The AIA Dallas Historic Resources Committee promotes the role of historic resources within our urban fabric through increased awareness and by equipping the architectural community to confidently and sensitively undertake projects with historic preservation components or considerations.

Dallas Center for Architecture
1909 Woodall Rodgers Fwy. Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75201

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I.       Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings:

The Secretary of the Interior Standards

The Guidelines assist in applying the Standards to rehabilitation projects in general; consequently, they are not meant to give case-specific advice or address exceptions or rare instances. For example, they cannot tell a building owner which features of an historic building are important in defining the historic character and must be preserved or which features could be altered, if necessary, for the new use. Careful case-by-case decision-making is best accomplished by seeking assistance from qualified historic preservation professionals in the planning stage of the project. Such professionals include architects, architectural historians, historians, archeologists, and others who are skilled in the preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of the historic properties. These Guidelines are also available in PDF format.

The Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings stress the inherent sustainability of historic buildings and offer specific guidance on “recommended” rehabilitation treatments and “not recommended” treatments, which could negatively impact a building’s historic character. These Guidelines are also available as an interactive web feature.

The Four Approaches to the Treatment of Historic Properties

II.      Historic Designation Programs

Common to historic preservation efforts are designations that can be applied to sites and buildings. Each is primarily designed to provide recognition for the historic importance of the site or building and to validate its historic significance. Some provide various measures of architectural protection and/or make available financial incentives for the preservation of essential historic characteristics.  The list below contains links to the most common programs, but always be aware of the possibility of local designation programs in cities and towns of any size. The provisions of local designation programs are commonly the most architecturally restrictive and can vary widely between programs.

Also note that historic designation is almost always a voluntary distinction that is actively sought by the building owner and/or people and communities that care about the building and its historical significance. As such and because of the effort typically required to obtain a designation, only a small percentage of buildings and sites that would qualify for these designations actually have them. In other words, just because it isn’t designated doesn’t mean it’s not historic.

Properties can and often do have more than one designation.

The National Register of Historic Places

This is a program of the Federal government and is among the most common designations. There are more than 1.7 million buildings and sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It carries no architectural restrictions or controls. However, listing on the National Register is required for almost all government (local and national) financial incentive programs, and those programs always contain architectural controls.

National Historic Landmark

A program of the Federal government, National Historic Landmark status is the highest and most prestigious designation available, making this designation among the least common. There are only about 1,500 NHL’s in the US.

Registered Texas Historic Landmark (RTHL)

A common and well known designation program of the State of Texas and administered by the Texas Historical Commission.  RTHL’s are typically identified by the round, silver and black markers with the shape of the State of Texas in the center. RTHL designation includes relatively weak architectural controls.

State Antiquities Landmark (SAL)

Similar to RTHL, this designation is specific to non-federal public lands and buildings, such as county courthouses or historic city buildings.  This program includes moderately strong architectural controls.

Local Landmark Designation (City or County)

Many cities in north and northeast Texas have historic or “landmark” designation programs. The requirements and incentives of these programs varies widely between the various jurisdictions and you should contact city administration to get the details when working on potentially historic properties (50 years old or more) in any community. Local historic designation is administered through local zoning ordinances and, as such, typically contain substantial architectural controls and review processes.

City of Dallas Landmark Designation

Dallas has a comprehensive and sophisticated landmark designation program. Besides architectural requirements customized for each designation, there is also a corresponding tax abatement program to provide financial incentives.

III.   Economic Incentives

Economic incentive programs have been developed to help offset the perception that historic preservation costs more and as a “carrot” enticement to balance against the “stick” motivation of architectural controls. These have proven to be popular across the country. However, recent publications from the National Trust for Historic Preservation have illustrated that these programs have been especially popular in Dallas.

While there are some grant programs to assist with historic projects, these are no common and almost always  are not large.  Governmental tax credit and tax abatement programs are far and away the most common and accessible financial incentives available. The following list shows the primary programs

Federal Historic Tax Credits

The most commonly used program. While it has been around for decades, it has really expanded in the past 15 years. It provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits (not deductions) for 20% of the qualified costs of an historic building rehabilitation. So for a project with $5 million in rehab costs, the tax credit would be $1million. Rehabilitation work must conform to the Secretary of the Interiors Guidelines to qualify.

State of Texas Historic Tax Credit Program

This is a new program that only took effect January 1, 2016. It mirrors the federal program in its requirements, but provides an additional 25% credit against project costs (with some exceptions). The credit is applied against franchise taxes and is considered much easier to “sell” or assign the tax  credit to others if they cannot be used by the building owner.

Texas: Creating Jobs, Building Communities, Preserving Heritage  by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Green Lab. A report on the use and popularity of historic tax credit incentives in Texas.

Note: Architects typically have a lead role in securing historic tax incentives. However, the technical details for these programs extend beyond the building and into the federal and state tax codes. When pointing clients to these incentive programs, it is recommended that you also advise them to retain qualified, tax-savy legal and accounting help to make sure they understand the requirements, obligations and applicability of the credits.

City of Dallas Historic Tax Incentives

The City of Dallas has a popular program that provides for property tax freezes and/or abatement for qualified historic properties.

IV   Technical Assistance

The construction techniques and the physical requirements of historic buildings and materials can be somewhat different from that which is commonly done in modern construction. The following links provide a starting spot for understanding these differences and help to address such issues in an appropriate way

Technical Briefs – National Parks Service

A good preservation primer. 48 individual documents on a variety of common preservation topics.

Preservation Tech Notes – National Parks Service

Case studies on a variety of common subjects.

National Center for Preservation Training and Technology

A good source for research, training and technical info.

V   Other Resources

The National Trust for Historic Preservation – A national preservation non-profit.

Preservation Texas – A state-wide preservation non-profit

Preservation Dallas – A Dallas-area preservation non profit.

History and Research

The Dallas History and Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the University of Texas at Austin