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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin: Historic Residential Suburbs Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places

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U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service


The vast and body of literature on America's suburbanization is growing, covering many disciplines and reflecting diverse opinions. This bulletin attempts to bring together information about current scholarship and preservation practice relating to the history of suburban neighborhoods in the United States. The focus of this bulletin is the identification, evaluation, and registration of residential historic districts and associated suburban resources, such as schools and shopping centers. The information and methodology should also be useful in understanding the significance of other resources that have shaped the metropolitan landscape, such as parkways and public water systems.

Above: Monte Vista School (1931), Albuquerque, New Mexico. In keeping with formal Beaux Arts principles of planning, the Spanish Colonial Revival school was designed as an architectural landmark marking the entrance to the Monte Vista and College View neighborhoods. (Photo by Kathleen Brooker, courtesy New Mexico Office of Cultural Affairs)

The bulletin has been developed in tandem with a national multiple property listing entitled "Historic Residential Suburbs in the United States, 1830-1960, MPS" under which related properties may be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Because the context for suburbanization, which forms Section E of the Multiple Property Documentation Form, brings together diverse information nowhere else available in a single source, a condensed version has been included in this bulletin to enhance its usefulness. Both the bulletin and multiple property form are intended to encourage the expansion of existing historic resources surveys, foster the development of local and metropolitan suburbanization contexts, and facilitate the nomination of residential historic districts and other suburban resources to the National Register.
The National Park Service is greatly indebted to Professor David L. Ames of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, University of Delaware, for drawing our attention to the rich history of America's suburbs, and for producing "A Context and Guidelines for Evaluating America's Historic Suburbs for the National Register of Historic Places," which was circulated for review and comment in fall of 1998. In response to the many comments received, we broadened our literature search to additional related areas and expanded the project beyond its original scope. The conceptual framework of chronological periods based on developments in transportation technology and subdivision planning and the contextually-based survey methodology introduced by Dr. Ames, however, remain at the core of the current bulletin and multiple property form. We believe they represent a sound and useful approach for evaluating the nation's rich legacy of suburban properties.

We greatly appreciate the comments and recommendations offered by the bulletin's many reviewers and the contributions of many other scholars and practitioners involved in the study of suburban neighborhoods across the nation. Comments came from people representing different professional disciplines and various points of view, indicating a wide range of opinion on how the topic should be approached for National Register purposes. We carefully considered all recommendations in determining the final format of the bulletin and in deciding what subjects to include in the final text.

The impressive number of residential historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1966 attests to the wealth of professional expertise in State historic preservation programs and elsewhere in the preservation field, and the increasing popular interest in recognizing and preserving historic neighborhoods. We have relied heavily on National Register documentation as a source of information about American suburbs and as verification of the broad national patterns documented by current literary sources. We acknowledge the contributions made by many nomination preparers to the understanding of suburbanization in the United States.

Considerable discussion has surrounded the selection of an inclusive set of dates covering the historic period of America's suburbanization. The dates 1830-1960 should be used as a general guide and adjusted to accommodate local historical events and associations. In keeping with advances in transportation technology, the organizing framework for the suburbanization context, we have used 1830, the date of the introduction of the steam-powered locomotive, for the purposes of this bulletin. 1960 was selected as a logical closing date based on the current literature that provides a historical assessment of twentieth-century suburbanization and for the practical purposes of contextual development and field surveys. The history of specific local and metropolitan areas may support other dates that better reflect local patterns and trends. While we recognize the potential exceptional significance of planned new towns such as Columbia, Maryland, and Reston, Virginia, and model planned unit developments (called "PUDs"), and their roots in the American Garden City movement, addressing them is beyond the scope of this bulletin.

Suburbs are of great interest to scholars of the American landscape and built environment and have design significance in several areas, including community planning and development, architecture, and landscape architecture. Suburban neighborhoods were generally platted, subdivided, and developed according to a plan and often laid out according to professional principles of design practiced by planners and landscape architects. For these reasons, this bulletin puts forth a landscape approach, consistent with that presented in earlier National Register bulletins on designed and rural historic districts, but adapted to the special characteristics of suburban neighborhoods. The landscape approach presented here is based on an understanding that suburban neighborhoods possess important landscape characteristics and typically took form in a three-layered process: selection of location; platting and layout; and design of the house and yard. Surveying and evaluating residential historic districts as cultural landscapes will better equip preservationists to recognize these important places as having multiple aspects of social and design history, identify significant values and characteristics, and assist in planning their preservation.

  We have profiled the roles of real estate developers, town planners, architects, and landscape architects, so that the contributions of each profession to the design of suburban America will be recognized and in hopes that future nominations will document similar contributions and recognize important collaborative efforts. The landscape approach also offers a suitable framework for integrating information about the social history and physical design of America's suburban places because they 1) were shaped by economic and demographic factors, 2) resulted from broadbased decisions about how land could be best used to serve human needs, and 3) were designed according to established principles of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and community planning.

Several topics have been introduced here that did not appear in the earlier draft. These include the Better Homes movement of the 1920s, the rise of small house architects and merchant builders, the highly influential Federal Housing Administration principles of housing and subdivision design of the 1930s, trends in African American suburbanization, prefabricated methods of house construction, and the landscape design of home grounds and suburban yards. The sources for researching local suburban history and historic neighborhoods and the list of sources for recommended reading have been substantially expanded.

New technologies are rapidly changing the ways we gather data about historic neighborhoods and the ways in which we carry out surveys. The increasing availability of computerized databases offering a wealth of detailed tax assessment and planning information, coupled with advances in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), are making it possible to assemble information about large numbers of residential subdivisions and to plot this information in the form of detailed property lists and survey maps. We encourage the use of these new tools and recognize their value in managing information about suburban development, organizing surveys, and providing a comparative basis for evaluation. These advances are particularly welcome at a time when many communities are just beginning to examine their extensive legacy of post-World War II suburbs. The lack of experience using these sources and methods to document suburbs, however, makes providing more detailed guidance impractical at this time. We hope that future revisions of this bulletin will highlight the success and results of many of the pioneering projects currently underway.

Several reviewers requested our discussion of planning be expanded to include company towns, philanthropic projects, and government-sponsored communities. Providing a comprehensive history of such developments was beyond the scope of the present context, which is primarily concerned with the development of privately-financed and constructed neighborhoods. We have included references to specific cases where the planning, design, or history of a company town or philanthropic project provided an important model or exerted substantial influence on the design of privately developed suburbs. Greenbelt communities, public housing, and defense housing projects are discussed only to the extent that they influenced the development of private residential communities or illustrate prevailing trends in housing or subdivision design, leaving their social history and the administrative histories of the programs that created them to be told elsewhere. Selected bibliographical entries for these kinds of communities are included in the list of recommended reading materials.

Every effort has been made to provide the most up-to-date list of sources of information. These include materials currently in print or likely available in a strong central or university library or through a library loan program. With the upsurge of interest among scholars in suburbanization in recent years, the body of literature is expanding rapidly. We apologize for any omissions and continue to welcome your recommendations for new bibliographical sources that can be included in future revisions.

Carol. D. Shull
Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places
September 2002

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