Stranded in Time: Protecting Properties Outside the Period of Significance in Existing Historic Districts

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MA in Historic Preservation

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Historic designation captures a judgment about the significance of historic places and their components at a particular moment in time. The classification of resources within a historic district as historically significant or insignificant, contributing or noncontributing, is made at the time of designation on the basis of association with the district's period of significance. Properties outside the period of significance receive a lower level of protection, despite their location in protected historic places. They are subject to alteration that destroys their integrity, as historic district regulations encourage assimilation to the dominant styles of the period of significance. Resources that later generations might come to appreciate as historically significant may, by reason of their status as outliers in older historic settings, not survive intact long enough to receive informed reevaluation. Such reassessment tends, in any case, to be a low priority in local preservation programs.Communities have options for improving the prospects that out-of-period properties will survive long enough to be reappraised for potential historic significance, and that reappraisal will take place. Design guidelines and the terms of new designations can be crafted in ways that recognize the integrity of the historic places as including varied styles. Periodic reassessment of older judgments of historic significance can be integrated into the preservation planning process. Creative application of newer concepts in the preservation field, including flexibility in the National Register criteria, can help built a public constituency for neglected out-of-period properties and thus motivate their eventual reevaluation.