Historic buildings are some of the most important structures in California. They are also very expensive to build and maintain. If you want to preserve these historical landmarks, you should know their building codes.

California has over 3,000 registered historic buildings and sites. These include museums, libraries, parks, and other public spaces. Many of them are protected under the state’s Historical Resources Act (HRA). The HRA requires owners of historic properties to register their property with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and obtain a permit before undertaking any construction or renovation project.

To ensure compliance with the HRA, owners of historic properties must follow the requirements outlined in the California Building Code (CBC). This code sets specific guidelines for designing, constructing, and maintaining historic buildings. It includes:

  • A set of mandatory standards that apply to all new construction;
  • Specific rules regarding repair, alteration, and remodeling projects;
  • Guidelines for the preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse of historic properties; and
  • Standards for historical restorations.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the basics of California’s historic building preservation laws and regulations, along with more detailed information about the topic. We’ll cover California’s Historic Sites Registration Law, Historic Landmark Designation, and more.

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California Historic Building Preservation Laws and Regulations

Under the California Historical Resources Act, all owners of historic properties must document their site. They should also keep records related to its history. Owners must provide this documentation when applying for a certificate of occupancy, registering construction permits, obtaining federal grants, or participating in government-sponsored heritage programs.

The CBC applies only to historic sites in the state. While it does not regulate the physical condition of existing non-historic properties, it affects how these properties can be altered. For example, if you plan to demolish an old house, you must follow the CBC and file an application with the county recorder. You will also need to notify local officials who own adjoining land. Failure to do so could result in fines or even seizure of your property.

Under the CBC, three buildings qualify as historic — designated historic resources, listed historical landmarks, and eligible historic places. These historically significant buildings are considered “listed” regardless of whether they meet the criteria for designation as “designated” or “eligible” historic resources. The CBC defines historically significant buildings as those built before 1923 and those containing at least one original structure built before 1881.

Designated Historic Resources

Any building meeting the above criteria may receive designation as a “historically significant resource” (HSR). Several different factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating a proposed HSR. Among these are:

  • Its age;
  • Its architectural style and integrity;
  • The period during which it was used;
  • Its unique significance within architecture, landscape architecture, archaeology, art, cultural anthropology, social history, education, or other fields of human knowledge;
  • Its contribution to society, including its ability to interpret past experiences; and,
  • Its potential for future use or interpretation.

Listed Historical Landmarks

To protect the state’s many historic structures, the CBC created three distinct levels for identifying and protecting them. At one end of the spectrum sits “listed” status, the most protective level. Under this system, a property owner may ask to register a landmark with the state and then apply for a special certificate of compliance. This allows affected owners to obtain certification of certain elements of their building’s design, materials, and/or exterior appearance.

Once certified, these enhancements receive protection under state law from alteration, destruction, or removal without proper authorization. Owners must pay a fee to receive a listing as a “listed” landmark and may opt to remove any changes made after receiving certification.

Eligible Historic Places

Finally, there’s the category known as “eligible historic places.” Eligible historical places are similar to listed landmarks but require less detailed documentation and proof of authenticity. If the CBC determines that your structure meets the strict criteria needed to secure this lesser protection, you can proceed to process your permit.


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