Districts & Historic Properties
Cambridge has two Historic Districts and four Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs). Learn more on the district homepages at left.
Individual properties can be protected by Preservation Easement or Landmark designation.
All demolition permit applications must be reviewed by staff and may require a hearing with the Historical Commission if the structure is more than 50 years old. Learn more about the Demolition Delay Ordinance here.
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is a federal and state planning tool, with limited local regulations.
Check an address using the MyCambridge tool or call us at 617-349-4683 to determine if a property is designated historic and has regulatory protections.
Frequently Asked Questions about Districts:
WHAT ARE HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS?
Historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review. Historic district ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities using powers granted by the state. Historic districts comprise the city's significant historic and architectural resources. Inclusion in a historic district signifies that a property contributes to an ensemble that is worth protecting by virtue of its historic importance or architectural quality. Historic districts deserve special protection because they enhance our shared quality of life.
Neighborhood Conservation Districts consist of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. There are four NCDs in Cambridge: Mid Cambridge, Half Crown-Marsh, Avon Hill, and Harvard Square. A different commission administers each of the four NCDs. These NCD commissions are empowered to approve new construction, demolition, and alterations that are visible from a public way. The establishment of an NCD recognizes the particular design and architectural qualities of special neighborhoods in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire city.
WHAT PURPOSE DO HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS SERVE?
These designations were created to preserve buildings that are architecturally and historically significant. The establishment of such districts and landmarks recognizes the particular historic and architectural qualities of neighborhoods and buildings in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire City.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HISTORIC DISTRICT AND A NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICT?
The regulations in the neighborhood conservation districts are tailored to the needs of the particular neighborhood and are often less strict than those in historic districts.
I'M THINKING ABOUT REPLACING MY WINDOWS. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE ME?
We have a brochure all about windows, their repair, and considerations you should think about before choosing a replacement.
WHAT TYPES OF CERTIFICATES ARE ISSUED BY THE HISTORICAL DEPARTMENT?
There are three types of certificates issued by the Historical Commission. A Certificate of Non-Applicability will be issued for work done in kind (work which matches existing conditions exactly), interior alterations, alterations not visible from any public way, and any other work which does not require review by the commission. These certificates are generally issued by the Historical Commission staff on-the-spot. A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued for alterations which the commission deems not incongruous to the character of the property in question. Occasionally, a Certificate of Hardship will be granted for work which is not otherwise appropriate if the commission determines that failure to approve an application would create a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, and that the work would not be a significant detriment to the property or district. One of these certificates is always necessary to obtain a building permit for work in a district or on a landmark.
DO I HAVE TO BRING MY BUILDING PERMIT APPLICATION TO THE HISTORICAL COMMISSION OFFICE EVEN IF THE PROPERTY IS NOT ON THE DESIGNATED PROPERTY LIST?
No, you only need to bring your building permit application to the Historical Commission Office if your property is subject to Historical Commission review. If your property is not on the list of properties under the jurisdiction of the Historical Commission, you will not have to bring the permit application to the Historical Commission office. Some alterations (such as fences, repointing, and gutters) in historic districts are subject to Commission review even if no building permit is required for the work.
DOES BEING IN A HISTORIC DISTRICT MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER CHANGE THE APPEARANCE OF MY PROPERTY?
No. Properties in historic districts are not frozen in time. Historic district protection is designed to ensure that when changes occur, they do not destroy the unique qualities of the district.