In August, the City of Placerville hosted a Historic Preservation workshop facilitated by ECORP’s Senior Architectural Historian, Nathan Hallam. Placerville is a historic El Dorado County mining town with numerous historic buildings and four residential historic districts. City staff receives many building permit requests that involve rehabilitating older homes in its historic districts. The city needed guidance on how to balance the needs of homeowners with its 40-year-old historic preservation code.
Currently, when homeowners make a permit request in a historic district, City staff uses the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties to determine the request’s appropriateness. But the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards often seems too stringent. After several recent permit denials and appeals to the Planning Commission, Placerville’s planning staff reached out to ECORP for guidance on how to responsibly reconsider its preservation code. ECORP’s workshop at Placerville Town Hall was attended by Placerville’s mayor and city council, planning commissioners, city planning staff, and members of the public.
In his presentation, Nathan began by discussing historic preservation’s principals, history, and fundamentals. The historic preservation movement has its roots in the broader environmental movement of the 1960s. Demolition of historic buildings associated with freeway construction and urban renewal after 1950 led to grassroots concerns culminating in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Over the years, small towns that retained historic character became increasingly popular with tourists. More recently they have become popular among people who work remotely. Placerville is a popular tourist stop along Highway 50. Since 2020 it has also seen a dramatic increase in new residents who acquire properties in historic districts and make building permit requests to rehabilitate their homes.
Nathan’s presentation also discussed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and the concept of integrity, the ability of properties to convey their historic significance. Retaining integrity is a crucial aspect of historic preservation. For properties to contribute to a historic district, they must retain a majority of their historic features. Nathan discussed ways in which Placerville could preserve the historic integrity of its buildings and maintain its historic districts while still authorizing many of its more benign building permit requests. Nathan shared examples of comparable California cities that created local preservation guidelines derived from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards but that were tailored to meet unique local needs.
After Nathan’s presentation, the meeting turned into a Q&A and open discussion. Members of the public spoke and provided their own input. The workshop turned out to be a major success for Placerville thanks in large part to ECORP!
If you think your local government might benefit from rethinking its historic preservation program or simply would like a refresher on historic preservation principles and fundamentals, please contact Senior Architectural Historian Nathan Hallam at (916) 782-9100.