The Huffington Post is currently hosting The Love Letters Project, an anthology of reflections on American places by the local people that define them. Our very own Jason Lloyd Clement made the cut with this letter of love and admiration for the Wilson County Courthouse in Floresville, Texas. Reposted here for your enjoyment!
Staffer Jason Clement wears his heart on his sleeve(s) in front of a Texas courthouse.
Everybody needs to feel loved.
It’s a basic fact of life, regardless of where you fall on the scale between overemotional ninny (where I sit) and, well, the opposite of that.
It doesn’t have to be fireworks or someone showing up outside your window, pouring their hearts out while blasting an '80s mid-tempo classic on a boombox. For me, the simple things usually get the most traction: a bit of scribbled-down sweetness left somewhere thoughtful, an unexpected-in-a-good-way phone call, a “just because” gesture that takes you by surprise -- the things that say “I’m paying attention. I care. I’m here.”
As a preservationist/marketer whose job it is to turn non-emotive structures into emotional touch points, I feel like buildings are very much in the same boat as us ninnies. Places need love too ... except they're incapable of letting us know when they need a hug.... Read More →
Two weeks ago while in New Orleans, I found myself having a familiar moment at the corner of Tulane Avenue and South Tonti Street, the intersection where one of my favorite buildings in the world -- the old Dixie Brewery -- sits abandoned.
I've made a habit out of checking in on it every time I'm in town, and this visit played out much like my past pilgrimages.
After thumb-typing my way through some requisite Instagramming, Foursquaring, Facebooking, and tweeting, I took off my headphones and sat quietly on the curb, surveying Dixie's bruises and black eyes from my ant's eye view. Unlike the narrow streets of the French Quarter, where the Big Easy high steps by you with the garishness of a Zatarain's commercial, this section of the city can be very quiet -- eerily and somewhat mesmerizingly so.
After at least five minutes of undisturbed building gazing, I was rattled back to reality by the thunderous approach of the 39 bus. As I motioned to the driver that I wasn't actually waiting for a ride, I chuckled to myself about how weird the whole thing must have looked -- just me, the curb, a derelict building, and an empty plastic grocery bag scratching down the street.
After a bit more reflection, though, I think my New Orleans experience is no different than the feeling a lot of preservationists have and are often caught acting on: Sometimes, when you really love a place, you've just got to sit with it for a little bit. You know, take it all in.
It’s the same feeling I got -- or more accurately, that got me -- earlier this year when I walked into Miami Marine Stadium for the first time. Between the awe-inspiring roof (is it modern architecture or alien spacecraft?) and the sensation you get of literally floating on the water, this National Treasure is a wow place in every sense of the word. Just like in New Orleans, the only thing I could do was sit down and take it all in. And unlike Tulane Avenue, the stadium has seats.
Though it has been shuttered since 1992, Miami Marine Stadium is no stranger to folks like me who find themselves needing a moment to absorb what they see. On any given day, its basin is alive with rowers who drift by to marvel at all the interesting shapes, both of the building and the graffiti that covers it.
Photographers are another common sight. Some gain entrance illegally and snap shots when they think no one is looking. Others, like Jay Koenigsberg, ask for permission and get to spend some real quality time with the stadium. The proof is in the pictures.... Read More →
When I was growing up in Texas, certain things had a habit of eluding me. Like autumn.
Here's how "fall" usually went down in my small corner of the Lone Star State. You would wake up one November morning, waddle outside in flip flops, and swear you were stuck in summer -- 85 with a side of hair-raising humidly. Then, with the forcefulness and commanding presence of a strong Texas woman, an overnight cold front would barrel through town, ushering in seasonal change like a bull in a china shop. The next morning, every still-green leaf would be on the ground and the Fahrenheit would be somewhere in the 40s, where it would fluctuate flirtatiously for a week or two before completely committing to something more winter-ish.
It wasn't until I moved north ten years ago that I realized fall is a process, not an event. It's the slow build to sweater weather. The soft simmer of stews on the stove. The gradual intensification of autumnal hues -- both in the sky and on the trees.
In a word, it's beautiful -- a calm, rewarding transition from color to cold.
Recently, a deck of photos of Ohio's Village of Zoar drifted (note: intentional fall pun) into my inbox at work. They came from Andy Donaldson, an avid shutterbug I met on Flickr who has a well-documented passion for this historic village -- a National Treasure that was listed just this summer as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Andy is an amazingly talented guy, and his photos always make me take a pause. These, however, elicited a different type of response. Before my jaw had even finished dropping, I was forwarding them to friends and family with this message: "These pictures make me want to roll around in leaves, carve pumpkins, and drink Chai until I’m sick!"
