This is an early image of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The Vieux Carre Commission was created in 1937 to protect and preserve the local historic district. Photo: HABS Collection, HPS.
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Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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This is an image of houses in Charleston, SC. Charleston enacted the first local ordinance in 1931. Photo: HABS Collection, NPS.Local historic districts are one of the oldest and strongest forms of protection for historic properties. The historic district movement began in the United States in 1931, when the City of Charleston, South Carolina (right), enacted a local ordinance designating an "Old and Historic District" administered by a Board of Architectural Review. This early ordinance said that no changes could be made to exterior architectural features that were subject to view from a public street or way.

Following a 1936 amendment to the Louisiana Constitution, the Vieux Carre Commission was created in 1937 to protect and preserve the French Quarter in New Orleans (top). The City passed a local ordinance that set standards to regulate changes there.

In 1939, San Antonio, Texas adopted an ordinance to protect La Villita, the original Mexican village marketplace (bottom, right). In 1950 the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to protect the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. (bottom, left). By 1965, 51 communities nationwide had enacted preservation ordinances.

This is an image of a streetscape within Georgetown Historic District, Washington, DC. Photo: HABS Collection, NPS. This is an image of the Cos House within La Vallita Historic District in San Antonio, Texas. Photo: HABS Collection, NPS.

Today, some 60 years later, over 2,300 U.S. communities have adopted preservation ordinances and the list is growing. These are just a few of the earliest models for local protection of historic areas. They represent those pioneering preservationists who led the movement that is now mainstream.




Excerpts from A Guidebook for Historic District Commissions, Massachusetts Historical Commission, 1998, and Design Review in Historic Districts, Rachel S. Cox, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1997. All photos on this page are from the Historic American Buildings Survey Collection, NPS.