Commercial Properties from 1945 to 1980: Guidance for State DOTs and Their Partners for Historic Context Development, Identification, and Evaluation

Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), when a transportation project involves federal funding, licensing, or permitting, transportation agencies must identify and evaluate properties affected by the project for eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (National Register). Rapid development in the United States from 1945 to 1980 created a vast number of properties in urban, suburban, and rural areas, whose contributions to social and architectural history need to be evaluated under the NHPA. Because of the large number of properties dating from this postwar era, state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies must dedicate considerable staff and other resources to meet these evaluation requirements. NCHRP Report 723: Model for Identifying and Evaluating the Historic Significance of Post-World War II Housing provided a national historic context and National Register eligibility guidelines for postwar houses and residential subdivisions. However, postwar development also included commercial development: gas stations, shopping centers, drug stores, office buildings, restaurants, and other non-residential properties. The diverse forms of these property types reflect the various trends of the period. For example, from 1945 to 1960, rapid, automobile-oriented suburbanization prompted the construction of drive-up and drive-thru restaurants. The energy crisis of the 1970s influenced commercial design forms and materials choices. Many commercial properties built from 1945 to 1980 were completed by major architectural firms or by companies that produced innovative new materials and construction methods, thus reflecting the nation’s architectural, social, and cultural heritage. Even more properties were constructed using locally derived designs and materials (e.g., small, single story, cinder block grocery stores). These vernacular properties can also be significant when they represent a common architectural form or contribute to historic districts. Apart from potential historic eligibility, postwar commercial properties are valued resources in many communities. Despite the widespread construction of commercial properties after 1945, there is very little guidance on how to consistently evaluate the potential significance of these properties. As a result, evaluations require significant time and staff resources. Inconsistent approaches also provide regulatory partners with inconsistent information, which means more time may be needed to complete consultation, resulting in project delays. Further, the volume of postwar property evaluations can be overwhelming for state DOTs, FHWA division offices, state historic preservation officers (SHPOs), and tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs). Research is needed to provide state DOTs with a structured, replicable methodology to determine eligibility of postwar commercial properties for listing in the National Register. Practitioner-ready guidance will help streamline project delivery by reducing duplicative effort and providing regulatory partners with consistent and complete information, thus strengthening the collaborative relationship between state DOTs and their regulatory partners (SHPOs and THPOs) and other stakeholders. The objectives of this research are to develop guidance that state DOTs, SHPOs, THPOs, and other partners can use to prepare historic contexts for common commercial property types built between 1945 and 1980; and to identify and evaluate the eligibility and ineligibility of these property types for the National Register for compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA. The guidance will describe major national and regional trends that shaped commercial property development from 1945 to 1980; sources and data needed to develop a historic context for these property types; and how to apply National Register criteria and evaluate integrity for individual properties and historic districts. The research will include a pilot study to demonstrate the utility of the guidance.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $300000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 25-58

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Hartell, Ann

  • Start Date: 20190319
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01672249
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 25-58
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Jun 18 2018 3:03PM