Home Historic Designation Criteria

What Makes a Neighborhood or Home Worthy of a Historic Designation?

Your home and neighborhood may be old, but that doesn’t mean they’re historic. To earn historic designations, you have to research what makes them unique and historically relevant.

LeDroit Park, a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C., is famous for its architecture as well as the well-known African-Americans who have lived there. Image: George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs

Research the answers to these three questions to figure out if your home or neighborhood will qualify for a historic designation:

1. What did your home or neighborhood do in history besides exist?

Structures generally are considered historic if they’re at least 50 years old. But old age alone won’t get your home a designation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers a guide for researching the history of your home. The more historical facts you can dig up, the more likely you are to get a designation.

  • Did anyone famous live there?
  • Was your home or community the site of a historic event? Some newer structures qualify for designation if they’re associated with major events, such as the Memphis, Tenn., motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

If you’re dead set on proving your home or community deserves special status, just keep in mind the research will take at least five hours a week for a couple of months.

2. How unique is the architecture?

Your home doesn’t have to be a one-of-a-kind Frank Lloyd Wright design to earn a designation. An uncommon architectural style is considered educational. Kentucky, for example, once was full of log cabins. Now, the few that remain offer insight into 19th century life.

The more unique the style, the more likely your home can get historic designation. To read up on architectural styles, start at the University of California Berkeley Environmental Design Library’s Historic Preservation Resource Guide.

3. Does the neighborhood match your home?

It’s easier to get a historic designation for your home than a historic designation for the whole neighborhood. But your home’s historic designation also depends on what the surrounding area is like, so you’ll need to dig up the history of your neighborhood, too.

Is your home’s architectural style or historical significance unique, or do neighboring homes share it? Do nearby houses have historic designations? A whole block of Victorians will have a better chanceof winning designation than a single Victorian surrounded by 1970s tract housing.