Designating Historic Districts

Photo by Christopher Wilson

Historic District Designation for Neighborhoods

Laurelhurst  &  Eastmoreland

One of the main goals of the McCulloch Foundation is to save, beautify and preserve heritage homes, buildings and neighborhoods. An effective way to do this (though one of the most difficult and time consuming) is to have a neighborhood (or home or building) designated as a Historic Landmark or District. We have been working with many Laurelhurst residents to show that there is enough support among the residents (there must be at least 51% in favor) to have the Laurelhurst neighborhood recognized as an official Historic District in Oregon and nationally.

This process is complex and lengthy, and requires some funding to pay for historians and others to help with the necessary research and documentation (or the involvement of dozens of dedicated volunteers). It is the goal of the Foundation to use our expertise and resources to help Laurelhurst residents and others who would like to protect historic homes, buildings and neighborhoods through the Historic Landmark designation process.

Across our metropolitan region, housing pressures have been building for years. Portland’s striking landscape and vibrant culture attract some 40,000 new residents a year. This steady demand—coupled with an established urban growth boundary—has driven home prices inexorably upward, creating new worries about affordability, and a situation where land can be worth far more than the house that sits on it.

Portland’s City Council has responded with new zoning infill rules that will take effect in 2017. For Laurelhurst, these rules allow for the construction of triplexes and duplexes on every street—and 45 neighborhood lots have been re-zoned to allow six-plexes after demolition. This is a clear win for developers and for those with a greater interest in profits than Portland culture and legacy. Demolishing historic single-family homes and replacing them with larger homes or multiple units sold for $800,000+ will not solve an affordability crisis.

A review of demolition & rebuilding permits in the Laurelhurst neighborhood over the past 10 years shows a sharp upturn in the number of demolitions just in the past few years. Very few if any of these rebuild projects have created more affordable housing. The destruction of the older homes hurts the environment, history and livability of the city without improving affordability.

Neighbors also worry that the well-intentioned changes could markedly alter the character of the neighborhood—with the loss of small historic homes and mature trees, the incongruity of towering multi-family units on every block, increased parking pressures, and the inability of neighborhood schools to meet new demands.

“For generations, people have been attracted to Laurelhurst because of its special character and beauty,” said resident Tanya Baikow-Smith. “Once that is lost, it is lost forever—not just for me and my family but for every generation to follow.”

Historic Designation: Myth v. Fact

As developers who are opponents to Historic District designation begin spreading “alternate facts” which are not facts at all, we wanted to present the actual facts, backed up by documentation and research, to show that HD designation is not a burden on the homeowner, but helps promote livability, preserve the environment, and is beneficial for property values.

Myth: Under Historic District guidelines, I wouldn’t be able to make any changes to my house inside or out without getting approval from some bureau or council. 

Fact: Only some exterior building and renovations may be subject to the historic review process. Changes made to the interior of homes are NOT subject to any historic review process. Historic Irvington has a great document explaining the historic review process and what may or may not need historic review. Here are some other examples of renovations that are exempt from historic review.

  • Storm and screen window/door additions or removals
  • Wheelchair ramps that can be removed without destroying existing building material
  • Construction of a detached accessory structure with 200 square feet or less of floor area when that structure is at least 40 feet from a front property line and, if on a corner lot, at least 25 feet from a side street lot line.
  • Alterations to non-contributing resources on non-street facing facades where alterations on all facades total less than 150 square feet.
  • Alterations to existing basement windows on non-street facing facades within certain size provisions and percentages below grade

Myth: Historic District permits are expensive.
Fact: While normal building and remodeling permits can cost thousands and big remodeling jobs can cost hundreds of thousands, historic district permits typically cost $250. The city of Portland recently reduced the fee structure and increased the number of city employees able to help with the permit process in response to input from Irvington residents.

