Sunday, December 30, 2007

What The Hell Do These People Want

That is the question. What do they want from me in order to get my house on the National Register of Historic Places. Well, there are several things that can get a house listed. One way is to think of it in terms of George Washington.

Did George Washington sleep here?
Did George Washington live here?
Did George Washington shoot somebody here?
Did George Washington sign something here?

For most properties listed it is not going to be George or anyone like George that had anything to do with the property. So than it must be size, right? If no one important had anything to do with it, then it must be a grand home, right?. Well, that’s not really all that important either. It was years ago that I read the criteria for considering a house to be listed, so this is my interpretation of it, but I seem to remember them talking a lot about Context.

A house, place, or building can be listed because someone important is associated with it, but it can also be that it is a good representation of a particular style that was constructed when that style was popular. And more importantly, that the house is still in its original context. It hasn’t been moved or changed drastically and it still retains a lot of the characteristics from the time it was constructed. Essentially, when you look at the house, you should be able to see it as it was and how it exists now in the same environment, even though the environment may have changed.

The style does not necessarily need to be true to some nationally recognized style because that would disqualify many regional variations of style. That is also, I think, where the whole Context thing comes in. If the property is a good representation of a regional style then it is a good candidate for listing. This could be an 1,100 square foot bungalow or a 16,000 square foot mansion.

I’m submitting two papers for the listing. One is a detailed description of the property itself. Mine is about 6 pages, single spaced. I describe the house in architectural terms, starting with all 4 elevations of the exterior and then each room of the interior. Along the way I do my best to point out what I think are important details that either help define the style, Queen Anne Revival, or elements that put the house in a regional context.

The second paper, which is also about 6 pages long, tries to express why the house should be listed. Here is the key sentence in the first paragraph that I use to plead my case.

“The house meets National Register Criterion C in the area of Architecture because it is an exceptional example of late Victorian architecture and it posses the craftsmanship of a regionally prominent master builder.”

In the next 6 pages that follow, I do my best to clarify that point. There are 4 areas of consideration that you can use to try and get your house listed. Obviously, I’m going for C. Below is a list of the 4 areas of consideration.

A. that are associated with events that have made significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

You can see that the way C is written it really opens up the door for just about anything. I think what it really comes down to is how well you plead your case. Any house in Levittown could be said to “represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction”. A lean-to shack on the Ozarks could be said to “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction”.

Aside from the two write-ups, there is a cover sheet that gives a lot of basic information about me, the property, and its location. And then there are the photos, and I need to make a bibliography to site my sources.

Good news on the photo front. Three years ago when I looked in to this there were only a few ink jet printers listed on the National Parks site that were considered good enough to print archival quality photos. It really comes down to the ink and paper, and not so much the printer. The caveat is, only certain printers use certain inks. It was really a limited combination of ink and paper that made the grade. At the time, the least expensive printer was an Epson printer that used a 8 color, UltraChrome K3 ink. It started at about $900 just for the printer. The high-end ones go for a couple of grand. I went back and looked at the site this morning and they’ve add the Epson Picture Mate printer to the list. It must be a home version that uses the same ink and paper as the high-end Epson printers. This one goes for around $200!

They have also reduced the required size. Three years ago it was a minimum of 5X7 photos. Now is it 3½ x 5, which is great because the Epson Picture Mate only produces 4X6 photos. They do mandate that digital photos be accompanied by a CD containing TIF (Tagged Image File) images of the photos. These must be at least 1600x1200 pixels at 300 ppi. I’m not sure if my camera produces that resolution.

Once I submit the application, I have no idea how long the process takes. I fully expect to be asked to makes some changes or to clarify somethings. That is, if I’m not turned down immediately. I’ve been told that one thing that can kill an application right out is if the building has been moved. Mine hasn’t, but this would take the house out of its original context. I am a little concerned with the fact that the exterior had asbestos siding. Even though it is mostly original and has been fully restored, that still worries me.

I’m going to shoot for February 1st to mail off the application.


Ron said...

You are aware the path to National Register status starts with you submitting your package to the local Historic Preservation Commission I assume. If it needs more work they will help you.

Then it goes to the State Office of Historic Preservation. Basically if they approve it you are "in",

You are welcome to review the package we used to put our home on the National Register. I do agree, you should go for both Criteria A and C.

Greg said...

Interesting. I remember reading 3 years ago on the Ca SOHP site that I can submit directly to the state office.

