Historic Designations & Incentives

Learn about the different types of historic designation, effects of designation and incentives available to owners of designated historic properties.

Landmark Designation

Frequently asked questions about designating an individual property as a landmark.

What is a “landmark designation”?

Designation is an action that recognizes and legally protects certain areas, buildings, structures, objects, natural features, and works of art which have significant historic, cultural, architectural, and aesthetic value as part of the heritage of the City, the State, or the Country.

What qualifies as a landmark?

According to the Historic Preservation Ordinance, Chapter 17.62 of the Pasadena Municipal Code, a landmark property must contribute to the historic, cultural or architectural heritage of the City. Historic significance may mean that a significant person or group is associated with the property or that an important event occurred there. Architectural significance may be attributed to the quality of a design, a work by a distinguished architect, or the contribution of a building to its surroundings.

How many properties have been designated as landmarks?

Pasadena has designated over 130 local properties as landmarks or historic monuments. A database designated historic properties can be accessed at http://pasadena.cfwebtools.com.

What are some examples of landmarks?

The Colorado Street Bridge (1913), the Gamble House (1908), Pasadena City Hall (1927), the Morton Bay Fig Tree (planted 1880), the Hermitage (1869), and the Perkins house (1955) are some examples of City landmarks.

What is the process for landmark designation?

Anyone may file an application to begin the nomination process; often, a property owner initiates the designation. The staff first reviews an application for a nomination, an if approved forwards it to the Historic Preservation Commission.

If the Commission determines that the nominated cultural resource merits designation, it forwards a recommendation to the City Council. The Council, at a noticed public hearing, may approve the nomination and direct that it be recorded in the office of the Los Angeles County Recorder.

What are the criteria for designation of a monument?

The Commission uses the criteria below to evaluate historic resources for historic monument designation (Zoning Code, Chapter 17.62.40). The criteria are:

  • It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of the history of the region, state or nation.
  • It is associated with the lives of persons who are significant in the history of the region, state or nation.
  • It is exceptional in the embodiment of the distinctive characteristics of a historic resource property type, period, architectural style or method of construction, or that is an exceptional representation of the work of an architect, designer, engineer, or builder whose work is significant to the region, state or nation, or that possesses high artistic values that are of regional, state-wide or national significance.
  • It has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history of the region, state or nation.
  • A historic monument designation may include significant public or semi-public interior spaces and features.

What effect does designation have?

Designation brings about design review of exterior alterations (and designated interiors). It may also increase the value of a property. Owners of designated landmarks may take advantage of incentives such as the State Historical Building Code (SHBC), which provides flexibility in complying with portions of the building code. Owners of designated properties may also apply for a Historic Property Contract.

May designated landmarks be altered?

Yes, if the alterations comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. The Historic Preservation Commission reviews major alterations to designated historic properties. City staff reviews minor projects.

If an alteration complies with the Standards, the Commission issues a Certificate of Appropriateness, which allows an applicant to proceed with an application for a building permit. If an alteration does not comply with the Standards, the Commission or staff may deny approval of the project.

How long does it take for the Commission to review changes?

Typical review time for Historic Preservation Commission review is 6-8 weeks from the date of submittal. Applications reviewed by the Commission also require public notice and may take longer to review if there are other land use entitlements, legislative actions, or environmental studies affecting the property. Staff reviews typically take 4-6 weeks.

May the Commission prohibit the demolition of a designated landmark?

Yes, the Commission reviews the demolition of any potentially significant historic resource and may deny applications for demolition and major alteration of a designated historic resource. Also, any historic resource, including designated landmarks, cannot be demolished without a replacement building permit or a special waiver from this requirement (see Replacement Building Permit for more information). All decisions by the Commission may be appealed to the City Council.

Will landmark designation restrict the use of a property?

No. Designation has no effect whatsoever on uses permitted by the Zoning Code. In some cases, a landmark may have some non-conforming uses, such as small offices, within certain residential areas.

Landmark District

Frequently asked questions about designating a grouping of properties as a landmark district:

What is a landmark district?

A landmark district is a grouping of contiguous properties that is united by plan or physical development and represents a specific aspect of the city’s history.

What are some examples of a landmark district?

What does it mean if a building is “contributing” or “non-contributing” in a landmark district?

