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Designating Landmarks and Preservation Districts
Like most cities, Oakland has a program for officially designating select Landmarks and Preservation Districts. Oakland also has a wealth of historic buildings and neighborhoods matched by few other California cities. To recognize this wide range of historic value, the Historic Preservation Element of the Oakland General Plan, adopted in 1994 and amended in 1998, sets out a graduated system of ratings, designation programs, regulations, and incentives proportioned to each property’s importance.
These are the most prominent historic properties in the city. They may be designated for historical, cultural, educational, architectural, aesthetic, or environmental value. They are nominated by their owners, the City, or the public and are designated after public hearings by the Landmarks Board, Planning Commission, and City Council. Since the program began in 1973 about 140 individual landmarks have been designated, out of nearly 100,000 buildings in Oakland. These buildings, sites, and features range from City Hall to the home of blues legend Brownie McGhee, from the Old Survivor Redwood Tree to the Grand Lake Theater and Roof Sign.
Officially designated Preservation Districts are also called S-7 and S-20 Zones. They are areas or neighborhoods that are recognized for the same values as individual Landmarks, and they are nominated and designated in the same way, usually with active neighborhood participation. There are currently nine designated districts containing about 1500 buildings. They include Preservation Park, Old Oakland-Victorian Row, and the Bellevue-Staten Apartment District along Lake Merritt in Adams Point, and Sheffield Village. Also included are Oak Center Historic District and 7th Street Commercial District in West Oakland.
Local Register of Historic Resources
In 1998 the City Council amended the Preservation Element to create a category called Local Register of Historical Resources. This is a list that recognizes the city's most important buildings and districts, whether or not they have been designated by the Landmarks Board. Oakland has this information in detailed citywide survey work and research conducted by the Planning Department. The term Local Register is used in State law to identify buildings covered by the State Historical Building Code and California Environmental Quality Act. In Oakland it applies to properties with Survey ratings of A ("highest importance") or B ("major importance") or in Areas of Primary Importance (areas that appear eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as districts). It also includes all Landmarks, Preservation Districts, Study List and Heritage Properties. About 2,600 buildings, roughly the top 3%, have this level of importance.
Preservation Study List / Heritage Properties
The Landmarks Board maintains a Preservation Study List of properties that are likely Landmark candidates, or that are placed on the Study List because there is concern about their preservation. There are about 400 properties on the Study List. The proposed zoning changes will replace the Study List with a new, formal designation called Heritage Property. Within two years, all Study List properties will be reviewed for possible Heritage Property designation. Other properties will be eligible for nomination if they have at least a C ("secondary") rating or could contribute to a preservation district. Heritage Property can be considered a less exclusive form of Landmark designation, with less extensive regulations and incentives.
Potential Designated Historic Property ("PDHP")
This is the broadest definition of "historic" under the Preservation Element. PDHP, like Local Register, is a description, not a designation. It is a category based on Planning Department survey ratings. The ratings report what the survey has found throughout Oakland, on a scale of A ("highest importance") through E ("of no particular interest"). The City considers any property that has at least a potential rating of C ("secondary importance") or could contribute to a potential primary or secondary district to "warrant consideration for possible preservation." To recognize the importance of neighborhood character and highlight restoration opportunities, this is a very inclusive category. About a fifth to a quarter of Oakland's buildings are considered to have at least some minimal historic value.