Preservation/Renovation FAQs

The National Register of Historic Places

What is the process for listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places?

The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) assists property owners and governments with identifying and listing properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • The Oregon SHPO recommends that anyone interested in nominating a property for the National Register, first submit a preliminary evaluation form to SHPO describing the property and why it should be nominated.
  • Anyone can nominate a property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Oregon, the property owner must consent to such a nomination before it can be approved for listing.
  • A historic district nomination will be denied if the majority of property owners within the district boundaries object to the listing.
  • Owner consent is not required for public property, although it is recommended that anyone interested in nominating public property to the National Register work closely with the public entity that owns the property.
  • A National Register Nomination form must be completed in its entirety. Completed forms include: significant research and documentation of the historic value of the property, USGS and plat maps, and archival quality photographs of the nominated property. Documentation requirements differ between individual nominations, historic districts, and multiple property nominations. For more information click here.
  • All National Register nominations in Oregon must first be approved by the local landmarks commission and then the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation before they are forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register for final approval.

More information on the National Register of Historic Places can be found on the National Park Service website or the Oregon SHPO website.

What are the general guidelines for getting a property listed on the National Register?

  • The property must be at least 50 years old, unless it can be shown to have exceptional importance.
  • The property must have “integrity” or closely resemble its historic  appearance.
  • Districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects should maintain their integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
  • The property must be significant or retain some form of physical connection to an important aspect of the past.
  • Significance may include a connection with an historic event or trend, a notable historic person, an example of notable architecture and engineering, or the potential to yield scientific information, such as an archaeological site.
  • Nominations can be submitted for individual properties, multiple properties, historic districts, historic sites, or even objects, such as historic signs.

For more information on guidelines for the National Register of Historic Places and to download the essential documents you will need to complete a nomination, click here.

Tax Incentives

What is the Oregon Special Assessment program?

Oregon’s Special Assessment of Historic Property program was established in 1975 as the first state-level historic preservation tax incentive in the United States. Under the guidelines of the program, property owners can receive a 15 year ‘freeze” on their property taxes. For maximum benefit, the property owner should not begin any rehabilitation efforts until they have applied to be part of the program. The basic guidelines for the program are as follows:

The property must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either as an individual property or as a contributing property in a historic district.

  • A preservation plan must be developed that outlines the substantial rehabilitation plans for the building during the 15 year tax freeze period.
  • The property owner must hold a four hour open house annually.
  • The property owner must pay an application fee to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) based on the property’s real market value.
  • An approved plaque must be installed on the building.
  • SHPO approval is required for any exterior or interior work on the property once it is part of the Special Assessment program.
  • Depending on your location, a property owner may be eligible to apply for a second 15-year tax “freeze.”
  • For more information on the Oregon Special Assessment program, visit the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office website or contact SHPO at 503-986-0672.

What other tax incentives are available for historic properties?

The federal government offers a tax credit program for income producing historic buildings. This program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service, which has the final approval for a project’s eligibility. The basics of the federal tax credit program are as follows: 

  • The federal tax credit is equal to 20% of the total rehabilitation costs of the project.
  • The building must be listed n the National Register of Historic Places.
  • All  rehabilitation work must meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for Rehabilitation.
  • The building must be used for income producing purposes after it has been rehabilitated.
  • The rehabilitation project must be “substantial” exceeding either the "adjusted basis" of the building or $5,000, whichever is greater.  "Adjusted basis" is the purchase price minus the value of the land minus any depreciation already taken by the current owner of the building, plus any capital improvements.

More information on the federal tax credit program can be found here or by calling the Oregon SHPO at 503-986-0688.

Knowing What’s Authentic

How do I find out about the history of my house?

There are numerous resources available to research the history of your house. Your property’s legal description, which is very useful for conducting research, can be obtained by searching county tax records. In Portland, you can often locate information on who built or who worked on your home by visiting the Bureau of Development Services Resource/Records counter at 1900 SW 4th Avenue. Additional information on previous residents of your home can be found by perusing city directories at your local library or at the Oregon Historical Society. Newspaper indexes, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, and local archives may also hold information on your home or neighborhood. To learn more about researching your home’s history, consider attending a How to Research House History program at the Architectural Heritage Center (AHC). This program is repeated frequently as part of the AHC’s “core curriculum.” For more information on this and other upcoming programs at the AHC click here

What Style is my House?

