Historic Contexts and Surveys
Historic Preservation Planning Section
Historic contexts and surveys are critical tools for understanding, identifying, evaluating, and protecting the City’s historical resources. Historic contexts provide the foundation for preservation planning and successful survey work. They describe the broad patterns of historical development of a community or region that are represented by the physical development and character of the built environment. Historic Contexts are not intended to be a chronological recitation of a community’s significant historical events or noteworthy citizens or a comprehensive community history. Rather, historic context statements are intended to provide an analytical framework for identifying and evaluating resources by focusing on and concisely explaining what aspects of geography, history and culture significantly shaped the physical development of a community or region’s land use patterns and built environment over time, what important property types were associated with those developments, why they are important, and what characteristics they need to have to be considered an important representation of their type and context.
Historic resource surveys are performed to identify, record, and evaluate historic properties within a community, neighborhood, project area, or region. Surveys provide many benefits, including the information needed to make informed planning decisions, prioritize preservation goals and objectives, develop and implement land use policies, and educate the public and increase the understanding of and appreciation for the built environment as a tangible reminder of the community’s history. Surveys also assist in the identification of resources worthy of designation in the City of San Diego’s Register of Historic Resources, the California Register of Historical Resources, or the National Register of Historic Places.
Conducting a survey involves three sets of activities: archival research and development of a historic context, field survey, and recording of information. Although archival research begins before fieldwork, and much information is recorded as the result of fieldwork, all three activities will normally be going on at once. Archival research will indicate what to look for and what to record, and fieldwork and recordation will identify information needs to be pursued in archival research. Both the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines for Identification and common practice distinguish between two general levels of survey: reconnaissance and intensive survey. Both kinds of survey involve background documentary research into the community's history, archeology and architecture, as well as field work, but they are different in terms of the level of effort involved.
A reconnaissance survey may be thought of as a "once over lightly" inspection of an area, most useful for characterizing its resources in general and for developing a basis for deciding how to organize and orient more detailed survey efforts. In conjunction with a general review of pertinent literature on the community's past, a reconnaissance survey may involve such activities as a “windshield survey” of the community noting the general distribution of buildings, structures and neighborhoods representing different architectural styles, periods and modes of construction; review of aerial photographs and historical maps; and detailed inspection of sample blocks or areas.
An intensive survey, as the name implies, is a close and careful look at the area being surveyed. It is designed to identify precisely and completely all historic resources in the area. It generally involves detailed background research, and a thorough inspection and documentation of all historic properties in the field. It should produce all the information needed to evaluate historic properties and prepare an inventory.
Detailed information on the purpose and intent of historic context statements and surveys, as well as how to conduct them, is available from the California State Office of Historic Preservation and the National Park Service:
- "Writing Historic Contexts" from the California Office of Historic Preservation
- "OHP Preferred Format for Historic Context Statements" from the California Office of Historic Preservation
- National Register Bulletin 24: "Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning" from the National Park Service
- "Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic Preservation" from the National Park Service
National and Statewide Contexts and Surveys
The National Park Service has produced many Thematic Studies and Special Studies to aid in the evaluation of National Register Landmarks, many of which address themes and events relevant to San Diego. In addition, the National Park Service has undertaken a number of Heritage and History Initiatives with the intention of extending "the reach of documentation, listing and designation of historic places to better reflect the full spectrum of people, events, and experiences that have contributed to building the nation." The program has produced studies on American Latino Heritage, African American Heritage, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, European Heritage, Indigenous Heritage, LGBTQ Heritage and Women's History.
In addition, the California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) maintains a library of historic contexts produced across the state of California. Included in this library are Statewide Historic Contexts addressing various themes and property types found throughout the state, prepared either by CalTrans or OHP. While these contexts are often intended to assist in the evaluation of resources for their eligibility for the National Register, the information provided in the contexts is also useful for understanding statewide historical themes and events.
- A Historical Context and Archaeological Research Design for Agricultural Properties in California (2007)
- A Historic Context and Archaeological Research Design for Mining Properties in California (2008)
- A Historic Context and Archaeological Research Design for Townsite Properties in California (2010)
- A Historical Context and Archaeological Research Design for Work Camp Properties in California (2003)
- Five Views: An Ethnic Site Survey for California (1988)
- General Guidelines for Identifying and Evaluating Historic Landscapes (1999)
- Latinos in Twentieth Century California (2015)
- Tract Housing in California, 1945-1973: A Historic Context for National Register Evaluation (2011)
- Water Conveyance Systems in California, Historic Context Development & Evaluation Procedures (2000)
City of San Diego Contexts and Surveys
The City of San Diego maintains a number of historic contexts statements and surveys. Some contexts, such as the Modernism Context Statement and the LGBTQ Historic Context Statement, are more thematic than geographic in nature, and apply City-wide. Other contexts are focused on specific communities or Community Planning Areas. Some contexts were developed without subsequent surveys, and are used to evaluate individual properties and districts, and could be used in future survey work. The City has a number of finalized surveys, some contexts and surveys that are in progress, and several older, suspended surveys that are useful as a source for historic photos and basic property descriptions. Links to the City's archive of contexts and surveys, along with a brief summary of each document, are provided below. Staff is the process of digitizing and uploading additional documents, so check back soon.
