Written by Julia Rocchi
Heart bombing: an idea born of love, affection, and untold amounts of construction paper. It's a bright, beautiful way to spotlight historic buildings, and this February, groups around the country wore their feelings on their sleeves for the places that matter to them.
Buffalo's Young Preservationists (BYP) introduced the heart bomb concept back in 2012 when they decided to showcase their love for abandoned and vacant historic buildings in their city by papering them with handmade Valentines. The project - simple, straightforward, and full of happy feelings - has caught on since then, with other cities chiming in to celebrate their own local loves.
This February, heart bombs happened in four different cities (plus a virtual one in Vermont). With songs in our heart and stars in our eyes, we reached out to the organizers to learn more about their events as well as to discover what places are making their hearts skip a beat right now - and why others should fall in love with them, too.
After hearing about Buffalo's heart bombing event, Cleveland's City Beautiful, a young professional group, and neighborhood community activists Neighbors in Action decided to host their own event on Sunday, February 9, to raise awareness about threatened Cleveland buildings.
About 20 Clevelanders gathered at City Beautiful's studios and professed their love for Cleveland's built environment. They then heart bombe" three different locations in the city: an 1890's mansion in the Slavic Village Neighborhood that has fallen into disrepair, the Gold Fish building in downtown Cleveland threatened with demolition, and Fifth Church of Christ Scientist in the Edgewater neighborhood, also threatened with demolition. (Watch this lovely video of their heart bomb event.)
As preservationists, we all know what it's like to try to convince others that our smaller local neighborhood landmarks are worth just as much as larger, more obvious ones. Although a designated City Landmark, Fifth Church hasn't felt love in decades, but for at least one afternoon, all eyes were on her.
Built in 1927, this beauty is threatened with demolition to provide parking for a new nearby development. Made of marble and Berea sandstone, it is the only octagonal church in Cleveland and the only domed structure on Cleveland's west side.
City Beautiful and Neighbors in Action have been trying desperately to save this beautiful landmark, investing hundreds of dollars creating site plans and promoting its reuse to developers and politicians. An interested developer has been found for a creative adaptive reuse, but those plans have not been approved by the city and might not be enough to save Fifth Church in time.
On February 1, 2014, Buffalo's Young Preservationists came together on a snowy afternoon for their third annual Heart Bomb campaign in Buffalo, N.Y. Over 40 members of all ages came together to create special, handmade Valentines that were then placed on five vacant and underutilized buildings throughout the city.
With messages like "love me, don't leave me," "buy me and fix me," and "love me tender," these valentines illustrates the community's appreciation for the craftsmanship, importance, and the history associated with these structures, even in their vacant and deteriorated state.
BYP's 2014 Heart Bomb campaign highlighted St. Ann's, a vacant gothic revival church in threat of demolition; Wildroot, a vacant daylight factory warehouse perfectly suitable for adaptive reuse; 27 Garner, a simple West Side double that is a current victim of 'demolition by neglect'; the former Agway Malting Warehouse, an industrial building currently under renovation by a responsible owner; and, last but not least, the Sattler Theatre, a historic East Side theater in desperate need of a new roof.
Many of these and other vacant structures throughout the City are trapped in what BYP has coined the "vacancy vortex" -- a type of 'purgatory' for historic buildings where countless obstacles keep them from receiving the much-need love and reinvestment they truly deserve. All five heart-bombed buildings have specific awareness campaigns, and advocates from BYP will be working hard and fast to help save each historic treasure from the excavator.
For their first year of heart bombing, PRC's Melioristica group chose vacant buildings in New Orleans that are in various stages of the blight mitigation process. They also encouraged neighborhood groups to heart bomb properties in their neighborhoods that are of particular concern to them.
There are properties in bad shape in just about every New Orleans neighborhood that still have great architectural detail and potential. Heart bombing is a way to remind the community that these buildings deserve a second chance and can not only catalyze aesthetic improvement in their neighborhoods, but also bring jobs to the community.
The group's favorite on its list this year was the Dixie Brewery building. Dixie has been a beloved fixture on Tulane Avenue since it was built in 1907, and was the only major brewery still operating in New Orleans when it was severely damaged following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and forced to close.
The red-brick German Romanesque building is located in the footprint of the new VA Hospital. Plans call for incorporating only the facade and the iconic Dixie tower into a new bioresearch facility, while the rest of the building will be demolished. Selective demolition to a later addition to the complex is currently underway.
Twin Cities, Minnesota
On February 10, 2014, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) affixed Valentines to a number of old buildings around the Twin Cities area, including a restaurant, a former brewery, and a once abandoned orphanage now being rehabilitated. The more than 500 Valentines were made by roughly 20 volunteers, and to kick off the initiative, PAM hosted a party at the brewery open to the public where they provided tours of the building.
One building worthy of love that not many people pay attention to is Gluek's, a favorite bar of Will O'Keefe, PAM's real estate program coordinator. Gluek's has a great interior and exterior right in the middle of downtown, and it's a super comfortable place. The location is remarkable in that it is surrounded by big, new development projects, but this building has remained.
As she writes, "Sometimes owners love their buildings, but simply cannot afford it or decide what to do. We all understand the feeling of being trapped, so it's not fair to blame the owner. Instead we need to offer support when appropriate. Ideas! Financing! Advice! And of course, listening. That might be the greatest help. Hearing the issues, the history, the concerns, the struggles -- that is important, too."
Would you like to host a heart bomb in your neighborhood, city, or state? Email us at editorial [at] savingplaces [dot] org, and we'll hook you up with more information!