Historic Preservation

Preserve, promote and improve the historic resources and districts

Fulton and Tulare Streets, 1936.

Fulton and Tulare Streets, 1936.

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.

For additional information about Fresno’s Historic Preservation Program contact:

Dan Zack, Assistant Director
Development and Resource Management Department
Daniel.zack@fresno.gov
(559) 621-8167

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, as of August 2016 there are 292 individual properties on the Register.

Local Register properties include the Fresno Buddhist Temple (1920), the Fresno Memorial Auditorium (1935)) and the Helm Building (1914). Twenty-eight buildings and sites on the Local Register are also listed on 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). Sixteen 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 (near the Tower District), Huntington Boulevard, and the Chandler Airfield/Fresno Municipal Airport. At least twelve other districts have been recommended through surveys or community specific plans.

A separate web site lists the entire Register at www.historicfresno.org.

First Mexican Baptist Church 1926

First Mexican Baptist Church 1926

Historic Preservation Database

The City of Fresno’s Historic Preservation Database includes all properties that have been evaluated in a survey or in some prior planning document. The document is added to as new or revised information is received. The attached database was uploaded on February 17, 2016. Please see the User’s Guide for additional information.

Database Guide

Revised City of Fresno Historic Preservation Data

Roessler Home 1914

Roessler Home 1914

Benefits of Designation as a Historic Resource

What are the benefits of listing a property on the Local Register of Historic Resources? Besides designation being an honor, a building owner may use the more flexible California Historical Building Code when making repairs or alterations. In addition, a historic property can qualify for exemptions under the City’s zoning ordinance (i.e., property development standards). Commercial property owners may apply for a 10 percent or 20 percent federal tax credit for income producing properties that were put into service prior to 1936. A designated historic property is protected under both the local ordinance as well as the California Environmental Quality Act. In addition, historic designation normally raises the property’s value, helps to stabilize a neighborhood and is an important aspect of heritage and cultural tourism. For additional information please call 559.621-8520. What follows are a few frequently asked questions about the City’s Historic Preservation program.

Is my building or site on the Local Register of Historic Resources?
The list of Local and National Register properties for Fresno can be found in “A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California” (www.historicfresno.org). One can also access this website through a link on the City’s historic preservation page.

How do I list my building on the Register?
For buildings, structures, objects or sites to be considered for listing on the Local Register, they must (usually) be at least 50 years of age and have historic significance. The City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance also includes the criteria for listing.

True, or not: I have been told that if my property is “historic,” that I can’t paint it without someone looking over my shoulder!
Not exactly true. Only activities that require a permit are reviewed by the Historic Preservation staff and, on occasion, by the Historic Preservation Commission. Application of exterior and interior paint does not require a permit, nor does general maintenance, trimming of vegetation etc.

Are there funds to restore historic buildings?
There is currently no specific source of funds for historic preservation in Fresno. However, a property owner may qualify for the Senior Paint or minor rehab program or, for “commercial” properties, claim the 10% federal tax credit.

I am thinking about changing out my windows in order to save energy.
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 ductwork etc. In addition, it will take up to 20 years to recap the expense of the new windows through savings on your energy bill. Changing out windows can also be detrimental to a home’s historic look and thus its resale value.

Crest Theater in 1949

Crest Theater in 1949

Fresno as a Certified Local Government

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 Project Manager serves as the City’s CLG Coordinator.

2015 CLG Report Narrative
2014 CLG Repot Narrative
2013 CLG Annual Report

Santa Fe Depot

Santa Fe Depot

Environmental Review and Assessment

Both the City’s Historic Preservation Project Manager 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, the Historic and Cultural Resources Element of the Fresno General Plan, and various other specific agreements.

Historic Resources (Fresno General Plan 2014)

Mariposa Street 1894

Mariposa Street 1894

Historic Preservation is (Very) Green

The Development and Resource Management Department’s Fresno Green Building Program is among the first in the United States to include specific credits for historic preservation. In addition to points for energy and water efficiency and recycled building content, a developer can earn a credit for providing a wayside exhibit for a canal, for the inclusion of a historic landscape feature, for conducting a historic survey or for the retention and/or adaptive reuse of an existing building. To quote one Seattle developer, “the most basic act of sustainability is to recycle a good old building that’s already in place.” The Historic Preservation Project Manager chairs the Planning Department’s Fresno Green Team and was a principle author of the City-wide Green Strategy.

BING KONG

BING KONG

Public Art Committee

The City’s Historic Preservation Project Manager also chairs the Department’s Public Art Committee. A developer can receive a 20 percent minor deviation in property development standards for including public art. Art, history, preservation of older buildings—all of these contribute to the City Beautiful and to an enhanced community life.

Pacific Southwest and Mason Buildings

Pacific Southwest and Mason Buildings

Preservation Links

The Fresno City and County Historical Society was founded in 1919 (www.valleyhistory.org). Other organizations dedicated to planning, history and preservation are listed in a web site maintained by Kevin Enns-Rempel and John Edward Powell: “A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California” (www.historicfresno.org).

For general information about historic preservation, funding and the State Historic Building Code, visit the California State Office of Historic Preservation website at: www.ohp.parks.ca.gov.

Tower Theatre

Tower Theatre

In the News/Special Reports

In January 2013 City staff completed a historic context 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.

The Legacy of the New Deal (walking tour guide)
In the wake of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt instituted a series of programs aimed at economic recovery. Some of these programs resulted in new buildings in Fresno.

Walking Tour Guide

Thomas House

Thomas House