Did you know that the City of Houston has 22 Historic Districts? On a map, these districts appear clumped, mostly in The Heights, as well as the east Montrose area, the Boulevard Oaks/Broadacres area north of West University and just west of downtown in the High First Ward and Old Sixth Ward. The Glenbrook Valley historic district is near Hobby Airport, and there’s the Main Street Market Square downtown.
River Oaks is not a Historic District, but it does boast many homes designated Landmark or Protected Landmark, including homes on Del Monte, River Oaks Boulevard, Inwood, Inverness, Willowick, Troon Road, Locke Lane, Tiel Way, Chevy Chase and Sharp Place.
Landmark and Protected Landmark designations allow for the recognition and protection of individual historic structures, while Historic District designations preserve neighborhoods by classifying a specific area of a community as significant. All three designations are issued by Houston’s Department of Planning and Development, which administers the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance.
Suppose you live in an old house that has many original features. What should be your first step toward applying for a Landmark designation? “Do some historic research on the building – when was it built, by whom, who designed it, who has lived there,” says Diana DuCroz, the COH’s preservation officer. “The best place to start is at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Julia Ideson Library. Once you have found some history on the building, contact our office to discuss whether your house might be worthy of designation.”
Having your home designated a Landmark can be a good thing come tax time, as the City of Houston may grant a tax exemption to property owners who improve designated historic properties. This tax benefit works on a sliding scale. In addition, notes DuCroz, you may qualify for “a 50% fee discount on building permits, energy-code exemptions and possible exemption from flood-plain requirements. Also, free consultations from city preservation staff about appropriate changes to your structure.” And last, but not least, a handsome COH Landmark or Protected Landmark plaque is available for display on your home.
The criteria for both Landmark and Protected Landmark designations are pretty straightforward. Listed among the established guidelines, a home must possess character, interest or value as a visible reminder of the development, heritage and cultural and ethnic diversity of the city; be identified with a person who, or group or event that, contributed significantly to the cultural or historical development of the city; exemplify a particular architectural style or building type important to the city; and/or be identified as the work of a person or group whose work has influenced the heritage of the city.
Of the two designations typically given to private homes, Protected Landmark is “stricter” than Landmark. “Both [designations] require HAHC approval to make changes to the exterior, including demolition,” says DuCroz. “However, Landmark owners can proceed with projects that are denied by the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission after a 90-day waiting period. Protected Landmarks do not have this ‘waiver.’ Work can proceed only with HAHC approval. Because it is more restrictive, the Protected Landmark designation can be sought only by the property owner.” Be aware, too, that a Protected Landmark designation may make it more challenging to sell your home, since changes and demolition are so restricted.
We wondered if DuCroz personally lives in a Landmark house? “I wish!” laughs DuCroz. “Most of our historic districts and landmarks have high home values. I do live in an old house, however, built in 1938 and almost entirely original in its features. I would like very much to live in a protected historic district someday.”
The Planning and Development Historic Preservation staff is trained in assisting Houstonians in historic property designation and stewardship. Call 832-393-6556 or visit Houston’s Historic Preservation site for more information.