Finalized Historic Context Statements (Without Surveys)
The following historic context statements, which have been finalized, were prepared as stand-alone contexts and did not include a historic resource survey:
- Ocean Beach Historic Context Statement (2015): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Ocean Beach Community Plan, the Ocean Beach Historic Context Statement is intended to provide the historic context for the development of Ocean Beach and identify themes significant to that development.
- San Diego Citywide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Historic Context Statement (2016): Prepared with funding from a Certified Local Government Grant, the San Diego Citywide LGBTQ Historic Context Statement is intended to provide guidance for identifying and evaluating potential historic resources related to San Diego’s rich LGBTQ history.
- San Diego Modernism Historic Context Statement (2007): Prepared with funding from a Certified Local Government Grant, the San Diego Modernism Historic Context Statement is designed to address the regional and local emergence of Modern architecture in San Diego; the architects, builders and other individuals significant in the development of Modernism in San Diego; as well as the property types and sub-styles which characterize San Diego Modernism and the criteria which should be applied to evaluate those resources and establish significance.
- Southeastern Historic Context Statement (2014): Prepared in support of the comprehensive updates to the Southeastern and Encanto Community Plans, the Southeastern Historic Context Statement (which also address the community of Encanto) is intended to provide the historic context for the development of the Southeastern and Encanto communities and identify themes significant to that development.
Finalized Historic Context Statements with Surveys
The following historic context statements included reconnaissance-level survey work to identify potential historic resources associated with the context. Please note that the survey forms and information associated with older surveys may be difficult to read, as a number of these documents are copies of copies. All versions posted below reflect the best quality and resolution available. The following documents have been finalized:
- Ballpark Survey (1998): Formally titled "Evaluation of Historic Resources within Project Survey Area for Proposed Sports Entertainment District", the survey was prepared in 1998 for the purposes of determining which sites within the boundaries of the future ballpark site were historically significant. Historical Resources Board actions taken in response to this survey can be reviewed in the HRB Meeting Minutes excerpts related to the ballpark site.
Barrio Logan Historical Resources Survey (2011): Prepared in conjunction with the Barrio Logan Community in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the Barrio Logan plan area, with the exception of the area southwest of Harbor Boulevard. The survey was focused on buildings constructed before 1965 and those visible from the street. A total of 485 properties were surveyed including Chicano Park, established in 1970. Of the 485 properties surveyed, 129 properties were found to be potentially significant under the City of San Diego's designation criteria.
Barrio Logan Redevelopment Area Historic and Urban Resources Survey (1989): This survey sought to provide an informative analysis of the existing neighborhood resources which define the community character within the Barrio Logan Redevelopment Project area, for the purposes of integrating or reintegrating those resources into the redevelopment process. A total of 84 properties were analyzed, and four clusters of properties which form potential historic districts were identified.
(Barrio Logan) Proposed East End Historic and Planned Districts (1983): Prepared by the University of San Diego, this survey area is bounded by 16th Street on the west, 32nd Street on the east, Logan Avenue on the north and National Avenue on the south.
Barrio Logan and Western Southeast San Diego Historical Survey (1980): This survey area is bounded roughly by I-15 to the east, San Diego harbor to the south and west, and I-94 to the north.
Downtown Survey (1988-1991): This survey of the downtown area was divided among six geographic subareas, Bayside, Centre City East, Core, El Cortez, Harborview and Harborview/Little Italy. (Use the bookmark feature in the PDF to navigate quickly between the subarea documents.)
Downtown San Diego African-American Heritage Study (2004): This study focuses on African-American history and culture within the context of the development of portions of downtown San Diego. While the role and context of other ethnic and racial groups were by no means ignored, and in fact could not be ignored given the interwoven nature of the African American, Latino, and Asian American communities, the emphasis was on persons of African-American descent, their history, their cultural heritage, their role, and the places that would be important to them.
East Village Combined Surveys (2005): This survey, comprised of 85 inventoried historical resources, integrates three historical surveys conducted in East Village between 2001-2004 on behalf of the Centre City Development Corporation.
Golden Hill Community Plan Area Historic Resources Survey (2016): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the Golden Hill plan area, and focused on buildings constructed before 1970 visible from the street. Only properties identified as potentially significant -either as an individual site or as a feature of a potential historic district were documented. (Individual property survey forms are pending upload to the City's CHRID. Check back for updates and links.)
