Eye on history: City inspector guides preservation efforts in five historic districts

Eye on history: City inspector guides preservation efforts in five historic districts

September 15th, 2009 by Anne Braly in Entertainment

Jenny Shugart's career is steeped in history. As historic preservation planner for the Department of Public Works' Land Development Office, she oversees the buildings and homes in four historic districts -- St. Elmo, Ferger Place, Battery Place and Fort Wood -- and one historic commercial district, Chattanooga's North Shore.

When a home or business owner has plans for exterior work on a structure, they first must call Ms. Shugart, who will make a site visit and discuss the plans with them. She will either approve them herself or send them for committee approval.

"At first, some of the workmen would just look at me funny and ask themselves, 'What's that blonde doing on the worksite?' Some others thought I was there to buy the building or house."

Q: What does it do for a city when important buildings are restored rather than removed?

A: It increases property values; aides in attracting tourism; aides in job creation because restoration tends to be more labor-intensive than new construction; aides in a city's goal of being environmentally friendly because preservation is the ultimate recycling; and establishes a city's unique identity.

Q: What spurred your interest in historic preservation?

A: I've always had an interest in architecture, but my interest in preservation comes partly from my dad's interest in working on the houses we lived in while I was growing up. My interest continued to develop while working with an architect in Connecticut who worked on older residential properties from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Q: Have Chattanoogans embraced the idea of preserving the city's architectural history?

A: The city has lost many historically important buildings over the years, but people are becoming aware that good stewardship of our city -- its resources and history -- includes taking care of, renovating and reusing our older building stock.

Q: Which area of town has witnessed the most dramatic change?

A: Downtown Chattanooga as a whole has seen amazing changes over the past couple of decades, but within the historic districts, probably Fort Wood and St. Elmo are running a very close second right now.

Q: Is Chattanooga an example of urban renewal and preservation of which other cities are taking note?

A: The world has definitely taken notice of how Chattanooga has revitalized itself. People visiting from around the world, mountains of newspaper and magazine articles, a myriad of 'best' lists and our preservation efforts are noticed within this context.

Q: What buildings in town do you think have the some of the most interesting designs?

A: The Visitors Center next to the Tennessee Aquarium is a nod to the warehouses that used to be in that area. The downtown churches are all wonderful. The Chattanooga Plow House, Clearstory, the Greenlife complex, Dome Building, the Business Development Center, Chattanooga Bank Building, the Choo Choo, the car barns, the old brick apartment buildings around town. But mostly I like the way it all looks together at night when coming into town from any of the ridges or mountains -- a jewel box.

About her

Name: Jenny Shugart

Hometown: Chattanooga

Education: B.S. in business administration, master's degree in urban planning from University of Tennessee Knoxville.

What's the most fun part of your job?

Helping property owners come up with solutions that fit their requirements while keeping within the guidelines.

What's the last book you read?

"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson.