Historic Preservation

Fresno was founded by the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1872, and Leland J. Stanford, a Director for the Railroad, is credited with selecting the site of the city. On a scouting party in 1871, Stanford noticed a wheat field belonging to A.Y. Easterby, lush and green in the middle of the dry prairie. Stanford announced, “Wonderful! Here we must build the town!” Fresno became the county seat in 1874 and was incorporated in 1885. By 1890 the population was over 10,000 and ornate Victorian commercial buildings lined Mariposa Street. The first streetcars were introduced in 1892 and streetcar suburbs soon followed. By the 1920s the streetcar system had 50 miles of track and Downtown core featured soaring neoclassical highrises and sidewalks packed with pedestrians.

Today, Fresno has the largest collection of historic resources in central California and preservation is playing an important role in the revitalization of Downtown and other neighborhoods. The City of Fresno’s Historic Preservation Ordinance was approved by the City Council in 1979 and today there are more than 300 designated historic resources. The City was the first in California designated as a Preserve America Community by former First Lady Laura Bush.

The Ordinance establishes the Historic Preservation Commission and is comprised of seven individuals appointed by the Mayor, who have training and expertise in preservation, architecture, architectural history, engineering, and related fields.

The Commission typically meets on the 4th Monday of the month at 6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street. The Commission reviews all substantial alterations proposed to historic properties, nominations to the Local Register of Historic Resources, requests for Heritage Property designation, and comments on plans and projects that have the potential to affect the historic integrity of Fresno’s historic resources and cultural heritage. The Historic Preservation Specialist may approve, in the name of the Commission, non-substantial alterations. Commission hearings are open to the public and participation is highly encouraged.

2019 Meeting Dates & Submittal Deadlines
Current Historic Preservation Commission Meetings

For  more inforamtion, please contact:

Laura Groves van Onna

Historic Preservation Specialist
Development and Resource Management Department
Laura.VanOnna@fresno.gov
(559) 621-8439

Newsfeed

2019 Events

January
28 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

February
25 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

March
25 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission – CANCELLED
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

April
6 (Saturday) – Fresno Historical Society 2019 Centennial Gala!

22 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

May – NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION MONTH!

2 (Thursday) – ArtHop in Downtown and Tower District
5:00 PM-8:00 PM

Historic Resources open to the public:

  • Elia Home (HP #311), 634-640 Van Ness Avenue
  • Bitwise South Stadium, James Phelan Building (HP #159), 700 Van Ness Avenue
  • FAC Water Tower, Old Fresno Water Tower (NR, CR, HP #001), 2444 Fresno Street
  • Full Circle Brewing, U.S. Post Office Garage (HR #017), 620 F Street
  • Crest Theater (HP #270), 1160 Broadway Plaza
  • Jeffrey Scott Gallery, PG&E Building (HP #164), 1544 Fulton Street
  • Pacific Southwest Building (HP #121), 1060 Fulton Street
  • Romain Home (NR, CR, HP #147), 2055 San Joaquin Street

9 (Thursday) – Preservation Month Pub Quiz
6:00 PM-8:00 PM, Zack’s Brewing Company, 712 Fulton Street, $5 per person (cash only)
Organized by the Fresno Historical Society with assistance from City of Fresno Historic Preservation

11 (Saturday) – Miss Molly’s Mother’s Day Tea
11:00 AM-2:00 PM, The Meux Home Museum, $40 per person

11 (Saturday) – Lowell Historic Home Tour
4:30 PM-7:00 PM, $25 for early bird special and $35 at the door

18 (Saturday) – Wilson Island Centennial
9:30 AM-11:00 AM, Fresno High School Auditorium, 1839 N Echo Avenue

20 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

June
24 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

July
22 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

August
26 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

September
23 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

October
28 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

November
25 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

December
16 (Monday) – Historic Preservation Commission
6:00 PM, Conference Room 2165, 2nd floor, CITY HALL, 2600 Fresno Street

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my property historically designated?

Please see the “Database” tab for a current inventory of designated historic resources as well as potential historic resources in Fresno.*

Fresno’s current collection of designated historic resources can also be viewed at historicfresno.org (“A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California” website).

*Please note that unlabeled properties may not have been previously surveyed and may still be eligible for historic designation.

What are the benefits of designation in the Local Register of Historic Resources?

  • The prestige of honor and status and making a contribution to coordinated community goals such as general quality of life, documentation, education, and sustainable development.
  • Your property being protected under Fresno’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • Pragmatic advantages such as access to the California Historical Building Code and application for relief from the City of Fresno property development standards as well as the ability to consult with planning and commission staff for technical advice.
  • Economic benefits such as eligibility to apply for economic incentives while maintaining or rehabilitating the character-defining features of your property through the Mills Act Program and the Historic Preservation Mitigation Program.

 

Please see the “Economic Incentive Programs,” “Project Reviews,” and “Further References” tabs for more information.

Is my property eligible for consideration of designation in the Local Register of Historic Resources?

Designation Criteria for individual listing in the Local Register is outlined in Section 12-1607(a) of the Historic Preservation Ordinance:

(a) HISTORIC RESOURCES: Any building, structure, object or site may be designated as a Historic Resource if it is found by the Historic Preservation Commission and City Council to meet the following criteria:

(1) It has been in existence for more than fifty years and it possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, and:

(i) It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

(ii) It is associated with the lives of a person significant in our past; or

(iii) It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values; or

(iv) It has yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

(2) It has been in existence less than fifty years, it meets the criteria of subdivision (1) of subsection (a) of this section and is of exceptional importance within the appropriate historical context, local, state or national.

Please see Sections 12-1607(b) and (d) for Designation Criteria for Local Historic Districts and Heritage Properties, respectively.

What is the Historic Review process?

The overarching goal of the Historic Preservation Ordinance is to sustain historic resources, particularly their character-defining features. Preservation is not about keeping everything as it is, but about managing development – retaining a sense of place while considering adaptation and innovation for present and future needs. For this, there is a Historic Review process in place to consider project proposals.

Applicants are encouraged to have a pre-submittal meeting with the Historic Preservation Specialist prior to the submittal of application materials. Application materials should effectively communicate what currently exists and what is being proposed. Typical submittals include the application, existing photographs, to scale elevation drawings, floor plans, materials list, a statement about the proposed project, and any additional materials requested by the Specialist. The Specialist may approve, in the name of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), non-substantial alterations based on the application presented.

Prior to submitting a formal Application, applicants have the option of submitting conceptual plans to the Historic Preservation Commission for review and comment in order to seek advisement before moving forward in preparation for a proposed project. Review of a Pre-Application is not a formal project review, cannot result in an approval or denial, and may not be relied upon by an applicant for any purpose other than obtaining generally-applicable information about the review process. Nonetheless, the Pre-Application process is helpful for many to learn the general rules and procedures applicable to projects involving historic resources and can assist the applicant in determining whether a potential project is likely to be permissible under the Ordinance.

Please see the “Project Reviews” tab for more information.

What can be done to a historic property without Historic Review? When is approval needed for proposed modifications? (For example, will it affect the installation of solar panels on a roof, a new roof, window changes, paint color, etc.?)

Historic property owners are not prohibited from modernizing or updating their interiors as needed for both safety and economic benefit – unless the interiors are publicly accessible and referenced in the property’s survey forms. Property owners are encouraged to retain original features that contribute to the vale and aesthetic qualities of the home such as casework and moldings, fireplace and surrounds, original tile, hardwood flooring, etc.

Activities that do not require a building permit from the City of Fresno or Historic Review include the following: exterior paint color; regular repair, inspections and maintenance including in-kind repairs as long as the character-defining features of the property are not altered; and garden upkeep, such as routine trimming of trees and shrubs.

Because the installation of a new roof requires a building permit application, it is subject to Historic Review. These applications are typically reviewed administratively by the Historic Preservation Specialist unless a substantial alteration to the existing roof materials is being proposed.

When reviewing a proposal for solar panel installation on a historic property, Staff acknowledges that solar panels are a removable installation but will be looking for an installation that does not negatively impact or obstruct character-defining features. The National Park Service (NPS) offers some guidance.

Although the replacement of windows does not require a building permit, it is subject to Historic Review and considered to be a potentially substantial alteration which may be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission. As with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, repair and replacement of original architectural features, paving, fencing, etc. may be made using new and even synthetic materials, if these materials retain the look, quality and feel of the original. Vinyl sash windows, however, will generally not be viewed as a good replacement for original wood sash, but products that appear to look like wood (dual pane, synthetic wood clad tilt-packs as an example) may be acceptable particularly for principal elevations. However, a property owner will be required to consider other energy efficient alternatives such as blinds, solar screens, shades and awnings prior to removal of original windows on a principal elevation. The California Energy Commission has shown that windows are NOT a major culprit in energy loss, or gain. Rather, look to your roof insulation, leaks around duct work, etc. In addition, it will take at least 20 years to recap the expense of the new windows through savings on your energy bill. Changing out windows can be detrimental to a home’s historic look, feel, and resale value.

History of Fresno

Fresno was founded by the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1872. The location for the town was uninviting at best, with barren sand plains in all directions. Leland J. Stanford, a Director for the Railroad, is credited with selecting the site of the new station. On a scouting party in 1871, Stanford noticed a wheat field belonging to A.Y. Easterby, lush and green in the middle of the dry prairie. Stanford announced, “Wonderful! Here we must build the town!”

In 1875 the Central California Colony was established south of Fresno which set the model for a system of development that was used throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Tracts of land were subdivided into 20-40 acre parcels, irrigated from a system of canals and often landscaped with boulevards of palms, eucalyptus or other drought-resistant trees. By 1903 there were 48 separate colonies or tracts in Fresno County which drew farmers and their families from Scandinavia and from across the United States.

Fresno became the county seat in 1874 and was incorporated in 1885. By 1890 the population was over 10,000. The first streetcars were introduced in 1892 and streetcar suburbs soon followed. The area has had an ethnic mix from the earliest years with Chinese railroad workers and Scandinavian farmers joined by Germans from Russia, Japanese and Armenians and by the early 20th century a large Hispanic population. There are now more than 70 ethnic groups in the metropolitan area.

Fresno County is ranked first in the nation for agricultural production with annual sales in excess of $3 billion. Major crops include grapes, almonds, cotton, peaches, and nectarines. Notable Fresnans include Maynard Dixon (artist), Audra McDonald (actress, singer), Barbara Morgan (astronaut) and William Saroyan (author).

Database

1 National Historical Landmark

31 Properties individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places

31 Properties individually listed in the California Register of Historical Resources

274 Properties individually listed in the Local Register of Historic Resources

4 Local Historic Districts

207 Contributors to a Local Historic District

29 Heritage Properties

The City of Fresno’s Historic Preservation Database is accessible in the form of an interactive map. It currently includes all designated historic properties and is being updated to include properties that have been previously evaluated in a survey or in some prior planning document. It will continue to be updated as needed.

Historic Preservation Database
Survey Data as of 2016

Local Register of Historic Resources

The City maintains a Local Register of Historic Resources, which includes buildings, structures, objects, sites and districts that have sufficient integrity and are significant in Fresno’s history. While over the years several resources have been removed from listing due to fire, demolition, or relocation outside of the City, as of January 2019 there are 274 properties individually listed in the Local Register. Local Register properties include the Fresno Buddhist Temple (1920), the Fresno Memorial Auditorium (1935) and the Helm Building (1914). Thirty-one properties listed in the Local Register are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These “crown jewels” of the community include local landmarks such as the Old Fresno Water Tower (1894), the Thomas R. Meux Home (1889) and the streamline moderne Tower Theatre (1939). Twenty-eight properties are also listed as Heritage Properties, such as the c1962 Calwa Rocket. In addition to individual listings, Fresno has four designated historic districts: the Porter Tract (near Fresno City College), the Wilson Island (located within the Tower District), Huntington Boulevard (near Roosevelt High School), and the Chandler Airfield/Fresno Municipal Airport. At least twelve other districts have been recommended through surveys or community-specific plans.

Historic Surveys

Over the past several years the Development and Resource Management Department has funded several major neighborhood surveys and historical contexts.

Building by building “intensive” historic surveys are a critical part of the preservation and land use planning. A survey will include three major components: a historical context for the area with important themes and property types; the survey findings and recommendations; and individual State of California survey forms for each building or resource in the survey footprint.

Fulton Corridor Survey Report

Bungalow Court Project
The “Bungalow Court” Survey was prepared by City staff and consultants Dana Supernowicz and Jon Brady in September 2004 with partial funding from the Office of Historic Preservation. A reconnaissance survey was first conducted using City and Caltrans staff and community volunteers. Thirteen of the oldest and/or most architecturally significant of the 128 “courts” reported were then documented by the consultants on state survey forms.

Bungalow Court Project (September 2004)

Chinatown Historic Survey
Chinatown Historic Resource Survey was completed in 2006 by Architectural Resources Group, San Francisco, and included survey forms for buildings within the 6-block heart of Fresno’s historic Chinatown.

Fresno Chinatown Project Extended Phase I Study (2008, J and R Environmental Services) included three components: a catalog of pre-World War II Japanese ceramics, a report on the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) investigation of the Chinatown “tunnels”, and findings from the first-ever sub-surface archaeological project in the City.

Chinatown Historic Survey (18 meg)

Germantown
Germantown Fresno Historic Context was prepared by Architectural Resources Group in 2006. The report documents the history of the Volga Germans who first settled in Fresno in 1887.

Germantown Historical Context (April 2006)

Arts-Culture District
City of Fresno Arts-Culture District was conducted in two phases by Urbana Preservation and Planning in 2006 and 2007. The first phase included preparation of survey forms for all properties within the 16 blocks of the City’s arts district. The second phase documented the additional properties in the Upper Triangle of this neighborhood up to E. Divisadero Avenue.

Pinedale
Pinedale Historic Resource Survey was completed in 2007 by Lauren MacDonald, PRA, Inc. and is a thematic survey of this community founded in 1923 for workers at the Sugar Pine Lumber Company.

Pinedale Historic Resource Survey (October 2007)

Mid-Century Modernism
The Mid-Century Modernism Historic Context was prepared in 2008 by Lauren MacDonald, PRA, Inc. The overview includes information and interviews with leading architects and designers who worked in Fresno from 1940-1970.

Mid-Century Modernism Historic Context (September 2008)

North Park
North Park Historic Survey was completed In January 2009 for the western half of this neighborhood which lies between E. Divisadero and State Route 180, Blackstone and Roosevelt. The consultants, Galvin Preservation Associates, recommended the nomination of a National Register District along Van Ness Avenue, and two smaller Local Register districts as well.

North Park Survey (November 2008)

South Stadium
South Stadium Project Area Phase I Area documented the pre-1960 properties in the 6-block area bounded by Inyo on the north, H Street on the west, Ventura Street on the south and Van Ness Avenue on the east. The survey was prepared for Forest City Residential West Inc. by Page and Turnbull.

South Stadium Historic Properties Survey Report (Aug. 2008)

Wilson Island
The Wilson Island Historic Survey was completed in 2009. The “island” is bounded by E. Carmen Avenue on the north, N. Echo on the west, the north side of E. Floradora on the south, and the back side of the commercial properties on the east. Wilson Island includes 80 properties and represents some of the finest examples of Period Revival and Prairie architecture in Fresno. It was designated as a Local Historic District by the Fresno City Council on October 29, 2009.

Wilson Island Historic Property Survey Report (Sept. 2009)
Wilson Island report to the Historic Preservation Commission (Sept. 28, 2009)

Fig Garden Historic Context
In January 2013 City staff completed a historic context and architectural style guide for Old Fig Garden, a county island surrounded by City Districts 1 and 7. The project was part of the “Old Fig Garden Community Transportation and Land Use Study” with funding from a Caltrans Community Based Transportation Planning Grant. The project was a collaboration of the City of Fresno, the County of Fresno and the Fig Garden Homeowners Association.

Final Fig Garden Historic Context (without appendices)

Huntington Boulevard Historic District
Huntington Boulevard is one of the most architecturally distinct neighborhoods in Fresno with a diverse mix representing the major styles prevalent during the Period of Significance (1914-1977). On May 21, 2015, the Fresno City Council designated a Huntington Boulevard Historic District.

Economic Incentive Programs

Historic Preservation Mitigation Program
3 Grants have been awarded for Fiscal Year 2019 – approximately $35,000.00 remaining

Funding in the amount of $50,000.00 was approved for the fiscal year 2019 toward the Historic Preservation Mitigation Program. The purpose of the program is to benefit projects which preserve, rehabilitate, restore, or reconstruct character-defining features on qualified historic properties. Funding in the amount of $7,500.00 or 40% of projects costs, whichever is less, will be awarded to the property owner for each approved application as a reimbursement grant subsequent to all work being completed. There is a limit of one grant per property, and grants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis until such time that the funds are exhausted prior to the end of the fiscal year.

