The Heart of Kensington - Neighborhood Preservation Advocacy
Historic Districts

An historic district is a group of buildings, properties or sites that have been designated as historically or architecturally significant. Buildings, structures, objects and sites within an historic district are normally divided into two categories, contributing and non-contributing. Districts greatly vary in size, some having hundreds of structures while others have just a few.

The U.S. federal government designates historic districts through the U.S. Department of Interior, under the auspices of the National Park Service. Federally designated historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. State Historic Districts can either follow similar criteria and have no restrictions on property owners or they can require strict adherence to historic rehabilitation standards. The local historic district offers, by far, the most legal protection for historic properties because most land use decisions are made at the local level. Local districts are generally administered by the county or municipal government.

The first historic district was located in Charleston, South Carolina and predated the first U.S. federal government designated district by more than thirty years. Other local historic districts popped up and in 1966 the U.S. government created the National Register of Historic Places on the heels of a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors which stated Americans suffered from "rootlessness." By the 1980s there were thousands of federally designated historic districts.

Historic districts are generally comprised of two types of properties, contributing and non-contributing. Broadly defined, a contributing property is any property, structure or object which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make an historic district, listed locally or federally, significant.

There are more than 2,300 local historic districts in the United States.

 According to the National Park Service, historic districts are one of the oldest forms of protection for historic properties. Local historic districts are most likely to generate resistance because of the restrictions they tend to place on property owners. In California, per state and local law, building design criteria for structures that are designated as parts of local "preservation districts" are derived from the U.S. Secretary of Interior's Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. For property owners within these preservation districts to make alterations they must adhere to a set of guidelines which concern roof form and materials, front and side porches, shape, style and placement of windows and doors, construction materials (no hardboard, masonite, aluminum, or vinyl cladding allowed), lighting fixtures, fences, paving, and paint color (for masonry structures).

Contrary to popular belief, you can construct an addition and remodel an historically designated house.  

Information on local historic districts and the process for creating a district is included here.  One such district, the Mission Hills Historic District, was just designated in 2008 after a six year effort by its residents.  Another district, the Dryden Historic District, is still awaiting a decision from the City's Historical Resources Board.

First, read the City of San Diego's policy on the creation of historical districts.

Then, read the summary of the proposed Dryden Historic District, and the Frequently Asked Questions about districts developed by the proponents of the Dryden District.

Now that the Mission Hills Historic District is a reality, you can read the proposed design guidelines for houses that are within the district boundaries.

We also provide some insight into how an historic district can prevent teardowns and McMansions in neighborhoods where the scale and character would be negatively affected by such activites.  Guidelines from the State of Maryland are included to provide an idea of what could be done to ensure the character of our own neighborhood is not compromised.

Coming to our neighborhood soon... a San Marcos tract house, complete with pig snout garage.

Not big enough?  This house on South Hempstead Circle used to look like this: