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Resource Center > Preservation in Baltimore > Historic Designations

Historic Designations: Federal, State, and Local Levels of Recognition and Protection

The architectural character of Baltimore is rich and unique, revealing the city’s vibrant past and its special role in telling the nation’s story. Many of Baltimore’s buildings and neighborhoods have been designated as historic to honor and protect connections to the city’s heritage. In Baltimore, designations are made at the federal, state, and local level. Each level of designation provides distinct benefits, but all work to help the city—its elected officials, agency staff, and citizens—ensure current and future generations understand Baltimore’s importance to the nation. 

The National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places is the federal government’s inventory of historic structures. Ran by the National Park Service in cooperation with the states, the National Register is used to identify, evaluate, and inventory historically important buildings, sites, districts, and structures.

Listing in the National Register is primarily honorary. Contrary to popular belief, the designation does not carry restrictions to individual property owners. Listing does provide some protection from government action (such as the demolition of a structure to build a federal highway).

Both individual structures and entire districts can be listed in the National Register. To encourage preservation of historic buildings, various financial incentives are available for properties individually listed or that contribute to a historic district. Income tax credits, grants, easements, and low-interest loans may be available for the rehabilitation and preservation of structures meeting specific federal guidelines. (The benefits only apply to income-producing properties; private residences do not qualify.)

There are more than 150 individually listed properties and 42 National Register-listed districts located within the boundaries of the heritage area. Notable listed properties include Baltimore icons, such as the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, Union Baptist Church, and the Belvedere Hotel. Historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places include Fell’s Point, Old West Baltimore, Locust Point, and Waverly.

Visit to learn more about the National Register of Historic Places.


National Historic Landmarks

Places listed in the National Register of Historic Places do not have to be nationally significant; the register includes sites and structures of local and state significance. The National Historic Landmark designation is reserved for places recognized as nationally significant and exceptional in both quality and importance. Like with National Register properties and districts, the designation does not carry restrictions for property owners. It does provide protection from government action.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the Apollo Mission Control Center in Texas are well-known National Historic Landmarks. There are 24 National Historic Landmarks (LINK) located within the heritage area, including the USS Constellation, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and the Baltimore Basilica.

Visit to learn more about the National Historic Landmark program.


Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

Similar to the National Register of Historic Places, the state of Maryland maintains an inventory of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of historical significance. The Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) contains information on more than 8,000 archeological sites and 100,000 historic and architectural resources. Like the National Register, inclusion in the inventory does not carry any restrictions or controls on property owners. The Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency dedicating to preserving and interpreting Maryland history, manages the MIHP.

Visit for more information on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.


City Landmarks and Historic Districts

Along with 1,200 other communities in the United States, the City of Baltimore works to protect and preserve its historic structures through a local preservation ordinance. Baltimore’s preservation ordinance was implemented in 1964, making it one of the earliest in the nation.

The local historic district designation helps neighborhoods preserve their unique character. Rather than a “top down” approach, designation is typically driven by a neighborhood-based initiative. The community works with the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) to determine borders and other considerations. Local historic district designation is formalized by an act of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. 

The local designation provides the strongest levels of protection. CHAP reviews proposed exterior changes to ensure that changes do not alter the character of the neighborhood reviews. New development and demolition is also carefully reviewed. The designation does not limit property use or restrictions of sales, nor does it lead to any automatic increase in property taxes. (Property tax increases are based on property values and are determined independently.)

To encourage the preservation of historic structures, various financial incentives are available for properties contributing to a historic district, including local and state tax credit programs for both income-producing properties and residential-use properties.

The city’s program of designating landmarks began in 1971. Landmarks are individual, historically significant structures that provide a connection to Baltimore’s past. Modeled closely on the criteria for the National Register of Historic Places, Baltimore City landmarks are associated with Baltimore history or significant Baltimore people, architecturally distinctive, and/or may have archeological value. The landmark designation provides the same honors, protections, and eligibilities afforded to contributing properties in local historic districts. In 2009, the program expanded to include interior landmark designations.

Baltimore City Hall was the first building designated as a city landmark.  Other notable designated landmarks in Baltimore include the birthplace of Babe Ruth, the Patterson Park Observatory (the pagoda), Mount Auburn Cemetery, Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and both the exterior and interior of the Senator Theatre.

To learn more about local designation, as well as detailed information on how preservation works in Baltimore, visit the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation website.

Misconceptions About Historic Districts

The designation of a property in either a National Register or city-designated district does not raise the property tax on any particular property. Property tax increases are based on property values and determined independently.

Property owners are not required to make costly renovations but must maintain and repair their private property in accordance with stated building codes. The local and Federal agencies cannot mandate any costly renovations.

The CHAP historic district design review and permit process is not expensive, time consuming, or difficult. The design review can be processed in a few days. Permit fees usually range from $15 to $50, depending on the type of project. Paint permits are free, and staff works with the applicants to make everything moves as quickly as possible.

Neither type of historic district can restrict the use or sale of a property; that is predetermined through local zoning ordinances.

Source: CHAP/City of Baltimore

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