Historic homes need TLC: Valentine’s ‘heart bomb’ highlights vacant properties in search of a mate

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Valentine’s Day came early for a few historic properties around downtown Wilson as part of Heart Bomb 2018.

“People love these historic buildings, they are important to the community and we really just have to at least start talking about their future,” said city of Wilson preservation planner Dana Corson. “The conversation has to start somewhere and valentines are a fun and loving way to bring attention to it.”

Corson came across the campaign while living in Buffalo, New York. The heart bomb idea originated in 2012 when Buffalo’s Young Preservationists covered historic properties at risk of demolition from neglect in colorful paper hearts and love letters. Organizers hoped the heart bombs conveyed the message that the properties needed love and they needed it now.

“It was a great conversation starter and spurred a lot of re-interest, reinvestment and redevelopment of buildings, some in the tens of millions of dollars just because of a heart bomb,” Corson said. “I figure the best-case scenario is that happens here, but if not, hopefully a conversation was started and it is something people talk about in a positive way.”

In addition to colorful hearts and signs, Corson also pulled information on the properties from national registry applications. That information along with a picture of each property was laminated and hung on the buildings as well.

“The educator and researcher in me wanted to show people what the property was and what it can be again,” she said.

Once the crafting was complete Tuesday morning, Corson headed out to adorn three boarded-up storefronts on the 100 block of Tarboro Street South.

“A couple people were honking at us and others were looking, wondering what we were doing,” said Rebecca Agner, Wilson communications and marketing director. “That is what we want.”

The next heart bomb target was 315 Green St. W, which is a 1902 home that blends asymmetrical flourishes of Queen Anne style with Colonial Revival details.

“This is a gem of a property. It is pretty prominently set in this neighborhood and it is in great condition, so it wouldn’t really take a ton of effort to bring it back to a habitable state,” Corson said. “If you look at the historic photograph, it is not that far off from where it was before.”

While the paint has chipped off, the windows are boarded up and the roof needs some work, Corson said what it needs most is TLC.

“There is just so much of the original details intact. So much of it is still there and workable,” she said. “This is not a demolition property. This is a ‘love me, don’t leave me’ property and that is what we’re trying to highlight. There is a lot of opportunity for investment in these historic properties.”

While this year’s heart bomb was more of a quiet, internal effort by Corson, she’s optimistic next year will involve more community members. She said it is essential for the community to be part of preserving Wilson’s history and the properties that demonstrate the city’s heritage.

“We’re trying to spur that reinvestment and civic pride in Wilson by doing stuff like this to start the conversation,” she said, noting the need for more proactive efforts to address crumbling properties. “We’re starting to dance around the issue, but eventually we’re going to have to pull our partner into the middle of the room and just tango with it because that is the only way it is going to happen.”