In 1974, San Francisco Heritage (Heritage) accepted its first preservation easement: the “Nightingale House” at 201 Buchanan Street. Since that time, Heritage has received donations of over 60 permanent preservation easements, creating one of the largest preservation easement programs in the West. Some notable donations include the Gibb-Sanborn Warehouse (1885), which is one of a handful of structures surviving from the Gold Rush era, and the Vollmer House (1885), which barely escaped the 1906 fire.
To this day, Heritage is the only local organization in San Francisco with a program to receive, administer, and enforce preservation easements. In this capacity, Heritage is committed to exercise a long-term stewardship role for easement donors and their historic properties. Heritage is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Statewide and Local Partners network, an association of over 100 high-performing nonprofit preservation organizations from across the country, which provides us with access to best practices for easement administration and enforcement nationwide.
For further information on preservation easements and historic preservation, read architectural historian Anthony Robbins’ article, The Case for Preservation Easements: When Municipalities Fail to Protect Historic Properties
What is a Preservation Easement?
A preservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and Heritage to preserve and protect the building’s character-defining features in perpetuity. This legal instrument ensures the protection of architecturally and historically significant structures by limiting the owner’s right to demolish the building or to make destructive alterations. The basic premise of the preservation easement agreement requires the owner to seek pre-approval from Heritage for any significant change to features protected under its terms. When Heritage accepts a preservation easement, it receives the legal right to review and approve the design of proposed changes to the portions of the structure covered by the easement. All other rights and obligations of ownership, such as the right to sell or lease the property as well as the responsibility for maintenance, remain vested in the owner. To bind future owners of the property, a preservation easement runs with the title to the property.
For additional information on preservation easements, please see the National Trust Easement Resources webpage or contact Karalyn Monteil at 415-441-3000 x15.