By Bekah Karelis & Liz Paulhus
February is traditionally a time of love; a time when people shower those they care about with flowers, candy, and thoughtful, heart-shaped gifts. In Wheeling, a group of young preservation enthusiasts are expressing their love this Valentine’s Day . . . not for each other, but for a group of historic downtown buildings that they love.
The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists (OVYP) launched the inaugural “All We Need is Love” campaign this month. Inspired by Buffalo’s Young Preservationists’ “heart-bomb” project, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, OVYP’s Bekah Karelis and Liz Paulhus envisioned “lovescaping” downtown Wheeling with a week-long, heart-felt demonstration of their love of history, architecture, and the spirit of the city’s historic downtown.
OVYP soon had a list of several dozen buildings within a large section of the Wheeling Historic District (a.k.a. downtown Wheeling). Members reached out to the community and invited high school classes, colleges, businesses, organizations, and families to “adopt” a building and decorate it on a temporary basis with hearts and other Valentine’s Day decorations. OVYP encouraged adopters to learn about the history of their building and incorporate it into the decorations. For example, the former King’s jewelry store has diamond-studded hearts with the saying “I was loved by kings!”, a former bank, “Tall, dark and handsome!”, and the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, which is currently for sale, sports hearts saying, “Brace Yourself. I’m a Steel!”
Wheeling has lost many structures on Main and Market Streets in the years since the beginning of the city’s economic decline. Most recently, the city demolished a block of buildings in the heart of downtown, and OVYP is concerned about the fate of the remaining structures. The aim of “All We Need Is Love” is to educate the broader public about the incredible history of downtown Wheeling and to show that there are individuals who love these old places and prefer to see them rehabilitated and restored, rather than fall to the wrecking ball.
The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists formed in October 2012. This group of young individuals (including all who are “young at heart”) from diverse backgrounds – historians, archivists, teachers, real estate developers, preservationists, artists, urban farmers, masons, and policy wonks – share the common goal of preserving the history, culture, and buildings of Wheeling and the greater Ohio Valley.