Myth: Neighborhoods are protected from large infill projects by zoning.
Fact: Changes in city zoning effective in 2017 will make tearing down almost any single family home in favor of a triplex or duplex a lucrative proposition. Without protection, huge amounts of rapid infill by developers will change the character of many neighborhoods, including Laurelhurst and Eastmoreland.

Myth: Eco-friendly new construction offsets demolition.
Fact: Old homes have a level of craftsmanship and materials that cannot be matched today.  When they are demolished, huge amounts of materials hit landfills, a negative effect which takes decades to offset even by new building practices.

Myth: Historic districts negatively affect property values.  
Fact: Historic district home values are worth far more over time. Irvington values have grown far faster than Laurelhurst’s since historic district protection was enacted. Protected vintage homes outperform all others in appreciation.  

Myth: New infill will somehow help with affordability.  
Fact: Developers make money by charging more for less. If a house in Laurelhurst costs $700,000, a developer will tear it town and seek to put three units on the same lot and sell them for $800,000 each.

Myth: Historic District will make remodels complex and give neighbors a chance to object.  
Fact: The current rules on remodeling are complicated, and neighbors can already object without Historic District.  The city of Portland has gone from one historic district intake helper to nine. They are friendly and eager to help.  

Myth: Historic Districts are undemocratic.  
Fact:  Supporting historic designation is a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor effort. The majority of people who chose to live among these beautiful houses are voting to protect them.

Myth: Historic Districts are a means to avoid density.

Fact: Under historic designation, expansion of housing capacity will not be compromised. More than 20 percent of Laurelhurst homes will be eligible for infill expansion to meet community needs.


  1. Portland City Council Approves Plan That Calls for More Duplexes, Triplexes –
  2. Rezoning Proposal Divides Neighborhoods –
  3. The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse –
  4. Land Use Services Fee Schedule – City of Portland –
  5. Portland City Council adopted zoning code amendments for Historic Resources –
  6. Zillow – Irvington Home Values vs. Laurelhurst Home Values –

Contact Us for More Information

A Remodeler / Builder’s look at what it’s like to remodel houses in a Historic District. “It’s not tough!”

Historic Laurelhurst

Historic Laurelhurst Campaign kicked off Nov. 27 – Why Historic?

Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association

LNA Facebook Page

Save Laurelhurst

Guide to the Nomination Process, Historic Resource Benefits & Rules

Historic Resource Rules and Benefits

Historic District Review and Modifications Considered During Historic Resource Review

Other Portland Historic District Resources & Information

Portland’s Historic and Conservation Districts

Irvington Historic District – About the Design Review Process

Notes from a forum about “Living in a Historic District”

Laurelhurst aerial photo by Gabriel Bacelar

If you are a Laurelhurst resident, please sign the petition to support Laurelhurst being listed as a Historic District in the National Register Of Historic Place. Don’t worry, this is not binding and won’t be shared publicly. But it is a way for the Neighborhood Association and the Action Team to gauge support for Historic District status as we move forward in the process.

Sign the Petition

If you are a resident of Eastmoreland and want to stop demolitions of homes in your important and amazing historic neighborhood, please sign this declaration of support in favor of designating Eastmoreland as an official Historic District in Oregon. 

Declare Your Support

If you are a Laurelhurst resident, please sign the petition to support Laurelhurst being listed as a Historic District in the National Register Of Historic Place. Don’t worry, this is not binding and won’t be shared publicly. But it is a way for the Neighborhood Association and the Action Team to gauge support for Historic District status as we move forward in the process.

Sign the Petition

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If you are a resident of Eastmoreland, join your neighbors against the destruction of homes in your amazing historic Portland neighborhood. Please sign this declaration of support for Eastmoreland being listed as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places so that the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and the city of Portland can show that over 50% of the neighbors are in favor.

Protect Eastmoreland

If you are a Laurelhurst resident, let your voice be heard and join your neighbors against the destruction of Portland history and character. Please sign the petition (non-binding and not available to the public) so that the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association can gauge support for the Historic District designation before beginning the application process.

Protect Laurelhurst