General Questions

There is a historic building/house in my community scheduled for demolition. What can we do as concerned citizens and neighbors? What is the best course of action?

If you are in a crisis or emergency situation and if you live in a community with a staffed local historic preservation organization, contact that office first.

There is a building in our community listed on the National Register of Historic Places that is currently vacant and left open to vandalism and deterioration. What can I do as a concerned citizen to protect this property?

How do I find out more about the history of my building?  Do you have old photos of my building?

There are many resources in local communities for research. Try your local library or the library of a nearby university or college. In addition to books, you might find articles, newspapers, maps, documents, directories, photo archives, etc. that are specific to your area.  You might also try a local history museum or local historical society. These organizations may also house archives and members of these groups can be a wealth of local information.

Another resource is the Washington State Digital Archives run through the Secretary of State's office which not only includes photographs but digitized records.  If you are doing research specifically in King County, try the Puget Sound Regional Archives located in Bellevue.

We have a limited amount of historic photos of various properties listed on our Most Endangered List and our Watch List available on our flickr page.

The National Park Service has published a bulletin entitled Researching a Historic Property (PDF). This document lists additional resources and tips for researching historic properties.

What financial incentives are available to owners of historic properties?

Owners of locally-designated historic properties may be eligible for a variety of financial incentives, including Federal, State, or local tax credits, loans, or grants. Generally these incentives are available only when an owner undertakes a rehabilitation project, and the availability of the programs varies based upon the use of the building, whether the owner is non-profit or for-profit, and whether the building is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

More information is available through the links on our Funding & Grants page, or you are welcome to call our office at 206.624.9449 with your more specific questions regarding structure types and funding availability.

Do you have grant money available to fix up old houses and other historic buildings?

The Washington Trust accepts applications and gives grants through the Valerie Sivinski Washington Preserves Fund. The Washington Trust also administers two grant programs through the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation: the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program and the Heritage Barn Preservation Initiative.

You can also learn about historic preservation tax credits, property tax incentives, and limited grant funds available nationally or through Washington state on our Funding & Grants page.  Or, call our office at 206.624.9449 with questions about the grant programs we directly facilitate.

Historic Registers

What is the National Register of Historic Places?

Authorized by the the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture that contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the nation. Listing in the National Register does not guarantee full protection from demolition, but any development project using federal money or requiring a federal permit must undergo Section 106 review, required by the Historic Preservation Act, to consider the impact the project might have on nearby sites that are on or eligible for the National Register.

Is my property listed on the National Register of Historic Places? What about the State Register?

The most direct way to find out if your property is listed nationally is to check the National Park Service's National Register Information System. This online database is the most up-to-date record of properties listed on the National Register. To see if your property is listed in Washington State, you can check the Washington Heritage Register.

How do I list my property to a register?

You must apply for either registry through the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.  If you would like to download an application form directly, click here.

What are the effects of listing my property on the Washington Heritage Register?

Listing in the Washington Heritage Register is an honorary designation and raises the public awareness about historic and cultural values. While there are presently no financial incentives available for the rehabilitation of listed properties, a designation to the State Register can be beneficial in securing state grants or other funding awards.

For owners of private properties, the effects of listing in or a determination of eligibility for listing in the Washington Heritage Register, are parallel to the effects of listing in the National Register of Historic Places. No restrictions by the State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation are imposed by a Washington Heritage Register designation when private funds are used to alter a significant property.

What is the difference between the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic District and a National Historic Landmark?

The National Register of Historic Places contains individual structures significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.

A National Historic District is a neighborhood or area that has retained its architectural integrity and reflects an aspect of the area's history. A historical overview of the entire district is needed before nomination in order to provide a basic background history of the area and to justify the significance of the district. Historic resources survey documentation is required for all proposed districts, which involves photographing and mapping all buildings in the district, recording their architectural characteristics, and assessing whether or not they contribute to the historic character of the district.

A National Historic Landmark is the highest level of designation, therefore specific criteria are used to determine a site's eligibility. National Historic Landmarks are properties deemed significant to all Americans because of their exceptional values or qualities, which help illustrate or interpret the heritage of the United States. If a property is named a National Historic Landmark, it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and able to obtain federal historic preservation funding, when available. Only three percent of properties on the National Register are also Landmarks and they are usually owned by private individuals or groups; others are owned by local, state, tribal or federal government agencies.

What is the difference between local landmarks or historic districts versus the National Register of Historic Places?

A local landmark or historic district is designated under city or county ordinance that seeks to retain the character of the building or area. To receive local designation, a building or district must be historically, architecturally or culturally significant and retain most of its character. A historic preservation commission reviews and comments on projects affecting designated buildings. Under most local laws, owners of designated properties cannot demolish, move or change exterior features of the structure without permission from the preservation commission.