It's not that I wouldn't want to go through the local Historic Preservation Commission, but why make the process longer than it needs to be.

Thanks for the info, I'll need to look in to this more.

Ron said...

Sorry, in my first post I said you might go for A and C. I meant B and C. Where we did our house we just applied under C, and when we appeared before the State Historic Preservation Commission, they said told us that they felt Magdalena Zanone was such an important person in Eureka we should have added Criterion B (important person). They went ahead and approved it as submitted, and we never went back to try to amend it, but it is something to consider. They might not go for it, but it does not hurt to try.


Ron said...

I think it might have something with Eureka being a "Certified Local Government".

Ron said...

I think it might be the last paragraph - Local Government Notification" that causes this to go through the local HPC first, but it does not specifically say this. This is what we were told to do, and so I never questioned it. Also, I also assumed having the "blessing" of your local agency improves your chances at the State Level.

Greg said...

Here are the 2 quotes that I'm going by...

"Anyone can prepare a nomination to the National Register; generally nomination forms are documented by property owners, local governments, historical societies or SHPO, FPO or TPO staff"

"During the time the proposed nomination is reviewed by the SHPO, property owners and local officials are notified of the intent to nominate and public comment is solicited"

I can't find any where that says I must start with the local office. This probably because not every city or county has a local office.

I'll be honest with you, I'm going to try my best to not go through the local Historic Preservation Commission. My last experience with them was not a pleasant one. If they want to rubber stamp it before I send it off, that's fine, I'll mail in a copy, but I will not go before the commission to answer any questions or make any changes to the application at their request.

I won't go in to here, but if you're interested in the story, I'm happy to tell you about it someday.

Monica... Media Professional said...

Wow, Greg... you sounds as prepared as you could possibly be.

re: the photo in 300 dpi- My understanding is that if you have Photoshop or similar, you can just up the dpi in Image Size. I just went through a Photojournalism/Photoshop class at HSU and changing the resolution was as much as we needed to do. Piece of cake. My Canon Digital Rebel shoots at 72 dpi, which is totally beyond me as my older, cheaper model shot at 180, but that aside, Photoshop fixed this issue for me.
And if you don't have a photo program that will allow you to do that, let me know. I'd be happy to help (seriously, it'll take less than 5 minutes).

Alicia said...

You need to consider as well the historical information that you have on the Petch family...esp. the significance of the house's early use of electric/gas and Petch's role in the early economy of electric/gas in northern California. In my mind (as a historian), your information on the owner and on the relationship between house and owner is another criterion (D).

Irishgirl said...

Most areas/buildings start at the local level which affords the most protection and oversight. Depending on municipality/state you may want to also do this. I am a commissioner on my city preservation board. We have the authority to nominate for local designation. Once we designate it gets registered with the state office. We are a CLG so SHPO knows that the basics are all there. Most designations only cover the outside so if you have a rare interior feature you must note it on the application. Going for National Register is the additional cherry on the sundae. We have two local groups that will assist interested individuals in getting their application in order, check around there may be groups in your area that can give you advice, or check with someone who just got listed for advice. If you don't get listed on the National level you might want to get the local designation in place. It will help your peace of mind, when and if you sell the property, that all your hard work won't be re-muddled, at least on the exterior.

Greg said...


Its already in there, but thanks for thinking of it.


The house is already on the local list. I did that, and actually blogged about it, a few years ago. (Search for "On the list at last")

For reasons I won't go in to here, I'm going straight to the SOHP and not through our local Historic Preservation Commission. I will be required to submit the application to the city, and they can open up a public comment period within 90 days after I submit it. The comments are only comments, though, and the city really has no say in the matter. I am required to attach any public comments that are received to the application before I submit it to the SOHP.

LH said...

Hi Greg,

I work at Rejuvenation in Portland, OR. Of course, we are rooting for you and hope you make it onto the National Register.

We may link to your site, if that's OK.

Best of luck!

Greg said...


Thanks for the show of support. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Oh, and I would be honored to have you link to my blog. Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

Good luck, Greg! Back in 1994 when I looked into State Designation it only specified b & w prints of the outside AND inside. I don't remember "archival quality". I haven't looked into National yet, as I never did go for the State. I didn't much like the "inside pictures" stipulation, as I had just purchased the house and everything looked like crap--painted woodwork, ugly light fixtures, etc. I still don't understand why they want to see the inside.
Michigan would put a large fancy marker on the property if it was designated and one wanted the tourist traffic.