If a building is “contributing” it is one that helps make the district significant. It has features that identify it with a historical period in the development of the neighborhood. These buildings can be either simple or elaborate in design, but they typically retain a majority of their original architectural features. Non-contributing buildings are those that have been significantly altered or were constructed after the period in which the majority of the historic buildings in the district were built.

How does designation as a landmark district affect my property?

Landmark district designation does not affect the use or sale of the property. It does affect proposals for demolitions, exterior alterations visible from the street, and new construction; these changes require a “Certificate of Appropriateness” before the issuance of a building permit. City staff reviews minor projects; the Historic Preservation Commission reviews major projects. All decisions may be appealed.

What is a Certificate of Appropriateness?

A Certificate of Appropriateness is a written approval, which confirms that a proposed change to a historic resource complies with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and the Design Guidelines for Historic Districts. A certificate is required before a building permit can be issued.

What design guidelines are used in a landmark district?

The Design Guidelines for Historic Districts are available to assist property owners with designing exterior alterations, additions or rehabilitations of their historic buildings. The design guidelines are based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings and apply to city designated Landmark Districts and National Register Historic Districts. They also apply to the design of new buildings in landmark and historic districts. Landmark district design guidelines are intented to allow changes to historic buildings to make them compatible with modern needs while ensuring that the historic character is maintained.

The Historic Preservation Commission and the planning staff use the guidelines when reviewing applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

What are examples of changes that are commonly reviewed in a landmark district?

Among the changes often reviewed in landmark districts are replacement of windows, reconstruction of front porches, additions, fences, and new garages. A full list of projects requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness can found in the Certificate of Application Review Packet.

What are examples of work that is exempt from a Certificate of Appropriateness?

Exterior alterations not visible from the street, interior alterations, paint colors, landscaping, installation of solar panels and routine maintenance are all exempt from review. Mechanical system upgrades are exempt if the work is not visible from the street.

I am in a landmark district, am I expected to restore my house as it was originally?

No. There are no requirements for doing work on your house because it is in a landmark district. There is no requirement to restore an architectural feature that has been lost, remove features that have been added, or add a feature to make the house more historic.

How do I submit an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness?

A completed application form, along with drawings, photos, product literature, and/or material samples, is submitted for review and approval to the Design and Historic Preservation Counter (Window 4) in the Permit Center. No fee is charged for this review. Applications must be approved before obtaining a building permit for a project.

Does certificate of appropriateness review delay building permits?

Yes. In general, review of an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness will delay a building permit by about 2 months. Early consultation with Design & Historic Preservation staff about proposal changes will help the process go smoothly.

Where can I find additional information or assistance about making repairs to my house?

Technical assistance is available from Design & Historic Preservation staff. The Design & Historic Preservation counter (Window #4) in the Permit Center has pamphlets and brochures about repairing or replacing historic features. Additional information is contained in the Design Guidelines for Historic Districts. The City library system has magazines and reference books on historic building materials, and your neighborhood association or branch library may also have information. When replacement of original features is necessary, building supply stores, lumber yards, home and garden centers, woodworking shops, and architectural salvage yards are all sources of building materials that may be appropriate for properties in a landmark district. Pasadena Heritage also has resources on their website to assist in finding skilled contractors with experience working with historic buildings.

What is the Historic Preservation Commission?

The Historic Preservation Commission is a nine-member City Commission appointed by the City Council. The Commission’s main function is to protect historic resources by reviewing proposed changes to historic buildings, surveys and designations. Members of the Commission are required to be knowledgeable about the City’s historic, architectural, and cultural heritage. The Commission meets twice a month on the first and third Tuesdays. Its meetings are open to the public.

Will landmark designation restrict the use of the property?

Designation has no effect on uses permitted by the Zoning Code. However, second dwelling units would be prohibited on single-family zoned properties.

Are there any benefits to being designated a landmark district?

Yes. For historic buildings, the City is authorized to use the State Historical Building Code, an alternative code that allows limited modifications to current building code standards. The use of this code can save a property owner money (e.g., a porch railing that does not meet the current standards for height could be kept instead of replaced with a higher railing). Landmark district designation also makes it possible for property owners to access professional consultation, free of charge, from City staff who have expertise in historic building rehabilitation.

In addition, houses in designated landmark districts are eligible for a property tax reduction under the Historic Property Contract (Mills Act) program. For additional information on this program, please contact the Design & Historic Preservation section, (626) 744-4009.

How does a neighborhood become a landmark district?

