Historic Preservation

Historic Alexandria is a treasure trove of early buildings that creates a unique way of life for its citizens and provides enjoyment for thousands of people who visit this special community every year. There are more than 200 structures in Alexandria that were built before 1820--most of them in Old Town.

Page updated on Jun 16, 2021 at 12:17 PM

Alexandria Streetscape imageHistoric Preservation in Alexandria

There are only a few other communities in the United States that have as many existing examples of Georgian and Federal period architecture. Each Alexandria homeowner has the privilege and obligation of preserving the historic character of our town and the beauty of its architectural heritage.

Archaeology and Preservation

Alexandria Archaeology’s preservation activities include review of development projects and building permits to determine their impact on archaeological resources. The Archaeological Protection Code and Metal Detecting Ordinance, and the work of Alexandria Archaeology in research, survey and excavation, help to preserve the City's past for future generations. City archaeologists work with volunteers in this endeavor. Also learn about State and Federal laws regarding archaeological preservation.

Preservation Easements

A preservation easement is a means by which the owner of historic property can be assured of continued preservation after the property passes from his or her stewardship. Preservation easements also enable owners to realize significant federal, state, and local tax savings.

Through the easement program, a private owner has the opportunity to guarantee the perpetual protection of an important historic resource without giving up ownership, use, or enjoyment of the property. The resource remains in private hands and on the tax rolls, but its existence and sympathetic treatment are secured for the benefit of future generations. Furthermore, the current and future owners of the property may be able to take advantage of significant financial benefits associated with easement donation.

Historic Alexandria Foundation Plaque image
Historic Alexandria Association plaque

Plaqued Houses

The Historic Alexandria Foundation was incorporated in 1954 “to preserve, protect and restore structures of historic and architectural interest in and associated with the City of Alexandria, Virginia, to preserve antiquities and generally to foster and promote interest in Alexandria’s heritage.” The Foundation has many important programs, including plaquing historic homes, providing grants for historic preservation, providing information and legal assistance for the donation of easements, and providing assistance to homeowners in caring for their historic properties. The Foundation depends upon volunteers to carry out many of its activities.

The Plaquing program was initiated during the era of Federal urban renewal programs, which threatened demolition of the oldest parts of the city. In addition to the bronze plaques, intense lobbying by the Historic Alexandria Foundation and the Old Town Civic Association served to limit the advance of Urban Renewal destruction in the 1960s to three blocks along King Street, and today historic homes and shops are being restored instead of demolished.

The program continues today, with additional structures judged on their merits for inclusion within the ranks of plaqued houses. If you think your house merits a bronze plaque, contact the  Historic Alexandria Foundation or the  Office of Historic Alexandria to learn more about this program.

Historic District Map thumbnail image
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Historic Districts and the Board of Architectural Review

Old and Historic District, designated in 1946, was the third historic district in the United States, after Charleston and New Orleans. The historic African American community known as Uptown was designated as the Parker-Gray Historic District in 1984, and in 2008 was approved for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register. It is expected to join the Old and Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The facades of Alexandria's historic houses and other buildings are protected by law. In the years since the establishment of the Historic Districts and the architectural review process, many valuable structures have been saved from demolition and inappropriate alteration. Owners wishing to make exterior changes to buildings in the Old and Historic District and the Parker-Gray District must present their plans for approval to the  Board of Architectural Review in the Department of Planning and Zoning. Owners should contact preservation staff at the earliest stage of their project. The Planning Department can provide useful information, including a list of preservation-related contractors who have worked in the historic districts.

National Historic Landmarks

National Historic Landmarks are buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects that have been determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be nationally significant in American history and culture. This program is administered by the National Park Service In Alexandria. The Alexandria Historic District,  Gadsby’s Tavern,  the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary ShopChrist Church and the  Gerald R. Ford, Jr. House have been designated as National Historic Landmarks. Other examples of Landmarks that illustrate important contributions to the Nation's historical development include Mount Vernon, Pearl Harbor, the Apollo Mission Control Center, Alcatraz, and the Martin Luther King Birthplace.

Nationally significant properties help us understand the history of the Nation and illustrate the nationwide impact of events or persons associated with the property, its architectural type or style, or information potential. A nationally significant property is of exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme in the history of the Nation. Additional properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places are primarily of State and local significance.

National Register Sites

More than 40 Alexandria districts, sites, buildings and structures and six Historic Districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the United States of America's official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. The National Park Service maintains this register of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. These places contribute to the understanding of the historical and cultural journey of this Nation. Today, the National Register consists of more than 65,000 properties, with approximately 1,800 properties added annually.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

Section 106 is the portion of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) that is concerned with Federal undertakings (projects, activities, or programs either funded, permitted, licensed, or approved by a Federal Agency). The documentation of the history and architecture of the Ramsey Homes, an example of early public housing in Alexandria, was undertaken as part of this historic preservation process.

Equity in Preservation Panel Discussion 

Originally presented May 27 2021

The panel discussion features three professionals with deep expertise in this timely and important topic. John Sprinkle, Bureau Historian for the National Park Service, will open the session with a discussion on historic preservation and neighborhood conservation, specifically focusing on displacement, urban violence, and architectural survey in Alexandria. Purvi Irwin, Practice Manager for Architecture at CADD Microsystems, will then discuss new approaches to include diversity and inclusion in the preservation field while preserving our past for the future. Both Mr. Sprinkle and Ms. Irwin serve on the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review. Finally, Jaqueline Tucker, Race and Society Equity Office in the City Manager’s Office, will examine ways to operationalize diversity and equity in Alexandria.

Oral History: The Historic Preservation Movement

One focus of Alexandria Legacies, Historic Alexandria's Oral History program, has been to interview some of Alexandria's leaders in historic preservation.

Area Historic Preservation Resources

“Is this siding original?” 
“I’ve got to replace these old windows...” 
“I wonder if they’ll let me add a family room to this house.” 
“Where do I find someone good to repair this old brick wall?” 

Depending on what your needs are in tackling historic preservation issues with a certain property or building, there are a number of resources in this area that may be of use to you. Keep in mind that historic preservation has many benefits... aesthetic, educational, and financial just to name a few... but that it is also a process which is regulated by legal codes and guidelines in most areas. Gathering information on your options and the process is always the best place to start.

City Resources 

State Resources

Federal Resources 

More Resources