Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Cities for Historic Preservation

It's not a new way of thinking. The idea of preserving historic buildings and a city's foundational essence goes back hundreds of years. What has changed is the sense of urgency that residents and city leaders across the country now have about keeping their towns from looking like every other town. With this in mind, Livability set out to determine the Top 10 Cities for Historic Preservation.

Many cities face increasing pressure to tear down old schools, factories and homes to make way for more modern structures. But there are communities that have challenged the notion new is better and strive to keep the look and feel that drew residents to their towns in the first place. On this list you'll find some of the best examples of preservation, from cities that have set the standard to towns that have recently begun efforts to protect and restore historic areas.

Before setting out to identify the best cities for historic preservation, we consulted with experts in the field, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They helped us develop criteria to measure how well cities have done. We looked for cities that have a large number of properties on the National Register of Historic Places, offer incentives for maintaining and rehabilitating historic structures, and have active preservation groups. We also considered cities on the cusp of achieving great success by reinvesting in their historic areas. What we found were places where residents and government officials have demonstrated a commitment to protecting historic buildings and, to a greater extent, what makes their cities unique.

"[Cities that preserve historic structures] are very pedestrian friendly because of how they were designed," says Barbara Pahl, vice president for western field offices at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "They are more sustainable hold a high aesthetic value and environmental value. We've learned that communities like these have an economic factor. These are places people want to be in. People want to visit them. People want to move back into these areas."

Pahl added that historic preservation is "good for your soul" and the environment.

From Santa Fe, NM, home to the oldest government building in the country, to Charleston, SC. which has the oldest preservation group, the cities on this list are all focused on stimulating their economies and raising the quality of life for their residents by protecting their past.

Ranking Criteria
Number of properties on the National Register of Historic Places
Incentives offered for maintaining or rehabilitating historic structures
Local Government Investment in historic areas
Sustainable building practices
  • 10

    Victoria , TX

    Population: 65,303
    J. Kyle Keener

    Community leaders have recently taken a big step toward restoring and revitalizing Victoria, TX's historic downtown. The city created a Main Street Program, which focuses on beautifying portions of downtown and restoring some of its most historic buildings.

    The museums, art galleries and theaters in Victoria are strongly supported. Many historians believe Victoria is the starting point Texas history. The city has more than 100 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Victoria County Courthouse, which faced demolition in 1994. The original courthouse was built in 1892. Throughout the years additions were made, but in 1994 it had fallen into disrepair. The city held a vote to see if citizens were in favor of spending more than $4 million to restore the courthouse. That measure passed with a majority of voters in favor of the restoration.

    Victoria Preservation Inc. is leading the call for protection of the city's historic properties. The group has focused its efforts on educating citizens about the benefits of saving old structures and retaining the character of the city, which was founded in 1839.

    "This is a very strong property rights state," Dunnam says. "People don't like to be told what they can and can't do with their property, but there are a lot of people who do support historic preservation. We had 83 percent of voters vote for the restoration of the courthouse."

    The Junior League of Victoria restored its building, which was constructed in 1895, and Fossati's Delicatessen, located in a structure that dates to 1895, is the oldest deli in the state and one of the oldest restaurants in the country.

    Number of Properties on the National Register of Historic Places (including districts): 113

    Historic Landmarks: De Leon Plaza (1890), St. Mary's Catholic Church (1904), Fossati's Deli (1895)