WHEELING - Enthusiastic young people are showing their love for old buildings in downtown Wheeling with special Valentines this week.
Representatives of several local organizations are doing some "lovescaping" today, Feb. 10, by affixing handmade hearts and messages of love to selected structures in the downtown area. The Valentines are expected to remain on display all week to call attention to architectural treasures in our midst.
Spearheading the initiative are members of a newly-formed organization called the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists. Owners of approximately 21 buildings in downtown Wheeling have agreed to allow the volunteers to hang hearts and decorations, said Elizabeth Paulhus, coordinator of the project for the Young Preservationists.
Photos by Linda Comins
Ohio Valley Young Preservationists member Patricia Croft paints a cardboard crown for the former King’s Jewelers building. Crowns and diamond shapes are incorporated in the “love” signs for the now-vacant site.
"I think it is important to note that just because an older building is not decorated, does not mean that we do not love it," Paulhus, a Wheeling resident, said. "There were many more that we wanted to lovescape, but needed to keep this to a manageable size for our inaugural effort.
"In the end, we focused on buildings on Main and Market between 10th and 14th streets. Even within these blocks, there were many that we simply could not include this time. We hope that next year's effort will include many more buildings and many more groups," she added.
Besides the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists, other groups that are participating in the effort include Ohio Valley Handmade, Belmont College's building preservation and restoration students, Children's Museum of the Ohio Valley (with help from Wheeling Country Day School students), several members of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission, Greg and Debi Smith, Ryan Stanton's history students at Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., Dr. Leslie Liedel and family, Melissa Saville and family, and Wheeling Jesuit University students.
Participants from Wheeling Jesuit include students living in the Mother Jones House, the HESS program students, some art students, Students for Life, and Youth Rebuilding the Ohio Valley.
In preparation for today's "lovescaping," a number of the groups conducted special sessions to create hearts and signs to display. The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists gathered on the third floor of the Wheeling Artisan Center to make their artistic contributions. Jesuit students assembled on campus to make heart-shaped decorations.
Erin Markan said the Ohio Valley Handmade group held an evening of making hearts in Panera's at The Highlands. During the group's heart party, "we had six eager crafters and made more than 30 hearts to adorn the Professional Building," she said.
The heart-makers hope that other members of the community will view their handiwork, think about the significance of the structures and formulate ways to rescue endangered or unappreciated buildings. The project is being offered "first and foremost as an educational piece," Paulhus said.
"We encourage people to spend a little time in downtown, walking the streets and really looking at some of the buildings we are fortunate to have," Paulhus commented. "We see this lovescaping effort as a first step toward raising awareness and educating people about our city's past. In this way, we hope that more people will become engaged in preserving the history, culture and buildings of Wheeling."
Paulhus said, "Possible future projects include QR (Quick Response) codes that will link people to a particular building's history, a city-wide decorating effort of buildings 150 years of age or older (for the state sesquicentennial) and the rehabilitation of a building."
The "All We Need Is Love" project was inspired by an idea that Rebekah Karelis, historian for the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., found in Buffalo, N.Y.
"We have taken it to the next level," Karelis and Paulhus said, as Ohio Valley Young Preservationists members busily made hearts of cardboard and construction paper and adorned them with fabric, sequins and paint. In Buffalo, participants in a "heart bomb" decorated only four or five buildings on the city's demolition list, Karelis said.
In Wheeling, a larger number of buildings are targeted and the "love" is being spread to structures in varying circumstances.
"The majority (of buildings) are vacant or for sale or leased," Paulhus said. "We also wanted to show love to some other buildings, such as the Capitol Theatre, the Bridge Tavern and United Bank."
The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists have launched this project "to show that there are people in Wheeling who love these old buildings and are concerned about the future of downtown," Paulhus commented.
The "lovescaping" initiative started with four or five people who, in turn, asked others to participate; the effort grew quickly as word spread through social media. "It's great to know there is a wide interest," the coordinator remarked.
Karelis said the organizers have been "trying to encourage people to include a history of the building in their themes." For example, paper crowns and diamond shapes adorn decorations destined for a vacant building at 14th and Market streets that was the site of the country's first King's Jewelers store. "It has this very rich past, like so many things in Wheeling," Paulhus said.
"I definitely have neighborhoods, certain blocks, I'd like to focus on," Heather Slack of St. Clairsville said as she affixed sequins to a large construction paper heart. She and her husband, Ryan, are restoring a 14-unit apartment complex in Center Wheeling and they have begun work to rehabilitate a 10-unit apartment building in East Wheeling.
The group has received help from WNHAC, the Regional Economic Development organization and OnTrac representatives as they contacted property owners to get permission to place hearts on buildings, Paulhus said.
Discussing the origins of the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists, Paulhus said she returned home to Wheeling about a year and a half ago, and met Jeremy Morris, executive director of WNHAC, and Karelis. They had "lots of conversations" and connected with others who had history backgrounds and an interest in preservation. Paulhus described the group as "people like me who just love Wheeling."
Most members of the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists are in their 20s or 30s or are "young at heart," Paulhus said. After the organization held its first official meeting in October, folks began gathering once a month for informal happy hour sessions. "This is our first big project," she said, referring to the "lovescaping" effort.
Members include historians, archivists, preservationists, masons, stained glass restorers, artists, educators and people involved in policy work.
The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists group now has a website at www.ovyp.org/ and a Facebook page.
Eventually, the group wants to seek 501c3 status as a nonprofit entity.
Currently, a subgroup of the organization is working on a resource guide to provide information on individuals and firms that do plumbing and electrical work, install windows or assist with financing restoration of old buildings, Paulhus said.
In addition, an unofficial subcommittee has been started by Karelis and some others who are interested in old cemeteries. Karelis said there are nearly-forgotten burial grounds "tucked up on hills and falling into disrepair."