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Sonoma County Historic Resources

About the Historic Preservation Program

Photo of Oldest stone winery in California, Built by Count Agostan Haraszthy in 1857. Old photo of view of Occidental, California

Protecting the County’s Unique Sense of Place

The first document prepared by the County of Sonoma on preserving historic resources is the "Historic Preservation Program: Sonoma County General Plan Technical Report" dated 1976. It defined historic preservation by explaining the basis for it, what it encompasses, and its value to County communities:

"In recent years the scope of historic preservation has expanded to protect remnants of what has happened in the lives and development of a people or society, whether it be at the national, state, or local level. At the local level, historic preservation can be applied to assist communities in the understanding and protection of their special heritage.

The Sonoma County landscape contains many unique features that make it an outstanding part of the California landscape. The great variety of landscapes found within Sonoma County have provided the setting for a wide range of economic and cultural activities throughout its history. The result is a landscape fabric of rich historical texture, an integral part of the environment needing understanding and protection.

Historic preservation is more than just preserving sites and structures associated with the lives of national patriots, statesmen, and other heroes of past eras; historic preservation encompasses more than Sonoma County’s Fort Ross, Petaluma Adobe, or Vallejo’s Lachyra Montis Home. It is more than just saving old buildings, putting them to practical use, if appropriate, and establishing criteria for creating an historic district so that the traditional design fabric of a community is sustained. In many instances, particularly in the conservation of structures, it makes good sense to rehabilitate buildings or to readapt old structures to new uses.

A fundamental basis for historic preservation is that the retention of the best of the past serves as a constant reminder of our heritage and development. Identity and pride are strengthened when a community’s history is interwoven with its developing fabric. The value of preservation, therefore, can be measured in economic as well as social terms."

40+ Years of Historic Preservation in Sonoma County

In 1973, the Board of Supervisors received a request by petition from 22 Freestone property owners to establish a Historic District in Freestone, and to designate specific individual buildings as historic structures contributory to the Historic District, similar to the State of California historic preservation program. However, at the time a zoning classification for Historic District did not exist in the County Zoning Ordinance.

On April 23, 1974, the County established a program and administrative procedures for designating Historic Landmarks and Historic Districts through “Historic District” (HD) zoning under the Historic Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance No.1768). This ordinance also established the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission.

"Article XXVI(A). Historic Districts.
Section 26-192.1. Intent and Purpose. The Board of Supervisors finds and declares that the preservation of structures, sites, and areas of historical, architectural and aesthetic interest promotes the general welfare of the citizens of Sonoma County. The purpose if this district is to protect those structures, sites, and areas that are reminders of past eras, events and persons important in local, state, or national history, or which provide significant examples of architectural styles of the past, or which are unique and irreplaceable assets to the county and its communities, or which provide for this and further generations examples of the physical surroundings in which past generations lived, so that they may serve an educational and cultural function for the citizens of Sonoma County and for the general public."

In Sonoma County HD zoning is a "combining zoning district", meaning that it is a zoning classification applied in combination with the base zoning on a parcel. HD zoning does not change allowed land uses.

Sonoma County’s first survey of historic resources began in fall 1972, when the Planning Department began coordinating with geography faculty and students at Sonoma State College to conduct a Historic Resources Inventory. Work on the Inventory expanded during the 1974-1975 academic year to include geography and history faculty and students. The communities surveyed as part of the Historic Resources Inventory were:

  1. Glen Ellen and Kenwood
  2. Bodega, Bloomfield, Valley Ford, and Two Rock
  3. South Sonoma Valley
  4. Cloverdale, Geyserville, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg
  5. Petaluma

Survey results were recorded on special forms that included the following for each property: a location map, a photograph, information on architectural and historical significance, a description of the condition of existing buildings, Assessor's Parcel Number (APN) and zoning, and owner name and address. About 500 properties were on this initial Historic Resources Inventory.

In January 1975, the County established the Historic Preservation Technical Advisory Committee, the major task of which was to review and elaborate on the raw data in the initial 1972-1975 Historic Resources Inventory, and identify areas suitable for preservation and future designation as Historic Structures or Historic Districts. The Technical Advisory Committee worked with representatives from these communities over several meetings to develop a list of historic structures and areas appropriate for preservation. The list was incomplete because many areas of the County had not been surveyed.

The Technical Advisory Committee published the "Historic Preservation Program: General Plan Technical Report" in 1976. It documented the County’s historic preservation activities to date, established the importance of design review in historic preservation, discussed how design review worked, and provided a list of historic sites and structures proposed for preservation.

Since that time, more than 3,000 additional surveys have been added to Sonoma County’s Historic Resource Inventory. The Historic Resources Inventory contains resources that have been designated as historically significant at the local, state or federal levels; as well as those that are potentially eligible.

Today’s General Plan Program for Historic Preservation

The Sonoma County General Plan contains a policy framework for historic preservation which calls for a program including the following:

  • Develop a historic resources protection program that provides for an ongoing process of updating the inventory of historic resources. Such a program should include: (1) Periodic historic building surveys, (2) Formalized recognition of the inventory of historic resources as recommended by the State Office of Historic Preservation, including rezoning to the Historic Combining District (HD), and (3) Procedures for the protection of recognized historic resources for both ministerial and discretionary permits.
  • Designate the County Landmarks Commission to administer a preservation program for stabilization, rehabilitation, and restoration of historic structures.
  • Designate the County Landmarks Commission to review projects within designated historic districts.
  • Refer applications that involve the removal, destruction or alteration of a structure or cemetery identified in a historic building survey to the Landmarks Commission for mitigation. Measures may include reuse, relocation, or photo documentation.
  • The County Landmarks Commission shall review Historic Building Surveys and make recommendations for designation of structures or cemeteries as County landmarks.
  • Pursue grant funding for the preparation and updating of historic resource inventories.

More information about the implementation of the General Plan’s Historic Preservation Program can be found here:

Contact Information

Brian Keefer
Planner III
Contact us by Phone
2550 Ventura Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
38.46514, -122.723671

Landmarks Commission

Designates historic landmarks, reviews historic property development proposals, and administers the Historic Preservation Program.

More Information


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