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Historic Districts

The Gift of Preservation

By Allen Hazard & Janet O'Dea

Anyone who has ever purchased a property has heard the real estate mantra "location, location, location." When it comes to placing value on a particular parcel real estate professionals will agree that land, walls, roof and the condition of the property across the road and down the street affect the value. That explains why buildings that are protected by historic district designation hold a higher property value. It is the context of the property and the assurances from the surrounding stakeholders in the community that boost values.

The following surveys are either pending or require City of San Diego staff review to identify potential districts. While some of these surveys are old or incomplete they identify the following potential historic districts as listed with the City of San Diego:

La Jolla - Status: findings incomplete and indicate 11 potential districts based upon this survey.

Mid City Survey - Status: 13 potential districts based upon this survey. Shirley Ann Place and Burlingame were adopted, Bankers Hill, Kensington, Marston Hills, South Park and the rest are inactive.

North Park - Status: preliminary findings one potential additional district based upon this survey.

Uptown - Status: survey results have not been reviewed to determine the possible districts.

Warehouse Survey (East Village) - Status: one district in process by city staff. Due to redevelopment pressure and funding by CCDC this district has gotten priority.

African American Thematic Study - Status: one district identified and the Black Historic Society is conducting research.

Beyond the dollar value to the proud owner, we all benefit from historic districts because these geographically defined areas benefit communities socially, culturally, and economically through revitalization, stabilization, affordable and luxury housing, heritage tourism and educational opportunities. In an April 2005, speech Donovan Rypkema, one of the leading thinkers on the economics of historic preservation, eloquently stated, "It is often through the door of economic impact that decision makers become advocates of historic preservation."1 Ironically, it may be that the policies that support preservation could be one of the very moves that shift the impoverished mindset, brought on by the financial morass we are facing in the city, to envisioning better days ahead.

Over the last decade of increased real estate prices, our older neighborhoods and historic communities have been limited to the myopic dollar value of the land and the other social benefits have been under recognized. This was due to pressure from developers, short-term thinking land use decision makers and property owners. Recognizing this, in May 2005, SOHO placed the loss of historic neighborhoods on its Most Endangered List. With grassroots efforts by residents, the changes in city hall, the changing tide in the real estate market, this might be the perfect time to establish districts to take advantage of all they have to offer and create win/win policies that support the interests of the city and her citizens.

Over 700 historic buildings have been historically designated by the City of San Diego, fifteen historic districts have been designated and sixteen are pending. Once designated it will be the districts that provide the larger and greater social and economic impact to the identity of our city and our neighborhoods.

Fifteen Historic Districts have been designated in the City of San Diego and sixteen known Historic Districts in the City of San Diego are pending with the following status:

  • Islenaire - City Heights: report by city staff is incomplete.
  • Balboa Park - Report by city staff is incomplete.
  • Warehouse Thematic East Village - Report by city staff in process.
  • South Park - Citizen interest not yet listed with city staff records.
  • La Playa trail - Citizens' report submitted: held for staff review.5
  • Loma Portal - Citizens' report not yet listed with city staff records.
  • African American Thematic District - East Village African American Study in progress.
  • Mission Hills 1 - "Sunset": Citizens' report held for staff review.6
  • Mission Hills 2 - "Trolley line": Citizens' report expected in 2006.
  • Mission Hills 3 - "Arden Way": Arden Way, Hickory, Arquello Streets, Citizens' report initiated.
  • Mission Hills 4 - Witherby: Citizens' report in process.
  • Mission Hills 5 - Hermosa Way: Citizen interests.
  • David O. Dryden - North Park: Pershing and 28th Street, Citizens' report in process.
  • North Park Commercial District - Citizens' interest.
  • North Park Panorama Terrace - Citizen interest.
  • Kensington Historic District - Citizens' report in process.

In the recent past, the City of San Diego had the funds to survey and research large residential areas to identify the historic structures and potential historic districts so that these benefits could be realized. For example, in 1996, the City commissioned a team of professional researchers to perform the Mid-City Survey and thirteen potential historic districts were identified. Since that initial survey with budget cuts and unclear goals for using the information, the only results yielded from this significant project so far are Shirley Ann Place District2 and the Burlingame Voluntary Historic District.3

In 2002, the city was aware of its looming budget challenge. Planning department staff encouraged residents in various communities to complete the required research reports to present to the Historic Resources Board. Citizens unsatisfied with leaving our heritage to chance have taken on these roles to protect our historic areas. These actions highlight the extent to which community pride flourishes in many of our older San Diego neighborhoods despite the ongoing changes made by competing financial interests.

The gift of preservation to the city is clearly the research itself. The information in the reports ties to the immediate community, to the city at large, the state and even the events that shaped our nation.

City staff has already provided countless hours of guidance to community members in an attempt to utilize the generous research provided to it from private citizens; however, no planning department staff is assigned to these tasks and goals and timelines for completing unfinished surveys or review of completed district reports are undefined.4 With the changes in city hall it is time to focus on a strategic and cohesive approach to the needs of our older neighborhoods including community planning with historic resources in mind and district designations throughout these areas. This approach would result in massive social and economic benefits from a very meager investment since these are the results that Rypkema, found when these policy matters were enacted across the nation and around the world.

We remain hopeful that the pending historic districts will move ahead and efforts undertaken by city staff and residents, that advance the goals of preserving our historic communities, will be realized. Let's all work with policy makers to put preservation friendly policies at the forefront and continue to contribute to the wonderfully rich research and resources that are so close to completion. In these ways, we can preserve the culturally significant, historic neighborhoods we've integrated into our lives for generations to come.

1Rypkema, Donavan D., The Economics of Historic Preservation Tennessee Preservation Trust; Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 8, 2005. Read the entire speech.

2A small block in University Heights recognizing the work of William B. Melhorn, the son of Master Builder Martin V. Melhorn.

3Burlingame, currently a Voluntary Historic District, which means that the geographic area identified is not protected as a whole district unless the individual homeowners apply for inclusion into the district, is reaching the critical mass needed to change its status and become a traditional historic district. SOHO recommends traditional districts which include guidelines that provide overall cohesive protection to the historic buildings within the geographic area.

4A general estimate of the staff time to review a completed district report is between 6-10 days. Yet, without dedicated staff assigned to do this work, even a couple of weeks is beyond the reach of getting the reports processed and the benefits realized as the research in the report becomes outdated.

5Completed report submitted in 2004.

6Completed report submitted September 2004 - includes 75 homes on the 1800 block of Sunset Blvd, Sheridan Ave, Lyndon Road and one home on St. James Place.

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 4


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