Residents of a neighborhood begin the process by proposing a district and working with city staff to define the boundaries of the district and organize a community meeting to inform property owners of the effects of landmark district designation. The residents then submit an application to the City for designation of a landmark district. At least 51% of affected property owners must sign the petition in support of the designation. Public hearings are held before the Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council. The City Council has the final authority to designate an area as a landmark district.

Additional Information

Please contact City staff for more information on landmark districts. Feel free to visit the Design & Historic Preservation Window (# 4) at the Permit Center for a free consultation.

Property Incentives

Historic Properties – Incentives And Special Provisions

Learn about the various benefits that apply to designated historic properties, including the State Historic Building Code, Historic Property Contract (Mills Act), Rehabilitation Tax Credit, etc.

Pasadena is widely known for its rich collection of historic properties. In all areas of the City, architecturally distinguished buildings impart an attractive character to residential neighborhoods and to business districts. These historic resources are also tangible reminders of the eventful history of the City. They are a source of civic pride and of economic productivity, drawing residents, tourists, shoppers, and businesses.

Since 1969 the City has formally recognized the benefits of preserving its historic sites and structures. It has a cultural heritage ordinance, two commissions entrusted with protecting historic resources, and a program within its Planning and Development Department to support historic preservation. The City has also designated forty-seven sites and structures as landmarks and six areas as historic districts. In addition, over 1,000 properties in Pasadena are listed in the National Register of Historic Places (either individually or as part of districts).

The City offers several incentives and special provisions to promote the preservation of historic sites and structures. In many cases, these incentives are available only if a building has been designated as a landmark or if it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (either individually or as part of a district). Some incentives, however, are available to all historic properties, designated or eligible for designation. Planning staff in the Design & Historic Preservation Section can identify which incentives, if any, may apply to your property. They can also explain the process of designating a building as a landmark or of nominating it to the National Register.


Mills Act Historic Property Contract Program

The City of Pasadena Historic Property Contract Program was established in October 2002 under the authority of a State program known as the Mills Act. This program allows owners of designated historic properties to enter into a contract with the City to reduce their property taxes in exchange for agreeing to maintain the historic character of their property in accordance with established guidelines. Eligible properties are officially designated landmarks, historic monuments, buildings designed by architects Greene and Greene, properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and contributing properties in a landmark or National Register district. Past participants have saved between 20% and 75% on their property taxes, with an average savings around 50%. Click the following link to review or download the “Mills Act Program guidelines and application.

State Historical Building Code (SHBC)

This State-adopted building code allows the City to approve reasonable alternatives to standard building and mechanical requirements for historic buildings (see SHBC ). This code allows some non-conforming conditions to remain without modification to meet current standards, and it allows some pliancy in meeting specific requirements in building codes. The City uses the SHBC at the request of the property owner. City staff in the Building Division and Design & Historic Preservation Section is available to assist property owners, architects, and contractors with this code. The SHBC applies to both the interior and exterior of a building.

Rehabilitation Tax Credit

A 20% credit on federal income taxes is available for the cost to rehabilitate a property listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To qualify for the tax credit, the property must be income-producing, and the rehabilitation work must be certified by the National Park Service as complying with historic preservation standards. The State of California Office of Historic Preservation preliminarily reviews applications for the rehabilitation tax credit. The credit is usually not available to owners of buildings eligible for the National Register but not actually listed in the Register (but the credit may be applied to work that occurred prior to listing of a building in the Register).

Facade Easements

A charitable tax deduction for donating a facade easement to a nonprofit, publicly supported organization (such as Pasadena Heritage) is available only to owners of buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In exchange for a charitable deduction on federal income taxes, the property owner authorizes the nonprofit organization to review exterior alterations to the building. The nonprofit entity thereby assumes responsibility for protecting the historic and architectural integrity of the property.

Technical Assistance

The staff of the Design & Historic Preservation Section is available to meet with property owners, architects, and contractors to offer advice and guidance (including use of the SHBC). Offered free-of-charge, this service may offer helpful suggestions on such things as seismic bracing, non-abrasive removal of paint from masonry, sources for replacement of missing historic features on a building, use of the State Historical Building Code, and applications for the rehabilitation tax credit. The staff also has a large collection of technical literature and hand-outs to offer guidance with the rehabilitation of a historic property. When requested, Design & Historic Preservation staff can also research historical information about a property.


