What makes a structure historic?
Landmark designations are reserved for those structures, sites or features that have a special aesthetic, cultural, architectural, or engineering interest or value of an historic nature. Review and designation of a historic Point of Interest is merely recognition for historical purposes. The state of California provides guidelines to cities who want to establish their own Historic Preservation Ordinances, but the rules are their own and each of our local cities have their own points of view. In the unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County, the designation decision is made by the State. Obtaining historic status does not automatically enable the property owner to receive any of the incentives for preservation. When determining historic significance, the following questions need to be addressed:
Is the proposed Landmark particularly representative of a historic period, way of life, or type of business? For example, Casa de Rancho Cucamonga (Rains House) stands out as an example of the early settlement of this area. Euclid Avenue, basically from the Pomona Freeway (State Route 60) north to the mountains in the unincorporated area of San Antonio Heights, has been designated not only of local and state significance, but is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Is it older than most buildings of its kind or does it stand out as being an example of a type of structure that was once common but is now rare? The G.P. Ledig home in Rancho Cucamonga began as a folk Victorian grove farm house at a time when the Alta Loma area was covered by citrus groves.
Was the architect or engineer or the owner someone renowned? The Klusman house was constructed by John Klusman who established the Mission Winery (later known as the Virginia Dare Winery). The former St. Marks Episcopal Church we designed by Myron Hunt who also designed the Huntington Library in Sierra Madre.
Were the construction materials or engineering methods used in the proposed Landmark outstanding? The Cucamonga Methodist Church is a superb example of native rock construction.
Does it represent an established community feature or does it materially benefit the area in which it lies?
What does a Landmark designation do?
First, it fosters civic pride and helps us develop a sense of place and a sense of history. It also qualifies the owners to apply for use of the Mills Act Contract to lower property taxes. Other preservation incentives may include use of the flexible State Historic Building Code, tax advantages, grants for restoration or rehabilitation, and assistance from various historic preservation organizations. Landmark designation requires the review any significant material changes to the exterior of the structure or any demolition requests. Landmark designation does not prevent the owners from making changes, nor does it require review of painting or historically accurate repair in kind or interior changes. It does not mandate restoration nor does it require that the building be open to the public.
Uncovering the History of Your House
The following information is designed for properties in the communities of Upland, Ontario, Montclair, Mt. Baldy, and Rancho Cucamonga, which are all in San Bernardino County, California. If you are researching property outside this area, a comparable government agency to those listed here may be able to help you in your research.
Some useful guides on how to research the history of houses:
How Old is This House?: A Skeleton Key to Dating and Identifying Three Centuries of American Houses by Hugh Howard (Noonday Press, 1989)
Houses and Homes: Exploring Their History by Barbara Howe el al (American Association for State and Local History, 1987)
Major sources of information:
Historic Surveys or Inventories. Many cities have completed a survey of their historic resources, which can include a history of the house, a description of its current appearance, a photograph, location map, and references. The quality of these inventories can vary tremendously because they are often completed as a “survey”, thus the information may be incomplete or wrong. However, they are a good starting point because they often contain information (such as parcel numbers or references) that can help your search. The current status of historic surveys is:
Montclair: None completed.
Mt. Baldy: None completed.
Ontario: Completed in the 1980s. Available from the Model Colony Room of the Ontario City Library and possibly the Planning Department at Ontario City Hall.
Rancho Cucamonga: Completed in the 1990s, however, survey is not comprehensive and only selected properties are included. Available at the Planning Department at the Rancho Cucamonga City Hall.
Upland: Completed in the 1990s. Available from the Community Development Department at Upland City Hall or through the Reference Desk at the Upland Public Library.
San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office (now part of the Auditor’s Office). Track down a history of ownership by searching through deeds. You’ll need your property’s parcel number (you can find this on your property tax bill or from your city’s planning department) to find the most recent deed recorded on this property through an index at the Recorder’s Office. The deed will refer to a previous deed, and you’ll just work your way back in time through the deeds. Some of this history may also be included in your title insurance or mortgage documents. This method is a good starting point because it will provide you with names and dates which can point you in new directions. For example, a name can direct you to a will or probate record, which may contain a description of your house or a map of the property.
San Bernardino County Archives. Using your parcel number, you can trace the tax assessments to uncover the history of uses and improvements of your property. Major jumps in assessments may indicate new construction (such as a new house or citrus grove). You may also uncover if your house was part of a larger tract development, and the related maps can suggest when your house was built and what was nearby. Contact them at 1888 Commercenter West, Suite D, San Bernardino, CA 92415. Phone (909) 890-1713.
Local History Books. Prominent houses and people are often included in local histories, sometimes with photographs. Contact your local public library, or browse the shelves in our research library and gift shop
Local History Collections. Local museums and libraries often hold photographs and records for the people and places in their region. Some places to check are:
Cooper Regional History Museum primarily for properties in Upland, Ontario, and Rancho Cucamonga, but also Mt. Baldy and Montclair.
Model Colony Room at the Ontario City Library primarily for properties in Ontario, but also Upland, Montclair, Mt. Baldy, and Rancho Cucamonga.
Etiwanda Historical Society for properties in the northeast section of Rancho Cucamonga known as Etiwanda.
Upland Public Library for properties in Upland. Ask at the Reference Desk for the Local History Collection.
Architectural Style. The design of your house can suggest the era in which it was built.
A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester (Knopf: 1984).
Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms by John Blumenson (American Association for State and Local History, 1981).