular level of historic integrity.

Besides the recognition of these two statuses, having proper designation by the NPS provides the following incentives for building owners: federal preservation grants for planning and rehabilitation, federal investment tax credits, easement to non-profit organizations, fire and life safety code alternatives, and the protection of the property’s historic character against any project initiated by the federal government*.

Why is it important for a historic residence, commercial, or industrial building owner to apply for either or both of these designations? In the context of the city as a whole, urban historian Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities emphasized the need for aged buildings: “cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” A city with solely new buildings and residences creates an environment in which those living occupying it are those who are able to afford the expenses of new construction and development (i.e. expensive rent and increasing property taxes). Also noteworthy: the unique narrative of a city is amplified because of the existence of historic structures that have continuously occupied the street space. This sense of “charm” and sentiment is stripped when a historic structure is demolished in preference for a new one. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently noted in a ReUrbanism newsletter that, “Older places provide the distinctiveness and character that engender success. Older buildings give cities a sense of identity, history, and authenticity — which is the most important competitive advantage they can have in today’s enconomy.”

The non-profit organization known as the Eames Foundation was established at the Eames House in 2004 by Lucia Eames (pictured below), the daughter of Charles Eames and step-daughter of Ray Eames. It was important to Lucia and her five children that the Eames House remain intact with the highest historic integrity (building materials, collections inside and surrounding the structure, and the 1.4 acre landscaping in Pacific Palisades, California) with the hopes of sharing the legacy of Charles and Ray with the public for the foreseeable future. The designation forms were completed by the Historic Resources Group in Pasadena, California; edited in Oakland and Washington D.C.; and successfully met all appropriate criteria for landmarking. The Eames House received its designation as a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service in September 2006. Read the interesting 35-page report here.

If you own a historic property or are in the vicinity of one that you believe should be protected, contact your State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) to start the process of keeping these significant structures for future use and admiration. 

Determining the Eligibility of a Property for National Historic Landmark Nomination, National Park Service
Published by: Kelsey Rose Williams       House photograph by: Brent Peters