Grantville Historic Resources Reconnaissance Survey (2014): Prepared in support of the focused amendment to the Navajo Community Plan, the "Historic Resources Reconnaissance Survey for Grantville Focused Plan Amendment" provides a historic context and reconnaissance level survey for the Grantville area, comprised of 379 acres bounded by the San Diego River to the north and west, I-8 to the south, and an irregular border to the east that includes portions of Mission Gorge Road, Crawford Street and Waring Road.
La Jolla - A Historical Inventory (1977): Partially funded by the California State Office of Historic Preservation, the intent of the survey was to "attempt to capture La Jolla's past and to record the historically significant data for future generations". The survey "selected those structures that appeared unaltered from the exterior, historically noteworthy, and not yet deteriorated to a final state."
Mid-City San Diego Preservation Strategy (1996): The Greater Mid-City Historic Preservation Strategy provides an informational foundation of potential historic resources and preservation strategies within the survey area, which included Golden Hill, North Park, University Heights, Kensington/Talmadge, City Heights and a large portion of Uptown. All neighborhoods and districts within a the boundary were surveyed for resources dating prior to 1945. The Mid-City Survey built upon on two former surveys, The Greater North Park Survey of 1988-1991 and The Hillcrest/Banker's Hill Survey of 1982, and included additional areas not previously reviewed in order to provide a comprehensive architectural reconnaissance study of the survey area. Survey data and forms from the 1988-1991 Greater North Park Survey and 1982 HIllcrest/Banker's Hill Survey were incorporated into the 1996 Greater Mid-City Survey. (A few notes regarding use of this survey: the survey is very large, and is broken into many binders and multiple volumes, as described below. Volume 5 (Binders 14-22) contain the appendices, and are available upon request. Properties are identified by Assessor's Parcel Number (APN) rather than address. If you don't know your APN, please click here. The photos associated with the surveyed properties are often found as a separate document in the Photo File, which is organized by address.)
Mid-City Survey Volume 1 (Survey Binder 1): Survey Report This volume includes a table of contents, background information on the survey effort, analysis of the survey data and recommendations.
Mid-City Survey Volume 2 (Survey Binders 2 and 3): Tabular Listing of Surveyed Resources These binders of Volume 2 include the tabular listing of surveyed resources, as well as information on abbreviations and methods used.
Mid-City Survey Volume 2 (Survey Binders 4, 5 and 6): Historic Resources Inventory Forms These binders of Volume 2 include an introduction to the historic resources inventory forms (DPR 523s), as well as copies of the DPR Forms for APNs up through 452-688-02.
Mid-City Survey Volume 2 (Survey Binder 7): Historic Resources Inventory Forms This binder of Volume 2 includes copies of the DPR Forms for APNs 452-705-02 through 534-411-41.
Mid-City Survey Volume 2 (Survey Binder 8): Historic Resources Inventory Forms This binder of Volume 2 includes copies of the DPR Forms for APNs 539-011-01 through 539-601-21.
Mid-City Survey Volume 3 (Survey Binders 9 and 10): Potential Historic Districts These binders of Volume 3 include the potential historic districts identified during the Greater North Park Survey of 1988-1991, and includes the Burlingame, Carteri Center, David O. Dryden, Marston Hills, Park Blvd Apartment Row, Park Blvd Revival/Moderne and Shirley Ann Place potential historic districts.
Mid-City Survey Volume 3 (Survey Binders 11 and 12): Potential Historic Districts These binders of Volume 3 include the potential historic districts identified during the Historical Greater Mid-City San Diego Preservation Survey of 1995-1996, and includes the Bankers Hill, Golden Hill Expansion, Kensington & Talmadge, Marston Family and South Park potential historic districts.
Survey Forms: The following PDFs contain copies of the basic data collected for surveyed properties, and are organized by APN. For more detailed information on individually significant properties and historic districts, please refer to volumes 2 and 3 of the survey document.
Photo File: The following PDFs contain photos of surveyed resources from the Photo File, and are organized by address rather than APN:
Middletown Survey (1981): Partially funded by the California State Office of Historic Preservation and prepared by the University of San Diego, this survey covers the area between Old Town San Diego and New Town (Downtown). The survey stretches from Witherby Street south to A Street, and is bounded by Pacific Highway on the west and Union Street on the east.
Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan Area Historic Resources Reconnaissance Survey (2017): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries include the Midway-Pacific Highway community plan area, and focused on buildings constructed before 1970 visible from the street. Only properties identified as potentially significant -either as an individual site or as a feature of a potential historic district were documented. (Individual property survey forms are pending upload to the City's CHRID. Check back for updates and links.)
North Park Community Plan Area Historic Resources Survey (2016): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the North Park plan area, and focused on buildings constructed before 1970 visible from the street. Only properties identified as potentially significant -either as an individual site or as a feature of a potential historic district were documented. (Individual property survey forms are pending upload to the City's CHRID. Check back for updates and links.)
