Next to property owners, cities are the most important agent for the protection of historic places. A property listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historical Resources conveys a standard of significance and can bring attention to the property if it’s threatened. But this status doesn’t prevent demolition, only local laws can do that.
A city with a good historic preservation program is a city that knows where its oldest buildings are and protects them with a strong ordinance. It has the ability to designate landmarks by giving authority to citizen commissions to make meaningful recommendations, and a review process that allows for time to weigh the pros and cons of a demolition request. Cities that encourage the reuse of old buildings and understand how they add economic and cultural value are the cities people want to live in.
Orange County is made up of 34 cities, each with its own development history and approach to its architectural and cultural heritage. With a few exceptions, most Orange County city governments have not embraced historic preservation. And although some cities have a formal landmarking process, the landmarking of historic sites is not active anywhere in the county. Here's a snapshot of the state of preservation in our county:
- 8 cities have historic preservation ordinances or mandatory design guidelines
- 6 cities have honorary (voluntary) ordinances
- 7 cities have historic preservation commissions
- 5 cities have dedicated preservation staff in their planning departments
- 11 cities have conducted city-wide surveys of their historic buildings
- 5 cities have partial surveys of historic buildings in a section of the city
- 10 cities have Mills Act programs
- 3 cities are Certified Local Governments (CLGs)
(Photo: The Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach, designed in 1926 by Rudolph Schindler)