The municipal zoning code has provisions to promote the preservation of historic structures. The City’s comprehensive General Plan also directs the City to implement flexible zoning regulations to promote the preservation of historic properties. To determine if any of these provisions apply to a historic building, ask the City staff in the Current Planning Section, (626) 744-4152, also in the Permit Center

Special provisions in the zoning code include:

  • Within certain areas zoned for multifamily residences, the code conditionally allows business or professional offices (uses that would otherwise be non-conforming) if the building is a designated landmark or if it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This provision encourages the adaptive re-use of designated historic resources by permitting an additional use within some areas otherwise zoned solely for residential uses. A conditional use permit (CUP) is required to allow the non-conforming use for professional offices. Also, within the South Marengo Avenue overlay district (PD-8), business and professional offices are conditionally permitted in buildings over 50 years old which retain their architectural integrity, whether they are designated or undesignated.
  • Owners of properties within designated landmark districts may also qualify for a waiver of the zoning requirement for two-covered parking spaces (a standard requirement for additions to single-family houses). The purpose for this waiver is to allow early garage structures, which form an ensemble with historic dwellings, to remain as part of the landmark district.
  • New multifamily residential projects may qualify for a waiver of some development standards as part of the City of Gardens ordinance for multi-family construction. Among the standards that may be modified are the size of the main garden, the amount of required parking, and the modulation of exterior walls. To qualify for this incentive, projects must include the rehabilitation or adaptive re-use of a historic property. This provision encourages the rehabilitation of historic structures on the site of new residential development as an alternative to demolition or relocation.
  • The code also allows some buildings with insufficient on-site parking to remain exempt from current parking requirements, even when they are rehabilitated or placed in a different use. If, however, the new use has a greater demand for parking than the former use (e.g., a change from offices to a restaurant), the parking must meet current standards. Nonetheless, this provision may facilitate the adaptive re-use of a vacant historic property by waiving the need to apply for a variance or to acquire additional off-site locations for parking.
  • Within the zoning code, one justification for approving the reclassification of properties as a planned development (PD) district is the adaptive re-use of historic buildings. The code allows historic buildings within a PD to be used “imaginatively for purposes other than that for which they were originally intended.” This provision facilitates the adaptive re-use of historic resources and encourages their long-term preservation on large sites designated for new development.

Historic Sign Inventory

Signs listed by the Historic Preservation Commission in the City’s Historic Sign Inventory are exempted from the sign regulations (height, area, location) in the zoning code. The exemption applies only if the sign is maintained and operated as originally designed. Minor changes to these signs are permitted to encourage new owners of a business to continue use of the historic sign. The Historic Preservation Commission may list a sign in the inventory if it determines that the sign was installed prior to 1960 and that the sign is “exemplary of the technology, craftsmanship, or design of the period when it was constructed.

Standards for Rehabilitation

The Standards For Rehabilitation Of Historic Buildings

By City code, the Design & Historic Preservation Section of the Planning Division uses The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings for review of alterations, additions, and rehabilitation’s involving architecturally and historically significant buildings.  These ten standards apply to all reviews conducted by the Historic Preservation Commission and, when applicable, the Design Commission.

Visit The National Park Service Website To View The Standards

View Standards


The intent of the Standards is to promote the long-term preservation of historically significant properties through the long-term preservation of historic materials and features. Initially developed by the Secretary of the Interior to determine the appropriateness of work on registered properties within the Historic Preservation Fund grant-in-aid program, The Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings have been widely used over the years, particularly to determine if a rehabilitation qualifies as a certified rehabilitation for Federal tax purposes. In addition, the Standards have guided Federal agencies in carrying out their historic preservation responsibilities for properties in Federal ownership or control; and State and local officials in reviewing both Federal and nonfederal rehabilitation proposals. They have also been extensively adopted by historic district commissions and planning commissions across the country for use within local designated historic areas.


  1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.
  2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.
  3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.
  4. Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.
  5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a historic property shall be preserved.
  6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of the deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new features shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.
  7. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.
  8. Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.
  9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.
  10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.

Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings

The secretary of the Interor has also published more specific information on The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation which identifies in detail “recommended treatments” and “not  recommended treatments.” Among the topics covered by this supplemental information are:

  • windows;
  • storefronts;
  • new construction;
  • new additions to historic buildings; and
  • entrances and porches.

This information is available from the National Park Service website.