North Park Redevelopment Project Survey (1995): Prepared in support of the North Park Redevelopment Project, this survey identified significant and potential historic resources within a portion of the North Park community within the redevelopment area.
Old Town San Diego Community Plan Area Historic Resources Reconnaissance Survey (2018): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries include the Old San Diego community plan area, and focused on buildings constructed before 1970 visible from the street. Only properties identified as potentially significant -either as an individual site or as a feature of a potential historic district were documented. (Individual property survey forms are pending upload to the City's CHRID. Check back for updates and links.)
Otay Mesa Community Plan Update Historic Context Statement and Historic Resource Survey (2008): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the Otay Mesa planning area, and did not reveal the presence of any historic resources beyond the 7 historically designated resources previously identified.
Presidio Hills, Mission Hills and Banker's Hill Survey (1981): Partially funded by the California State Office of Historic Preservation and prepared by the University of San Diego, this survey covers the area north and east of the Middletown Survey, also completed by USD.
San Ysidro Historic Context Statement and Reconnaissance Survey (2011): Prepared with funding from a Certified Local Government Grant in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the San Ysidro plan area, and the analysis revealed 2 potential historic districts and 12 individual properties which appear eligible for local designation under the City of San Diego's designation criteria.
San Ysidro Historic Resources Survey (1989): Prepared with funding from a Community Development Block Grant, the survey area was bounded generally by Beyer Boulevard to the north, both sides of San Ysidro Boulevard on the south, north sides of Smythe Avenue on the west, and East Beyer Boulevard to the east. Approximately 150 properties were surveyed, and 25 were comprehensively evaluated.
Uptown Community Plan Area Historic Resources Survey (2016): Prepared in support of the comprehensive update to the Community Plan, the survey boundaries included the Uptown plan area, and was focused on buildings constructed before 1961 visible from the street. (Individual property survey forms are pending upload to the City's CHRID. Check back for updates and links.)
Uptown Survey (1993): This survey covers the southern end of the Uptown Community, south of Laurel Street, and is divided among four volumes:
Uptown Area Survey (1980): Partially funded by the California State Office of Historic Preservation and prepared by the University of San Diego, this survey actually covers large portions of East Village, central Downtown, and the southern end of Uptown. The survey stretches from Laurel Street south to Imperial Avenue, and is bounded roughly by Front Street on the west and I-5 on the east.
Warehouse Thematic Historic District Intensive Survey (2006): Prepared as part of a settlement agreement for the ballpark, the survey area is bounded by mid-block Island Avenue to the north, the railroad easement along Harbor Drive and Commercial Avenue to the south, the west side of Fourth Avenue to the west, and the east side of Fifteenth Street to the east. Forty (40) resources were identified as contributors to the Warehouse Thematic Historic District, which was not designated due to lack of support.
Draft Historic Contexts and Surveys
The following historic contexts statements and surveys are currently in development:
- Draft Kearny Mesa Community Plan Area Historic Context Statement, October 2018: The Kearny Mesa Community Plan Area Historic Context Statement is being prepared in conjunction with the ongoing comprehensive Community Plan Update effort for the community. For more information on the update, review the Historic Preservation Planning Section's Long-Range Planning Efforts page, and the Kearny Mesa Community Plan Update page.
Suspended Historic Contexts and Surveys
The following historic context statements and surveys were never finalized, for varying reasons. These surveys are useful primarily for historic photo documentation and basic building descriptions. Please contact [email protected] for more information.
- Draft Barrio Logan/Logan Heights (1989)
- Draft La Jolla Survey (2004) *This survey is a large file divided among 10 volumes, which have been condensed in the links below. Use the bookmarks feature of the PDF to navigate quickly to volumes and streets.
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volume 1: Survey Report
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volumes 2 & 3: Intensive Survey and Reconnaissance Survey Streets A and B
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volumes 4 & 5: Reconnaissance Survey Streets C through K
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volumes 6 & 7: Reconnaissance Survey Streets L through Q
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volumes 8 & 9: Reconnaissance Survey Streets R through Z
- La Jolla Survey (2004) Volume 10: Cultural Landscape Survey
- Draft North Park Survey (2004) *This survey is a large file divided among 6 volumes. The survey forms are arragend numerically by Assessor's Parcel Number (APN) Use the bookmarks feature of the PDF to navigate quickly to various APN groupings.
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 1: Survey Report
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 2: APNs Beginning with 438 through 445
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 3: APNs Beginning with 446 through 452
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 4: APNs Beginning with 453 (Part 1)
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 5: APNs Beginning with 453 (Part 2)
- North Park Survey (2004), Volume 6: APNs Beginning with 454 through 540
(Updated November 2018)