Accessibility and Website Information Skip Site Wide Navigation Skip to Content City Seal | HomeCity of San Diego | Home
Search City of San Diego

Frequently Asked Questions

Fix Up a Historical Site

What are my new responsibilities as an owner if my property is on a site that has been historically designated, in contrast to what they were before designation?

A project review to assess adherence to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties would be needed before doing major alterations to the exterior of your building that are visible to the public, such as building an addition or second story, changing the exterior wall material, removing original features, or changing windows. The proposed changes would have to be compatible with the style or character of your home, so that it would continue to maintain its historical character. Some of these things may not require a building permit, but you need to obtain historical approval for them before you commence the work. Before your site was designated, you had to obtain a permit to do most of these things, but proposed changes didn't have to be compatible with your existing house and didn't need the historical review. To obtain input from Historical Resources Board staff, see the handout on our staff assistance procedure . The City of Riverside also has a good website for appropriate rehabilitations.

What are the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties that apply to historically designated properties?

The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties (standards) are federal standards that are administered locally. There are also guidelines for each of the standards that are flexible, common-sense guidelines that suggest options for rehabilitation of historical buildings. They do not preclude changes but rather assure that any proposed changes or additions are compatible and sympathetic with the historical character of the building. They further require that any addition should be subservient to the primary historical fabric and be distinguished as clearly new so that the proposed change is not confused with the original historical structure. The flexibility of the guidelines permits this distinction to be subtle or distinct. Typically, the local administration of the Standards and Guidelines result in a priority being placed on keeping the original portions of the building(s) that are publicly visible. The National Park Service has a rehabilitation learning program on their web site that is a helpful tool.

Would I have to get a permit to paint my property, or to change the paint color?

No, permits are not required to paint your building. However, paint can be an important visual feature of a building. Using the historical paint color(s) is encouraged, but there is generally flexibility as long as the color complements the architectural style of the building and reflects the historical period. Any applicable color guidelines in historical districts also need to be followed. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of a proposed color, you should contact the Historical Resources Board staff.

Would I be allowed to build an addition to my property?

Yes, but the design would have to be reviewed to ensure it meets the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. Design issues would be reviewed at the same time your building permit is reviewed when your plans are routed by the Development Services Department to the Historical Resources Board staff. If you want to obtain early input from Historical Resources Board staff regarding whether your project is consistent with the Standards before submitting your full construction plans, you may e-mail or call HRB staff. You may also submit an application to the Development Services Department for a historical Single Discipline Preliminary Review (see Information Bulletin 513). Additional input from the Historical Resources Board Design Assistance Subcommittee may also be deemed necessary by staff as a part of this process.

Would I be allowed to change the interior of my building?

Generally, yes. Historical designation has no effect upon the interior of your building unless a particular part of the interior or a feature was specifically called out in the designation. Some buildings with significant public lobbies may also have those interior areas designated. Sometimes interior changes can affect what is visible on the outside, so you do need to be careful (e.g., altering a kitchen or bathroom layout that results in the blocking or relocation of windows or doors). You would have to obtain the same permits as you do now for electrical, plumbing or structural changes. The California Historical Building Code applies to designated historical sites and needs to be used in designing your project.

Can I change the landscaping?

Generally, yes. The historical designation typically does not include your yard. Landscaping would only be specifically protected if it were called out in the historical designation. However, the Secretary of the Interior's Standards generally require you to maintain the setting of the site, so drastic changes to landscaping or installation of tall fences in the front yard could have an effect on the setting and need to be reviewed at least by Historical Resources Board staff. There are currently City codes concerning the height and placement of fences, and those would remain the same. Landscape or fencing requirements may apply to your site if you are part of a historical district with customized design guidelines.

More frequently asked questions