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There are many ways that historic resources can be classified or designated. They range from being listed in a local inventory of potentially significant properties to being designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior. A resource may carry more than one "official" classification or designation. Generally, the "highest" level of designation determines which rules and benefits apply. It is important to understand the different types of designations, how they are applied, and what the different benefits and responsibilities are.
Historic designations used by the City of Portland for individual historic resources are described below. Historic districts are discussed in the Historic & Conservation Districts section of this web site. The designation process and how regulations and benefits apply to the different types of resources are discussed in the Historic Resource Rules & Benefits section.
Historic landmarks are individual resources, such as buildings, sites, trees, statues, signs, or other objects that are significant for their historical, cultural, archaeological, or architectural merit. They have one or more characteristics of citywide, statewide or national significance. Portland has approximately 500 historic landmarks. They tend to be located in older inner-city areas and along main streets and former streetcar lines. They range from modest single-family homes to downtown skyscrapers, warehouses, and parks. There are two types of historic landmark:
"Local" or "Portland" Landmarks
These are individual resources that have been locally designated by the City of Portland because of their historic, cultural, archaeological, or architectural significance and for their role in helping create Portland's character. Designation criteria and processes are described in chapters 33.445 and 33.846 in Portland's Zoning Code.
"National Register Properties"
These are individual resources that have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is used by federal, state, and local governments, private groups and citizens to identify the nation's most significant historic resources. These resources are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and/or culture at the local, state, or national level. The actual register (or list of properties) is maintained by the "Keeper" of the National Register of Historic Places of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in each state. Oregon's State Historic Preservation Office receives comments on new National Register applications in Portland from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission (PHLC).
Locally designated and National Register-listed historic landmarks are generally treated the same in Portland's Zoning Code, with the same regulations and incentives applying to both types. An exception is demolition review, which is required only for National Register-listed properties.
Financial incentives and other programs are offered by the Portland Development Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, and the National Park Service. These opportunities are usually only available to National Register-listed properties, not local landmarks. If a resource carries both designations, its "higher" status as a National Register property would typically make it eligible. Historic Landmarks have access to historic preservation zoning incentives such as transfer of development rights and the right to a more flexible range of potential uses. See section 33.610 of the Zoning Code for more information about zoning incentives. See the Historic Resource Rules & Benefits page for more about how different designations are applied and used.
National Historic Landmarks are National Register properties that have been recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as possessing exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the history of the United States. They may be individual resources, such as buildings, or entire districts. Because they are also listed on the National Register, they are treated as such by the Portland Zoning Code—either as individually listed National Register historic landmarks or as National Register historic districts. Portland has just two National Historic Landmarks: the Pioneer Courthouse and the Skidmore/Old Town Historic District. More information can be found on the National Historic Landmarks Program web site.
Conservation landmarks are individual resources that have been locally designated by the City of Portland because of their historic, cultural, archaeological, or architectural merit but may have a "lesser" level of significance than historic landmarks. Portland has 12 conservation landmarks. They have been evaluated according to criteria contained in sections 33.445 and 33.846 of Portland's Zoning Code. Some of the zoning code regulations and incentives that apply to historic landmarks apply to conservation landmarks, but not others (see the Historic Resource Rules & Benefits page). Most state and federal incentives are not available to Conservation Landmarks, unless the property is also listed on the National Register.
Note: when the Zoning Code uses the shortened term "landmark," it is referring to both historic landmarks and conservation landmarks. See chapter 33.910.
In 1984 the City of Portland completed and adopted a citywide inventory of more than 5,000 properties that were determined to have potential historical and architectural significance. The inventory was undertaken to support development of the City's Comprehensive Plan and to comply with the Statewide Planning Goals. Being listed in the HRI is not a true historic "designation." Additional documentation and evaluation is generally required before City designation or National Register listing is warranted for many of these properties. The only zoning regulation that applies to HRI-listed properties, unless they also have a "higher" designation, is a required 120-day demolition delay period. Local, state and federal incentives are not available, unless the property also has another "higher" listing.
While the HRI is now more than 20 years old, it remains a useful preservation planning and research tool. Copies may be viewed at the Multnomah County Library and the Oregon Historical Society. An Excel table exported from the obsolete database in which most of the HRI's data was stored may be downloaded via the link below. However, some data fields have been truncated and there may be other inconsistencies between the file and the 27-volume printed version, which should be considered the official, adopted inventory. In addition, the Excel table does not reflect the removal of approximately 50 properties from the inventory since 1984. The table is therefore provided "as-is."
Historic inventories for selected parts of the city, including the Albina Community Plan area and the Northwest District were completed by City staff and community groups in the 1990s but never officially adopted as part of the HRI. However, these inventories are useful for architectural research and preservation planning purposes. They may be reviewed by making advance arrangements with Bureau of Planning historic resources staff.
There are many potential sources of information about individual historic properties. For properties listed in the National Register, the original nomination form is usually the best place to start. Nomination forms contain a wealth of information about a resource's physical attributes, historical context, and significant architectural characteristics and historical associations. They also contain bibliographies that point to additional sources. The State Historic Preservation Office maintains copies of all National Register Nominations in Oregon. The National Park Service maintains the online National Register Information System (NRIS), a database that contains information on places listed in or determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. For locally designated Historic Landmarks, less information is generally available because they are often not as well documented as National Register properties. This is primarily because most of Portland's local landmarks were designated in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were fewer documentation requirements.
The locations of historic landmarks are shown on the City's official zoning maps with a dot. You may download a list of Portland's landmarks that contains basic information such as address, year of construction and architectural style. A citywide map showing landmark locations is also available.
The City of Portland maintains files on all individual landmarks within the city's boundaries; these files include nomination forms and other information, such as design review reports and background research. The files may be viewed by making arrangements in advance with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS). Photocopies can be made for a fee. Contact the Bureau of Development Services for more information: 503-823-7526. (Note: the City is in the process of digitizing Portland National Register nominations and hopes to make them available electronically in the near future).
There are many other sources of information about historic resources, including local and state libraries, special collections, and public records. The Planning Bureau has prepared a guide, Researching Your Historic Property, to help property owners and researchers find the information they need and enjoy the process of investigation. A summary of the zoning regulations that apply to historic resources is also available.
Landmark Designation Process
To learn more about the local and National Register designation processes see the Historic Resource Rules and Benefits page.