Office of Historic Preservation
Phone: (210) 215-9274
Why is Preservation Important?
"A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rate landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory. Compared to the place it occupies in social history, a landmark's artistic qualities are incidental." - Herbert Muschamp
Historic Preservation is about telling the story of our city, neighborhoods, and homes through our built environment. We strive to preserve our history for many reasons. Graeme Shankland, a British planner, once said, "A city without old buildings is like a man without a memory." Ask anyone what they love about San Antonio and the answers you’ll likely hear will almost certainly involve historic preservation: the Riverwalk, downtown neighborhoods, a local historic site like the Alamo or the Steves House, or historic open spaces like Hemisfair or San Pedro Park. Our city has been shaped by our colorful history, and our built environment helps to tell that story. We preserve to protect our quality of life, our pride of place and our sense of community. We preserve so that we can pass on to future generations San Antonio’s rich past. In order to do that, we need to save local landmarks, but we also need to preserve the eclectic mix of residential and commercial architecture unique to our community. We want our neighborhoods and commercial districts to continue to tell the story of our history to those who come after us. This can best be done by preserving the condition of our historic resources and giving them new life and new purpose by making them our homes and places of business. Taking care of our built environment does more than just save old buildings. It provides a sense of belonging, a collective memory, and a sense of pride in our past. In the words of Winston Churchill, "If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find we have lost the future." Preservation is not about longing for the past or resisting progress. It’s about building on the past toward the future. A preservationist is by definition looking forward and impacting the future.
City of San Antonio's Historic Preservation Program
The primary purpose of the Office of Historic Preservation is to preserve and protect the unique historic structures, archaeological sites, and design features of San Antonio. On August 10, 1967, City Council passed and approved an enabling ordinance that created the Board of Review for historic districts. The ordinance also set forth the rules and guidelines for creating historic districts, regulations for exterior changes to historic structures and sites, and the process concerning applications for permits.
Soon thereafter, in May 1968, the City created the first local historic district, King William, and appointed the first Board of Review members. The Board advised the Director of Housing and Inspections concerning all applications for permits within the Historic District. Today the Board is known as the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) and consists of eleven (11) members. The HDRC now hears cases from 27 historic districts, six River Improvement Overlay districts, over 2000 individually designated landmarks, and all public projects.
The responsibilities and duties of the HDRC are to review applications for the designation of local historic districts and local historic landmarks; grant or deny Certificates of Appropriateness with respect to proposed exterior alterations to landmarks and properties within local historic districts; maintain a record of all proceedings to be available to the public; and continue to periodically update or cause to be updated the Historic Resource Survey for the City of San Antonio. It is important to note that the HDRC and the Office of Historic Preservation only review changes to the exterior of designated historic buildings. Interior alterations are not reviewable. The HDRC is guided by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the City’s Unified Development Code.