The National Register of Historic Places is a form of recognition which makes individually listed structures eligible for federal tax incentives and provides for a review for some federal- and state-funded undertakings.

What kinds of historic designations are there and how do they work?

Historic designations occur at the National, State, and Local level:


National Register of Historic Places: Listing in the National Register or eligibility for the Register is an element in obtaining Federal preservation tax credits, considerations for Section 106 Review, and consideration for other Federal and State programs.

National Historic Landmarks: Properties of great national significance. A list of places is proposed annually by the National Park Service and those chosen are designated by the Department of the Interior. National Historic Landmarks are sometimes private property; the property owner must consent to the designation.


Washington Heritage Register of Historic Properties: Like the National Register, the State Register does not regulate what property owners may do with their listed property. Designation at the state level aids in securing state tax incentives and participation in state grant-in-aid programs. The Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation also maintains a Washington State Heritage Barn Register.


Local designations such as Historic Districts and Landmarks exist in thousands of towns and cities across the nation. With local support, cities may designate certain areas as historic districts, contributing to the unique character of the town. Cities may also choose to designate landmarks particular to their community's history. Private, non-profit groups also may designate local landmarks, but these are without municipal involvement.

It is at the local level that regulations on what owners may do to their properties are most present. Through preservation ordinances, cities may control changes to historic buildings such as alterations and demolition, and new construction within the district. Generally, a review board or commission considers proposed changes. In other cases, requests are processed through the zoning department. If you are considering purchasing, changing, or demolishing a property, it is wise to first contact your local planning department.

If my neighborhood is proposed for historic designation, do I have any say in whether it is established? What is the process?

Yes. Public comment is an important part of the designation process. By law, property owners in a proposed historic district must be notified of the proposal so they may testify for or against it during hearings of the Historic Preservation Review Board. Neighborhood public forums (including both owners and lessees) to discuss the effect of the proposed designation are also required.

Legislation and Government

What is the National Historic Preservation Act?

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) was enacted due to public concern that so many of the nation's historic resources were not receiving adequate attention as the government sponsored much-needed public works projects. The NHPA, strengthened and expanded by several subsequent amendments, is today the basis of America's historic preservation policy.

What is does "Section 106 Review" mean?

Section 106 refers to a particular part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that requires every federal agency to take into account how each of its undertakings could affect historic properties. Section 106 Review refers to the federal review process designed to ensure that historic properties are considered during federal project planning. The review process is administered by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent agency, in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer. The council must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to comment on such projects. Any project involving federal funds is subject to Section 106 Review. Generally, a Memorandum of Agreement, a legally binding document, which identifies the specific actions the federal agency will take to mitigate or avoid damage to the resource, is issued. It is important to note that Section 106 Review extends to properties that possess significance and are determined eligible for listing on the National Register, but have not yet been listed.

How do I know if I have project that requires consultation under Section 106?

An undertaking requiring consultation under Section 106 is any project, activity, or program funded in whole or in part under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of a Federal agency. Undertakings requiring consideration under the National Historic Preservation Act are: (A) those carried out by or on behalf of the agency; (B) those carried out with Federal Financial assistance; (C) those requiring a Federal permit, license, or approval; and (D) those subject to State or local regulation administered pursuant to a delegation or approval by a Federal agency.

What are preservation tax incentives?

Preservation tax incentives are available for any qualified project that the Secretary of the Interior designates as a certified rehabilitation of a certified historic structure. A certified historic structure is any building that is listed individually in the National Register or located in a registered historic district and certified as historically significant to the district. A certified rehabilitation is any rehabilitation of a certified historic structure that is certified as being consistent with the historic character of the property and the district in which it is located. Property owners are eligible for a 20 percent tax credit on rehabilitation costs if all criteria are met. To be eligible for tax incentives for rehabilitation, a project must meet the basic tax requirements of the Internal Revenue Codes as well as the certification requirements. 

What is a Certified Local Government? (CLG)

A Certified Local Government is one that has developed a local preservation ordinance which meets standards established by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. CLGs participate in guiding historic preservation actions and planning locally according to nationally recognized standards. They are members of a professional organization promoting historic preservation by responding to the community's individual needs, developing unique funding opportunities, creating long-range plans with historic preservation as a key element, and by providing a high level of expertise to those who seek their assistance. Certain federal grant programs are available only to CLGs.  To learn more about CLGs in Washington state, click here.

What is a Preservation Easement?

A preservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement a property owner may enter into in order to protect a significant historic, archaeological, or cultural resource. An easement provides assurance to the owner of a historic or cultural property that the property's intrinsic values will be preserved through subsequent ownership.