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  • How State Historic Preservation Offices Say “Yes”
  • Erik Hein (bio)

“Better Check with the SHPO,” is a phrase many preservationists either hear or say on a regular basis. Of course, they are referring to the State Historic Preservation Offices that can be found in 59 states and territories as well as the District of Columbia. SHPOs are defined in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) as having specific responsibilities for our federal historic preservation program as well as for establishing their own state programs.

Their role is to say “yes” to owners and developers who want to rehabilitate properties in historically and architecturally appropriate ways; to citizens who want to see significant places recorded, recognized and preserved; and to federal agencies that make sure that their projects, the permits they issue or the grants they award are not used to destroy the places that matter to all of us.

SHPOs rely on the funding they receive from the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which they must match with their own state funds. Authorized and appropriated by Congress, the amount of HPF funding available is always subject to change, so the preservation community must be continually vigilant in advocating for funding support. As of this printing, the authorization for the HPF expired on September 30, 2015. There is now a broad legislative effort underway to ensure that our national commitment to historic preservation remains intact.


SHPOs are the product of a national historic preservation program that is unique to the United States. Rather than relying on a centralized, top-down or national “ministry” or some other government entity, our national program, defined by the NHPA, established a system whereby states and local governments would be required to have a voice in determining what historic resources were important in their communities. [End Page 58]

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Applicants for historic tax credits work closely with their SHPO to make sure their rehabilitation projects meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. One prominent tax credit success story is the Fox Theater in Oakland, California, which underwent a $70 million rehabilitation following a prolonged period of vacancy and deterioration.


SHPOs can be effective advocates for the protection of significant local and regional places because they are positioned to know what resources are important in their states. They maintain comprehensive survey information and are the official repositories of vast amounts of historical data, maps, artifacts and other materials that help tell the stories of the communities in their respective states. There is great variety from state to state not only in the volume of information but also in how this information can be acquired, stored, digitized and shared. Much depends on available funding but also on the types of resources in a state. For example, Western states frequently are more comprehensive in listing archaeological resources while Eastern states’ data sets contain more built resources.

Guiding all of the work of the SHPOs are State Preservation Plans, which are required as a condition of the federal funding SHPOs receive. These plans are far reaching and cover topics ranging from ensuring that diverse cultures are represented to addressing the potential impacts of flooding or other climate-related issues. They also describe how the SHPO will provide public education and outreach as well as technical assistance. To ensure that the plans reflect the concerns, priorities and values of many different communities, SHPOs actively seek public input and participation from diverse stakeholders. You can find copies of state plans on the National Park Service website at [End Page 59]

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State Historic Preservation Offices gather information about archeological resources as well as built heritage. Archeologists from the Texas Historical Commission, the SHPO, were excited to uncover, on a private ranch, French cannons buried by the Spanish at Fort Saint Louis in 1689.



Protecting the places that matter to their communities is sometimes difficult. In today’s challenging economic environment, funding sources for preservation...


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pp. 58-63
Launched on MUSE
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