Now, depending on where you hang your hat, I realize this may be what your backyard looks like right now. If that's the case, bear with me because I couldn't help but share these photos and the conversation I had with the photographer himself, if only for my fellow Texans who are still in flip flops.
Andy, how long has the Village of Zoar been your muse? What about it speaks to you?
We moved into our house about seven years ago, and that was when I was getting into photography. In the olden days, you know, the 80’s, I was very much into photography, especially black and white. Purchasing my first digital SLR camera, though, really opened up a whole new avenue of creativity for me.
Being that we live so close to Zoar -- literally within walking distance -- going there to capture its beauty has become a habit. The village speaks to me because it’s a reminder of how our country was founded -- people coming together in search of freedom and a chance to live their dreams.
Your portfolio captures Zoar in every season. Tell us: what’s special about fall in the village?
Fall has always been my favorite season. Zoar is a picturesque setting regardless of the time of the year, but with the changing colors in the trees and the lighting typical of this time of the year, it’s just downright magical. I normally only have the chance to get to Zoar in the evening after my day job, which makes it difficult sometimes. However, for these photos, I was able to get out in the middle of the day and first thing in the morning. They perfectly capture the color and light that I love.
Tell us about your typical day photographic the village. Is there a spot that no trip to Zoar is complete without visiting?
To be honest, there’s no typical day when I go shooting in the village. It’s usually a spur of the moment thing, either just to take the dog for a walk or because I glance out the window and see how the light looks with the setting sun.
As someone who goes down there often, it’s the Number One House that draws me in. It stands in the middle of town like a grand castle. But for someone who is visiting for the first time, I highly recommend going to Village Hall. There is a museum dedicated to the history of Zoar and visitors can see old maps, old pictures (my favorite part, of course), and other items from the town’s incredible history.
We often hear stories about people turning to photography -- even as amateurs -- as a way to celebrate places they love. In that regard and given your long history with the village, do you think Zoar has made you a better photographer?
Yes, without a doubt. One thing that digital photography gives you that we didn’t have back in the days of using rolls of film is the chance to try different things with your shots. And also with a digital camera like mine, I can see what my shots look like right then and there without having to go to the lab, have the film developed, and then hope for the best.
I’ve found that having Zoar in my backyard allows me to try things and test new techniques, and if I don’t like it, I can go back and try again. Its buildings, homes, and gardens inspire me. They aren’t going anywhere, right? Let’s hope not.
That’s a good segue for my next question. Looking at the beautiful colors of your fall photos, many people would probably be surprised to learn that the future of Zoar is uncertain. As you know, record flooding in recent years has raised concerns about the integrity of a nearby levee that protects the village. And one alternative under consideration is removing that levee entirely, which could require the relocation or demolition of 80% of this remarkable place. How does that make you feel about your hobby as the unofficial photographer of this 200-year-old village?
Well, thank you for the kind words, but I don’t know if I can be considered the unofficial photographer of the village. However, I am a concerned resident and neighbor of the village -- someone who has fallen in love with the subtle charm of the town and would hate to see the wrong decision made about its future.
At the end of the day, do you think great photography can help save a place?
Definitely. When things started looking bad for Zoar, that’s what sparked my desire to start shooting there more frequently.
I remember Easter morning of 2008 all too well. I was out in the driveway with my dog and noticed several large trucks hauling long trailers into the village. I later found out that the trucks were hauling in stones to fix part of the levee that was failing. It was looking pretty bad and residents were warned to take valuables to the highest level of their homes or to just get out all together. Luckily, the repairs held and the town was safe.
That was when I got more serious about trying to capture how I see the village, and therefore, why I would hate to see it be lost. Like Ansel Adams, whose early work sparked interest in the American west and inspired me to go to Yosemite when I was young, what I am trying to do when I walk around town or tour one of the buildings is capture something that will inspire someone else. And hopefully, because of that inspiration, people will take action to help save this amazing place.
Love stories start in the darnedest places.
Isn’t that what every rom com – and nearly all of Julia Roberts' on-screen career, for that matter – wants us to believe? Whether we’ve just missed a flight home for the holidays (it’s always the holidays, isn’t it?) or we’re standing in line for coffee on an ordinary Tuesday, we should always be prepared to trip and fall into the arms of a heartthrob, right?
