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  • Writer's pictureDante Mazza

What Are California State Historical Landmarks?

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

The California State Historical Landmarks program is managed by the California Office of Historic Preservation. These are buildings, sites, structures, and objects deemed by the state to be important to the history of California. Tracing its roots all the way back to the 1895 formation of the Landmarks Club in Los Angeles, the program has greatly developed over time.

1931 legislation required the State Department of Natural Resources to "register and mark buildings of historical interest or landmarks," and the first 20 landmarks were officially designated in 1932. In 1949, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee, which is now known as the State Historical Resources Commission, to oversee the landmark nomination and designation process. Early landmarks had sometimes been dedicated based on only local legend or tradition, and the historic integrity of the program had been in question.

Landmarks numbered 770 and above have been subject to further scrutiny and must meet at least one of the following criteria set by OHP:

  • "The first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region (Northern, Central, or Southern California)

  • Associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California.

  • A prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best-surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder."

Some of these later landmarks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a select few are National Historic Landmarks as well.

Today there are over 1,000 California State Historical Landmarks across each of California's 52 counties. They can be marked by an official state plaque (usually featuring a bear, as seen in the example below), a private plaque placed by a different historic preservation organization, or no plaque at all. In some cases, there may be a building or structure and no plaque, and in a select few situations, there may be absolutely nothing to commemorate a landmark that has long since been lost to subsequent development. Landmarks near major state roads or highways often have official directional signs indicating their location.

You can review the California State Historical Landmarks on this site through their tags. Each Landmark entry is tagged with the city and county of its location, whether it is a building, site, structure, or object, the area of its significance (education, military, exploration, etc), and whether it has an "official state plaque" "private plaque" or "no plaque." Gold Rush-related landmarks are specially tagged as they are in the guidebook. Selecting any of these tags in the right sidebar of the main blog page will populate a list of all relevant entries.

For Further Information:

Buy the Official California State Historical Landmarks Guidebook! My worn and torn copy of this handy guide has accompanied me on landmark hunting trips up and down the state. Features listings by county with short statement of significance and location.

CHS Plaque


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