What's the Difference? National Register (Bungalow) Districts vs. Chicago Landmarks
With our newly designated Hermosa Bungalow Historic District, now seems like a good time for a refresher on what it actually means to be part of a bungalow historic district.
You might be wondering what protections, and what restrictions, come with a historic district listing. We'll break it down here.
But first, did you know there are different kinds of historic district designations? There are local designations and national designations. In Chicago, districts that have a local designation are called Chicago Landmark Districts. Districts that are designated on a national level are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and referred to as "National Register Districts." Individual buildings, monuments, and sites can also receive local and national historic designations, but for our purposes, we'll only be talking about districts. There are also additional levels of designation, but these are the two you hear about the vast majority of the time.
Chicago Bungalow Historic Districts are always National Register Districts. They are not Chicago Landmark Districts, and there are big differences between the two designations.
Take a look at the frequently asked questions below for answers that explain the specific differences between National Register Districts and Chicago Landmark Districts:
National Register District vs. Chicago Landmark District
Q: What's do these designations mean?
National Register District: The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of our country's historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation. While a "national" listing may sound more restrictive than a "local" listing, properties and districts listed on the National Register are actually honorary designations without restrictions to homeowners (while Chicago Landmarks do require special reviews by a Commission). It is still a great honor to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and approval for the designation must come from local, state, and federal entities. All Chicago Bungalow Historic Districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Chicago Landmark District: A Chicago Landmark is a designation of historic buildings and other sites in Chicago made by the Mayor of Chicago and the City Council. Listed sites are selected after meeting a variety of criteria. Once a site is designated as a landmark, it is subject to the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance, which requires that any alterations beyond routine maintenance, up to and including demolition, must have their permit reviewed by the Landmarks Commission. Many Chicago Landmarks are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local landmark designation is much more difficult to attain than National Register designation.
Q: Are there restrictions to what I can do to my home?
National Register District: No. This is an honorary designation only. The worst that can happen is you will lose your honorary designation and any potential tax benefits (we'll explain those later) if you decide to pursue them while completing a large rehabilitation project. There are no legal or monetary penalties if you alter your home in a way that is not compatible with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, and no special reviews are required when you pull permits.
Chicago Landmark District: Yes. When a permit is pulled to work on your home, this will trigger a special review by the City Landmarks Commission. The Commission is responsible for reviewing any proposed alteration, demolition, or new construction affecting individual Chicago Landmarks or properties in Chicago Landmark Districts as part of the permit review process. There are fees and penalties for non-compliance.
Q: Is my home more protected with this designation?
National Register District: In short, no. While designation through the National Register does offer contributing* properties in a district some protections, special reviews only occur in cases where the threatening action involves the federal government. For example, if the federal government wanted to build a highway through a National Register District, the project would be flagged for a special review. If the federal government is not involved, then the National Register designation provides the property or district no legal protections.
*Even if your home is within the boundaries of a district, it may not technically be "contributing" to the district, and therefore not listed on the National Register. This is usually because your home was either constructed before or after the date parameters set in the nomination, or because it had been too altered at the time of the designation and didn't have sufficient historic integrity.
Chicago Landmark District: Yes. Local historic districts usually enjoy a high level of legal protection against any threats that may compromise their historic integrity because many land-use decisions are made at the local level. Building owners are required to comply with the local historic district ordinances.
Q: Are there benefits?
National Register District: Yes! Illinois has a Property Tax Assessment Freeze Program for certified historic properties, including contributing properties in both National Register Districts and local landmark districts. The program freezes property taxes over a 12-year period after the rehabilitation of the property. A minimum investment of 25% of the property’s market value, as determined by the County Assessor, is required. The building must also be owner-occupied.
Beyond this tax benefit, many people prefer the charm, walkability, durable construction, and stability in housing prices that come with living in a historic district. As a result, many realtors will specifically mention this designation in their listings as a bonus, which can help with real estate value.
Pride in place is another side effect of these designations. Many neighborhood groups become more aware of why their neighborhoods are an important part of the fabric of Chicago and work together to ensure their neighborhood remains architecturally cohesive.
Chicago Landmark District: Yes! Chicago Landmarks are eligible for the same tax freeze program explained above. In addition, there is a Permit Fee Waiver program through which the City of Chicago waives all building permit fees for buildings contributing to a Chicago Landmark District. Obtaining fee waivers requires prior application. For more information, call the Landmarks Division of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development at 312-744-3200. As an added bonus, local landmarks tend to retain and grow their property values more than non-historic homes and districts, and hold their value better during economic downturns.
Q: Where can I learn more?
National Register District: The National Park Service’s Homepage on the National Register
Chicago Landmark District: City of Chicago Landmarks Homepage
There's one last frequently asked question we want to address:
Why not have Chicago Bungalow Landmark Districts so that bungalows can be legally protected?
Because Chicago bungalows are so common in our city, they would not be eligible to receive Chicago Landmark designation except in very rare cases where they would be associated with a famous person or event.
Chicago bungalows are iconic and they have a social history so important to us—they grew, nurtured, and created better lives and opportunities for generations of immigrants and lifelong Chicagoans since the 1910s. But, there are 80,000 of them in the city and there is no path to include them as a local landmark district, which is reserved only for the most extraordinary and unique structures in our city.
While there is less protection that comes with a National Register District, it does allow for the flexibility so many of our homeowners need in order to stay in their homes, but who don't have the resources to ensure that every feature is preserved or restored.
Additionally, it is often times the block clubs and neighborhood groups that are the best protection against unwanted development on their streets, and nurturing pride in place through National Register designation is a step forward in this regard as well.
There is GREAT pride in place that comes with a National Register District and we are so happy to be able to uncover the rich history of our diverse neighborhoods through our research of these districts and to show our members that their neighborhoods are important and loved.
If you have a question about Bungalow Historic Districts, please feel free to contact our Preservation & Resiliency Specialist, Carla Bruni at firstname.lastname@example.org.