Historic Preservation Mitigation Program Brochure
Historic Preservation Mitigation Program Apply Here!

Mills Act Program
4 Contracts were recorded with the County in 2017
10 Contracts were recorded with the County in 2018

In California, Mills Act legislation grants participating local governments the authority to enter into contracts with owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic properties and in exchange receive a reduction in property taxes. Contracts entered into must have a term of a minimum of 10 years. In order to qualify, properties must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, located in a registered historic district, or listed in any state, city, county, or city and county official register of historical or architecturally significant sites, places, or landmarks. Heritage Properties do not qualify for participation. The City of Fresno adopted the Mills Act Program in 2016.

Mills Act Program Brochure
Mills Act Program Apply Here! – Application Packets due to the City on or before Friday, June 28, 2019.
Mills Act Program Draft Work Plan Template
Sample Mills Act Contract

SCHEDULE – 2019

Step Action Timeframe
1 Application Packet available to the public. Wednesday, May 8, 2019
2 Application Packet due to the City. On or before Friday, June 28, 2019
3 Pre-contract property site visits. July-August 2019
4 Historic Preservation Commission public hearing. Monday, September 23, 2019
5 Approved owners and/or applicants return executed and notarized contracts to City. On or before Monday, October 21, 2019
6 City executes and records contracts with County Recorder. On or before Friday, November 15, 2019

Project Reviews

Historic Review

The overarching goal of the Historic Preservation Ordinance is to sustain historic resources, particularly their character-defining features. Preservation is not about keeping everything as it is, but about managing development – retaining a sense of place while considering adaptation and innovation for present and future needs. For this, there is a Historic Review process in place to consider project proposals. Permit Review processes are outlined in Sections 12-1617, 12-1618, and 12-1619 of the Ordinance.

Applicants are encouraged to have a pre-submittal meeting with the Historic Preservation Specialist prior to the submittal of application materials. Application materials should effectively communicate what currently exists and what is being proposed. Typical submittals include the application, existing photographs, to scale elevation drawings, floor plans, materials list, a statement about the proposed project, and any additional materials requested by the Specialist. The Specialist may approve, in the name of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), non-substantial alterations based on the application presented.

Prior to submitting a formal Application, applicants have the option of submitting conceptual plans to the Historic Preservation Commission for review and comment in order to seek advisement before moving forward in preparation for a proposed project. Review of a Pre-Application is not a formal project review, cannot result in an approval or denial, and may not be relied upon by an applicant for any purpose other than obtaining generally-applicable information about the review process. Nonetheless, the Pre-Application process is helpful for many to learn the general rules and procedures applicable to projects involving historic resources and can assist the applicant in determining whether a potential project is likely to be permissible under the Ordinance.

2019 Meeting Dates & Submittal Deadlines

Environmental Review and Assessment

Fresno is a Certified Local Government (CLG) through an agreement with the State Office of Historic Preservation. This agreement allows the City to review and approve most federally funded projects, which may impact Fresno’s historic resources. The Historic Preservation Specialist serves as the City’s CLG Coordinator.

CLG 2017-2018 Annual Report

The City’s Historic Preservation Specialist and the Historic Preservation Commission are required to review and comment on a variety of environmental documents and project entitlements. This review is guided by a series of intersecting laws, ordinances and agreements, including Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), The City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, and the Historic and Cultural Resources Element of the Fresno General Plan.

Historic and Cultural Resources Element (General Plan, 2014)

Maintenance Monitoring

The City is enhancing its maintenance monitoring strategies with the formation of an Advisory Committee for Historic Maintenance Monitoring, which consists of inter-divisionary Staff, liaisons to design review committees and members of the Historic Preservation Commission. The main purpose of these efforts is to proactively monitor Fresno’s threatened historic resources and to explore possible options to prevent them from harm.

Other efforts being put forward include the connection of the Historic Preservation Database to the FresGo app. Please report violations or concerns for historic properties directly to the Historic Preservation Specialist or with FresGo:

Report Code Violations with FresGO

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