The Importance of Architectural Surveys


City Planning Survey MapFor the first time in modern history, people are now moving back into urban areas in great numbers.  Much of this activity is now occurring in historic neighborhoods and downtown areas.  These areas are known for the quality of the buildings, walkable neighborhoods with a sense of place, and public areas with mature landscaping. Originally designed to be close to transportation and needed services, these areas have retained these attributes.

As planners, developers and architects begin to look at urban regions with renewed interest, they must first carry out an architectural survey of the existing resources in order to understand the existing buildings and infrastructure. Surveys typically include looking at all the buildings in an area and determining with ones might be historic or architecturally significant, and how they might be tied together geographically.  Completed surveys help planners, architects and developers understand where historic buildings are located, which buildings will require sensitivity when renovating, and how to best promote revitalization.  Historically significant buildings with potential for stimulating development may also be identified.  Surveys can also form the basis for changes to planning codes to encourage revitalization in these areas.

Palm Springs, California

Ball-Arnaz Residence, Palm Springs, CA, 1954 Modernist resident surveyed.Palm Springs is known for its extensive number of Modernist resources of every type, including residential, civic, and commercial. A citywide Historic Resources Survey was carried out in conjunction with the City’s Planning Department to catalog these resources, determine if there were potential historic districts and then to hold public workshops and educational sessions to inform citizens of the results. 200 properties were surveyed and identified as potential historic resources and more detailed records were prepared for fifty properties. The survey information was used to establish new historic districts and to promote the historic resources in Palm Springs. A series of public workshops and education sessions were used to further inform the public about the resources and their importance to Palm Springs. Bruce Judd oversaw and contributed to all aspects the project. Since the survey has been completed Palm Springs has become widely known for the number of modernist historic buildings. This in turn has lead to walking tours, motel packages featuring modernist buildings and a thriving real estate market.

Monterey, California

Monterey Custom House surveyed as part of project.The downtown area of Monterey, California is one of the most historic communities in California. The Old Town Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District (NHLD) in 1970, and includes some of the state’s most important buildings, many constructed of adobe. The buildings range from California’s Mexican and Early American period to 1940s and 1950s structures.

A new survey was completed of the larger downtown area that incorporates the NHLD. This survey resulted in expanding the district boundaries, including new contributors to the district, and refining the district’s period of significance.
In addition, other properties were identified outside the NHLD that were eligible for local landmark designation.
This new survey increased the public’s awareness of the variety of historic resources with in the city beyond the well known early settlement period. The new buildings included more recent vernacular cottages, Craftsman bungalows and mid-century modern buildings. Bruce Judd oversaw and directed the survey efforts for the City.
Monterey also developed financial assistance packages for homeowners including an active Mills Act Program. This program is a state law allowing cities to enter into contracts with owners of historic structures. The contract reduces property taxes in exchange for a commitment to preserve the property. Typically a Mills Act contract is for 10 years and the building owner agrees to use the tax savings to renovate and maintain the property.

City of Fresno: Chinatown

1882 View of Fresno, Chinatown area surveyed.The Chinatown area of Fresno was established in 1872, before there was a City of Fresno, which was founded in 1885. The area grew into a flourishing community that was known for its many long narrow structures, densely packed and facing onto small streets. By the 1880s, Fresno’s Chinatown was home to a flourishing Chinese community.  Over the years, underground tunnels and gambling dens were established.  As the city expanded, Chinatown withered and many of the buildings were torn down. Today the City is working to preserve what remains of the historic area while encouraging development to revitalize the area.  Prior to preparing plans for the neighborhood, an historic resources survey was conducted and an historic context statement was written describing the history and importance of the remaining resources. With the existing buildings surveyed, it was possible to create rehabilitation plans including financing, promotional materials and code assistance to stimulate revitalization. Bruce Judd oversaw the project and continues to work in Fresno.

Anaheim, California

Anaheim Downtown, 1922, surveyed as part of project.The City of Anaheim has worked since 1988, to survey their historic resources.  The City continues using the surveys to prepare a downtown redevelopment plan. The City used this plan as a framework to underground utilities, build parking structures, create public area improvements including sidewalk and planting improvements, assemble parcels for development, and provide financial assistance for renovation of historic structures in the area.  Financial assistance includes an active Mills Act Program (the third largest in California).

Anaheim also created a Citywide Preservation Plan including guidelines for renovation and criteria for designating buildings and districts.  The plan that was adopted by the City Council in 2010.

The first historic district established, the Anaheim Colony Historic District, surrounds the commercial core and was given additional special treatment to ensure that the historic buildings there would remain in place and be renovated.  Today the City has on-going preservation training for City staff and the public to ensure that renovation work will continue into the future. Bruce Judd worked with Anaheim beginning in 1988 for over twenty years on many projects including surveys and the preservation plan.

Bruce D. Judd, FAIA