Historic Preservation Design Guidelines

detail of exterior historic building


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The Secretary of the Interior Standards (SOIS), administered by the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior when assessing the treatment of individual historic structures and structures within national historic districts, were developed decades ago.

Currently, the majority of preservation programs across the country, including San Francisco, rely on these federal Standards as a foundation for project review at the local level. Most of these programs supplement the SOIS with locally established guidelines.

While the SOIS have generally served San Francisco satisfactorily, their use as the primary approval criteria has two primary deficiencies:
1.) they are broad, and thus subject to varying levels of interpretation;
2.) they don't provide direction specific to San Francisco's unique urban and historic environment. 

For these reasons, the Planning Department is currently developing design guidelines for historic structures and districts specific to San Francisco. The overarching goal is to establish guidelines consistent with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards that also addresses preservation goals and approaches consistent with San Francisco's Preservation Element (the Preservation Element establishes, at a policy level, the preservation expectations of the City). The guidelines will help establish a common directive as to how to treat historic resources, define a clear set of design principles, and identify a range of appropriate design solutions. 

Purposes and Goals of the Historic Design Guidelines Project

Hibernia Bank front entrance.

Design Guidelines articulate expectations regarding the treatment of the built environment. They promote and protect neighborhood character and quality of life.

The Historic Preservation Design Guidelines will achieve a number of goals that serve the interests of all users: the public, design and planning professionals, City staff, and decision-makers such as the Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. These goals include:

  • Consistency
    They will provide a common understanding of how they are to inform projects and are applied equally to all properties with like circumstances.
  • Predictability
    Well-defined, focused, and accessible guidelines using non-technical language help ensure a level of predictability. Clear expectations provide users a collective understanding, allowing a project to move through each step of its respective approval process(es) smoothly.
  • Flexibility
    Guidelines that encourage a more innovative and original approach help ensure that the guidelines will reflect evolving community values and expectations, and can influence the ways in which they are applied over time.

The guidelines will be directive, not prescriptive. They will inform the design and assessment of all preservation projects subject to review and will work in concert with San Francisco's General Plan, the Secretary of the Interior Standards, and all other Building Code and Planning Department requirements.

Next Steps

Appel and Dietrich Mini Mart at 6001 California Street.

Through 2016, the Planning Department is focused on completing and refining the Draft Historic Preservation Design Guidelines. To receive updates on these processes, including notices of meetings, open houses, "Ask-a-Planner" events, hearings, and document releases, please sign-up for the email list via the webpage if you have not done so already.

Our goal is to release a draft document for public review by the end of 2015, followed by a revised draft guideline document that reflects comments and input from the public, stakeholders, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the Planning Commission.

To create a complete and successful design guideline document, there are many details to be refined and we will seek your input and participation throughout this project. The Planning Department will help facilitate a public process that will include open houses and other interactive events with the public and stakeholders. A public participation schedule will be released soon, so please be sure to sign up for project updates.

Upcoming Events

Coming Soon


Sign up to be on our project mailing list to get updates on the Historic Preservation Design Guidelines planning process. Questions, comments, and suggestions on this planning effort should be directed to:

Anne Brask
Planner, Designer

Additional Links/Resources

  • Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation
    The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties promote responsible preservation practices for historic and cultural resources. Recommended treatments apply to individual buildings, districts, landscapes, and archeological components.
  • Preservation Bulletins
    The Planning Department has compiled procedures, definitions, and surveys to further explain the review process of historic resources in San Francisco.
  • San Francisco Preservation Element of the Comprehensive Plan
    The Preservation Element establishes the policy goals and purposes pertaining to Preservation throughout the City.
  • SOIS Preservation Briefs
    Preservation Briefs provide guidance on preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings. These National Park Service publications provide technical information for owners and designers to resolve common issues in regular scopes of work.
  • NPS Incentive Program
    The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and re-use of historic buildings.
  • Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines on Sustainability
    The illustrated guidelines on sustainability focus on the related efforts between preservation and sustainable practices in the building environment by providing information concerning professional methods and techniques in preservation projects.