Historic Preservation Design Guidelines

detail of exterior historic building

Get Project Alerts

If you'd like to learn more about this project, please subscribe. Unsubscribe at any time.

Subscribe to Updates

Design Guidelines help establish a general understanding of preservation design principles and standards concerning our built environment. They serve to promote and protect neighborhood character and high quality of life.


In the late 1960s, the National Park Service, serving under the Department of the Interior, developed the Secretary of the Interior Standards (SOIS) for assessing the treatment of individual historic structures and structures within national historic districts.

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 well served San Francisco, their use as the primary approval criteria has two primary deficiencies:

  1. They are broad, and thus subject to varying levels of interpretation; and
  2. They don't provide direction specific to San Francisco's unique urban and historic environment.

For these reasons, San Francisco Planning is working with local communities to develop a comprehensive set of design guidelines for historic structures and districts specific to San Francisco.

Purposes and Goals of the Historic Design Guidelines Project

Hibernia Bank front entrance.The Guidelines are intended to be used by the public, project sponsors, design and planning professionals, neighborhood groups, City staff, and decision-makers such as the Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. 

The overarching goal is provide clarity and predictability in the application of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards that also support the policies and objectives in San Francisco's Cultural Heritage Element of the General Plan. The guidelines will help institute a common understanding as to how to treat historic resources, define a clear set of design principles, and identify a range of appropriate design solutions.

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, the Urban Design Guidelines, and all other Building Code and Planning Department requirements.

The goals of the Historic Design Guidelines include:

  • Consistency: Provide a common understanding to inform projects and are applied equally to all properties with like circumstances.
  • Predictability: Well-defined, focused, and accessible 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: Encourage innovative and original approach as to help ensure that design will reflect evolving community values and expectations, and can influence the ways in which they are applied over time.

Where do they apply?map of San Francisco showing applicable distrcits

  • Article 10 Historic Districts
  • Article 11 Historic Districts
  • Known Historic Resources ("A" properties)


  • 2016-2017
    Develop content from all existing policies and guidelines.
  • Summer – winter 2018: Broad Public Engagement
    Meet with neighborhood and community organizations to identify new guidelines to reflect goals and topics that require clarification. Outreach will consist of individual meetings with neighborhood groups and workshops.
  • Winter 2018 – 2019: Incorporate Public Comments #1
    Address public comment received to date through correspondence, meetings, and workshops.
  • Winter – spring 2019: Release draft for Public Review
  • Spring 2019: Incorporate Public Comments #2
    Address public comment received through any follow-up correspondence, meetings, and workshops during the public review period and prior to Commission Hearings.
  • Summer 2019: Final Draft for Adoption
    The Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission will hold public hearings on the draft guidelines, allowing ample opportunity for public review and comment.


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:

Jonathan Vimr

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.