Determining the architectural style of your house can be a challenging yet highly educational experience. Once you know the style of your home you can better understand how it fits within the context of your city or neighborhood’s history. Information on house styles can be found by consulting books such as Virginia & Lee McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses, by researching local records at your library or historical society, or by attending a What Style is My House? Program at the Architectural Heritage Center (AHC). This program is repeated frequently as part of the AHC’s “core curriculum.” For more information on this and other upcoming programs at the AHC click here.

What paint colors are appropriate for my historic home?

Historic houses and neighborhoods benefit from the use of colors used when a house was first constructed. Understanding the architectural style and the era in which your home was built, helps to more easily identify appropriate color options. If you live in a historic district, consult with your neighbors to see if there are any established paint color guidelines for the district. If you know the style and era in which your home was constructed you can do research at your local library for books on your particular architectural style. Robert Schweitzer’s Bungalow Colors is but one example. Magazines, like Sunset or House Beautiful, from the period in which your home was constructed, can also be a good resource for not only paint colors but decorating tips as well. If you want to know your home’s original color scheme you can try to carefully scrape away the layers of paint from your siding (if original), trim, doors, window sashes or other architectural details that have been painted. Once removed you may be able to find the original layer of color you seek, or if you insist on complete authenticity, you can have your paint samples analyzed at a laboratory.

A very basic “primer” for historic paint colors based on house styles common to the Pacific Northwest

The vast majority of historic homes in the Pacific Northwest were built between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century. Here are some basic guidelines for paint colors based upon the common house styles from this period.

  • Colonial Revival - The original colors on houses of this style were typically pale, often white or yellow, but sometimes gray as well. Trim was usually pale too; whites, off-whites and yellows were fairly commonplace. Contrast was created by painting shutters black or dark green.
  • Queen Anne or others from the “Victorian Era” - Houses of the Queen Anne or “Victorian” style were often intense in color, with the use of contrasting colors used to highlight the highly decorative architectural features. Appropriate colors from this period include: rich browns, reds, yellows or greens. Architectural details were typically painted in a contrasting color, either lighter or darker. Craftsman or Arts & Crafts  - Many houses of these styles have a different siding material on each floor. A typical paint scheme on a house of this style would be the use a different color on each floor. Earth tones were typical, with red, green, yellow, or brown the most common choices. Unlike with Victorian era houses, Craftsman paint schemes usually used complimentary rather than contrasting colors on trim and other architectural elements. 
  • Mid-Century Modern - Homes from the Post World War II era into the 1960s were often painted in vibrant colors like blue or green combined with white trim or vice-versa.

Where can I learn more about hardware or other materials appropriate to my historic home?

Magazines like Traditional Building or Old-House Journal can provide valuable insight into the hardware, fixtures, or other materials appropriate to your historic home. Today there are manufacturers and retailers across the country that reproduce historic hardware and lighting or sell salvaged historic materials. Other sources include house or architectural magazines from the era in which your home was constructed (check your local library for vintage issues of Sunset or House Beautiful). The Architectural Heritage Center (AHC) can also be a significant resource. In our Liz’s Antique Hardware Gallery, there are revolving exhibits displaying historic hardware from the Bosco Milligan collections.


Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development

Can historic preservation also be “green”?

In many ways historic preservation has always been a “green” movement. Preserving a historic building is the ultimate in sustainability as it saves an enormous amount of energy and precious resources that are otherwise lost through demolition or neglect. The Architectural Heritage Center and the Bosco Milligan Foundation support the notion that we cannot build our way out of our environmental problems. By re-using what we already have we will help save not only physical structures, we will lessen the impact on our environment, while helping  to sustain our economy and our culture for future generations to enjoy. To learn more about historic preservation and sustainability, click here.

Will replacing my original wood windows save money on energy?

We don't recommend it.  Only 15% of a home's heat loss is through the windows - most is through the walls and roof.  So it would take many years to recoup the money spent on replacement windows.  And your original windows are an integral part of the historic character of your house.  Click here for a tip sheet in PDF format from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.