published Friday, December 18th, 2009

Honoring local landmarks

The addition of three Chattanooga sites to the National Register of Historic Places acknowledges the prominent role each has played in the community. Engel Stadium, First Presbyterian Church and the Clarence T. Jones Observatory were among seven structures in Tennessee added to the register earlier this month. Inclusion on the list recognizes the historical value of the properties and serves as a potent reminder that the sites are worthy of preservation.

Listing on the national register doesn't protect a building or site from development or demolition. Nevertheless, the designation does serve a purpose and provide tangible benefits. In some instances, it allows the property's owner to seek federal tax credits for rehabilitation projects. It also reminds the community that there is a cultural gem in its midst. The latter is certainly the case with the trio of local sites added to the list.

Engel Stadium and the Jones Observatory currently are affiliated with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, though each played vital roles for generations of Chattanooga before the present association. The stadium, designed and built by Chattanoogans, opened in 1930 and served as home to the Chattanooga Lookouts for more than half a century. It was named for Lookouts' owner Joe Engel, whose love of baseball and untiring efforts to promote his team and his town made him a leading citizen here and earned him a national reputation as a sports promoter and entrepreneur.

The stadium is no longer home to the Lookouts -- the team moved to a stadium in the heart of downtown -- but it remains active, playing host to various high school and college teams. The Jones observatory continues to serve students and the broader community, as well.

The observatory was designed by its namesake and was built for the city's public school system in 1936 using federal funds. It was turned over to the University of Chattanooga, now UTC, in 1944. The school then added astronomy to its course offerings and often opened the facility to the general public. Many area residents still can remember the first time they visited the observatory and got their first glimpse of the heavens through a telescope.

First Presbyterian Church, a fixture on McCallie Avenue for a century, has roots that extend to Chattanooga's earliest days. Its members have long been prominent in the community and its ministry continues to serve not only congregants but others as well. The inclusion of the church on the registry affirms its place in the religious life of the city and region.

The trio of local buildings and structures just added to the national register are quite different in purpose and architecture, but are united by the influential roles they continue to play in the life of Chattanooga and the region. Their designation and their presence are reminders, as well, of the continuing need to protect and preserve important cultural, historical and religious landmarks. Chattanooga is doing a better job of doing that of late, but far too many places of similar importance have been razed in the name of so-called progress over the years.

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