Annnnd snap back to reality. Everyone knows it rarely goes down like that (c’mon, on the subway?!?). Until it kind of does, but in a way that is adorable and utterly real.
When the National Trust rolled into Buffalo this fall, Bernice Radle and Jason Wilson had never met, though both had long been preservation dynamos working overtime for the city they loved. It wasn’t until after the conference – and the individual preservation events they each planned for it – that their interest in all things old brought them together.
Fast forward to today, and their conversations (I overheard them!) go something like this: “Can you believe these houses on the demo list? Where should we go for date night? What’s the status on the reuse study for the Trico building?”
Totally cuter than Julia Roberts being unexpectedly swept off her feet, right?
Knowing what you now know about this young preservation power couple, it shouldn’t be a shocker that the majority of Bernice and Jason’s Valentine’s Day preparations were spent churning out personalized construction paper hearts … for vacant and abandoned historic buildings. It’s a concept their group, Buffalo Young Preservationists, dubbed a “heart bomb.” Because my words probably wouldn’t give it justice, I’ll let the love birds explain it themselves.
PreservationNation: For starters, how did the whole "heart bomb" idea hatch?
Bernice: I love all things heart-shaped and I love Buffalo. Buffalo and hearts combined is the ultimate Buffalove! So one day, Jason and I thought it would be fun to throw Valentine's Day hearts (lace, glitter, and lots of construction paper) onto our most loved vacant houses to pull on the heart strings of Buffalonians. Heart bombs!
PreservationNation: How many buildings did you end up "bombing" and how did you choose them?
Jason: Although there are several buildings worth highlighting, we ultimately chose four beautiful homes located throughout the city. These homes have a high degree of architectural detail and unique character that is difficult to find in any new build today. We also believe that these gems could be saved and rehabbed with a little love from a special someone.
PreservationNation: Once everything was hung with care, how did you spread the word?
Bernice: Mainly, we used Facebook and Instagram to show off our art project in real time. Instagram gave the houses a cute, vintage flair. We also posted photos on popular blogs and the Preservation-Ready Facebook group, which is home to 600 people who love Buffalo and preservation. And for the more traditional types, we wrote a press release (filled with love, of course!) and sent it out.
PreservationNation: At the end of the day, what do you hope these little guerrilla valentines accomplish?
Jason: These four homes are actually on the city's most recent demolition list, which mainly consists of tax foreclosures. Through the creative use of art, we aim to raise public awareness of these and other threatened architectural treasures. With the added attention we hope to start a productive dialog among concerned citizens and elected officials that will lead to a proactive approach to dealing with our city's vacant property crisis.
PreservationNation: Tell us a little about your group, Buffalo Young Preservationists.
Bernice: Buffalo Young Preservationists is a group of young, energetic preservationists who love Buffalo and want and try to make positive change. We are a small army of preservation folks filled with enthusiasm and passion. We are a proactive bunch and are involved in several projects that we know will help to preserve Buffalo's future. It's a lot of fun getting us together. We throw a great party and geek out on Buffalo.
PreservationNation: Is this the first time you've dabbled with art to raise awareness?
Jason: Not at all, we've done similar actions before. A few months ago, we put a large red ribbon on a wonderful little house that was slated for demolition on Buffalo's east side. The "Bow Bomb," delivered right before Christmas, was the first time we realized how effective our message could be if communicated creatively and correctly.
PreservationNation: What advice would you give old building lovers in other cities who want to save historic places?
Bernice: There are so many important things to do, but the first thing that needs to happen is to build a story around a place that deserves to be saved. When was it built? What neat historical features does it have? Does it have qualities or features that cannot be recreated? Make people fall in love with the building. Make them want to save it.
PreservationNation: Lastly, today is all about love, but what does it mean to be in Buffalove?
Jason: Buffalove is an extremely unique feeling. It's realizing you're living in a place rooted in rich history that's not only worth saving, but celebrating as well. And like in any good relationship, you can have a direct impact in the overall positive outcome if you try hard enough.
PreservationNation: Do you agree with that definition, Bernice?
Bernice: Yep! Buffalove is really comprised of the rich history, a unique urban environment, the friendly people, and the belief that Buffalo can be an even greater city than it already is.
Jason Lloyd Clement is the associate director for online campaigns at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Like Bernice and Jason, he is also in Buffalove.