Confused by the markers on Houston’s landmarks? More importantly, do these bronze plaques protect any historic property from the wrecking ball? You might be surprised.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Registration of Historic Places is a list of sites, districts, buildings, structures and objects of national, regional or local significance. Run by the National Park Service, this listing begins with a nomination by the State Historic Preservation Office (Texas Historical Commission) which reviews the property’s age, integrity, and significance. The significance of National Register listing is diminished by the lack of protection from alteration or demolition. In fact, there are no restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of the recognized property, and listing does not automatically invoke local landmark designation. Also, a National Register listed property will not be listed if the owner objects. National Register designation may allow for federal tax benefits for rehabilitation and federal grant assistance.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
Established in 1953, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) is the state agency for historic preservation which consults with citizens and organizations in preserving Texas’ architectural, archeological, and cultural landmarks, and awards Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (RTHL) designation to buildings at least 50 years old that are characterized by their architectural significance and historical associations. If approved, then an RTHL can receive an Official Texas Historical Building Medallion or an Official Texas Historical Subject Marker. Owner permission must be secured prior to any designations and benefits include recognition, preservation assistance, and possible state preservation grant funds. If alterations or demolition is decided, then any RTHL is subject to a meaningless 60-day waiting period to slow down the undesirable action. RTHL is a permanent designation and is retained upon a transfer of ownership provided the property is not altered or demolished.
Historic sites can also be designated as State Archeological Landmarks and receive legal protection under the Antiquities Code of Texas. Listing in the National Register is a prerequisite for State Archeological Landmark designation of a building.
Houston Protected Landmark
In 2005, Houston City Council approved an ordinance to recognize and protect landmarks. All landmarks must meet age requirements and possess historic and architectural significance. The City CANNOT impose this on a property with out an application and permission from the property owner, and with the Archaeological and Historical Commission approval. Once Protected Landmark status is awarded, the property may only be altered externally, moved, or demolished with the permission of City of Houston. Also, the City of Houston may grant a tax exemption to qualified property owners who improve designated City historic properties. In addition to the tax incentives, owners of designated historic buildings may qualify for other benefits such as reduced building permit fees. Most importantly, Protected Landmark status is permanent and transfers to subsequent owners.
Please note, Protected Landmark is not to be confused with the virtually meaningless “Landmark,’ which the City may designate (as in the case of The Alabama Theatre). This provides no protection from the wrecking ball, but can slow it down with a mandatory waiting period for the Demolition Permit or Construction Permit for any interior or exterior alterations.
In 2007, Houston City Council designated Old Sixth Ward as a Protected Historic District. This enables the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission to prohibit the demolition of ANY structure within Old Sixth Ward