Historic Preservation

Santa Rosa, the City Designed for Living, has long been known for its fine buildings and historic neighborhoods. Preservation of these resources is evidenced by the on-going efforts of long time residents and newcomers alike. Santa Rosa's architectural heritage includes the Carrillo Adobe from the Mexican Period; Gothic and Greek Revival Style houses from the late 1800s; imposing residences in the Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, and Stick/Eastlake Styles at the turn of the century; stone buildings constructed by Italian stone masons in Railroad Square; Craftsman and California Bungalow Styles after 1910; and Spanish and Mission Revival styles in the 1920s and 1930s.
Black and white sketch of a historic home

Preservation Ordinance

Recognizing the value of Santa Rosa's historic resources, the City Council adopted a Preservation Ordinance in 1988 and created the City's Cultural Heritage Board. Santa Rosa's on-going support of preservation planning is also expressed in the City's General Plan which includes a separate Preservation Element.

Historic Resource

The City recognizes most structures over 50 years old as historic. Inventories have been prepared which document historic buildings and neighborhoods in the City. The Cultural Heritage Survey, as it is called, is a book of the City's past, documenting the architectural style of each structure and noting historical facts regarding its neighborhood. Especially significant buildings have been designated Landmarks, and historic neighborhoods have been designated Preservation Districts.

Cultural Heritage Board

Requests from property owners for designation of Landmarks and from neighborhood groups for designation of Preservation Districts are undertaken by the Cultural Heritage Board; the actual designation itself is by City Council action.

It is the policy of the Cultural Heritage Board to encourage neighborhood participation in the establishment of Preservation Districts. Accordingly, recommendations for designations should involve strong neighborhood support.

Appointed by the City Council, the seven-member Cultural Heritage Board is comprised of citizen volunteers with special expertise or interest in historic preservation. Principal duties of the Board include:
  • Undertaking and updating historic inventories or surveys
  • Recommending designation of Landmarks and Preservation Districts.
  • Reviewing proposed alterations to historic buildings
  • Promoting public awareness of preservation issues

Advantages of Designating Historic Landmarks

Owners of Landmark properties and individual historic properties located within a Preservation District enjoy a number of advantages.

California Historical Building Code

Owners of identified historic buildings can utilize the California Historical Building Code in lieu of the Uniform Building Code. Use of this code allows some flexibility and usually results in a minimum 10% cost savings. Please call 543-3200 for more information.

Housing Rehabilitation Assistance

Home Rehabilitation Loans and Handicap Access Grants are available to eligible property owners through the City's Housing and Redevelopment Department. Certain conditions apply. Please call 543-3300 for more information.

Federal Income Tax Credits

From time to time, historic buildings may be eligible for federal income tax credits based on their rehabilitation costs. At the present time, income producing buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places may be eligible. Single-family residences may become eligible in the future. A reduction in property taxes may also become available. Certain conditions apply. For more information, please consult your tax advisor.

Technical Assistance

Both routine maintenance and more extensive restoration or rehabilitation must be done carefully to ensure that the architectural character and therefore the value of the building is not diminished. Community Development planners can assist you with historic preservation design guidelines and technical assistance to ensure that your property is appropriately rehabilitated.

Incentives for Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive reuse of historic structures is the concept of finding appropriate contemporary uses for old buildings. The City's General Plan includes policies which allow for the adaptive reuse of Landmark structures for institutional, office, or limited commercial uses in locations which will not unduly impact existing neighborhoods.

Property Values

Landmark status carries with it a certain amount of prestige which can lead to an increase in property value.

Neighborhood Protection

Historic designation reduces the threat of demolition from highway construction, urban renewal, and other federally funded projects. In addition, designation generally controls the size, quality, and scale of new construction in the district and also prohibits or severely restricts demolition, thus protecting the character and quality of the area.

Official Recognition

Finally, historic designation means that your property or neighborhood is recognized by the City as a key component of the community's architectural heritage. Property owners of City Landmarks receive an official certificate suitable for framing and are eligible to receive an optional bronze plaque which recognizes their historic significance and interprets their history to the public. There are currently eight designated Preservation Districts in Santa Rosa:
  • Burbank Gardens
  • Cherry Street, McDonald
  • Olive Park
  • Railroad Square
  • Ridgway
  • St. Rose
  • West End
At the request of property owners, other potential districts may be considered.

Rehabilitation Process

The Cultural Heritage Board reviews applications for exterior alterations of Landmark structures and buildings located within Preservation Districts. The purpose of the review is to ensure that all proposed changes are compatible with the historic character of the building. Interior alterations and routine exterior maintenance (e.g., painting, reroofing), do not require review, although such work may require a building permit from the City's Building Division.

Steps to Rehabilitation

  1. Applicants are encouraged to first consult with Community Development planners prior to their formal submittals. Such informal consultations generally result in projects that can be easily reviewed and quickly approved. In addition, applicants should review the Processing Review Procedures for Owners of Historic Properties.
  2. After an informal review, the actual submittal is a Landmark Alteration application, including a site plan or landscape plan, existing elevations (photos will suffice), proposed elevations, and samples of materials to be used.
  3. Most submittals can be approved by staff planners, while more extensive projects may be reviewed by the Cultural Heritage Board which meets once monthly at City Hall. In reviewing projects, the Board follows the generally-accepted Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation Standards

Uses of the property should result in minimal changes to the defining characteristics of the building.These standards (summarized) are to be applied in a reasonable manner, also taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility:
  • Historic character should be retained and preserved
  • Significant changes over time should also be preserved
  • Distinctive features should be preserved
  • Deteriorated historic features should be repaired rather than replaced, whenever possible
  • Treatments that can cause damage to historic features should be avoided
  • New work should be compatible with but differentiated from the old
These standards, along with the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, are available at the Department of Community Development.


The Cultural Heritage Board members collectively have decades of expertise and experience in rehabilitating historic buildings. They are available for informal consultations prior to each meeting. There is no charge for this valuable community resource.