Young Preservationists

Young preservationists in Ohio are helping save buildings and are educating citizens in Ohio and beyond.
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Young preservationists in Ohio are helping save buildings and are educating citizens in Ohio and beyond.

There’s a groundswell of preservation activity in the Midwest, led and inspired by a group of young people in Ohio. Formed in 2014 as a committee of Heritage Ohio, the Young Ohio Preservationists (YOP) has become an active nonprofit on its own and has spread its wings into other states.

Founding YOP board member Kalpa Baghasingh, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, of Schooley Caldwell, explains: “The members of Heritage Ohio wanted to promote preservation to younger people so they created an offshoot and called it Young Ohio Preservationists. We advocate for preservation and main street revitalization.”

“They [Heritage Ohio] saw a gap in young leadership and pushed for this group,” adds Sarah Marsom, YOP chairperson, preservationist and an associate with Designing Local, an art and preservation planning firm in Columbus, OH. “We have our own bylaws, operate as separate entity, and we seek to further the Heritage Ohio missions of preservation and small town redevelopment.”

Today the group has 400 member names on its mailing list and 200 paid ($25/year) members. The YOP draws 40-50 people to its hands-on workshops, tours and other events such as happy hours, held about twice a month. The young members (under 40) are professionals and just people with an interest in historic preservation.

One of the first events was a day-long hands-on workshop on repairing and preserving wood windows. It was led by Jim Turner, of Turner Restoration, along with Patrick Kennedy of Restoration Projects Limited; David Gibney of Historic Restoration Specialists, and J. Michael Logan, Historic Preservation Consultant. “We worked with Homes on the Hill in Columbus, OH, to restore all of the windows in a home,” says Marsom, “using volunteer labor. Many residents attended, and they left understanding that they did not have to replace their windows with vinyl.”

Another Columbus, OH, project, this one in the German Village historic district, involved repairing brick sidewalks. Working in partnership with the German Village Society, participants removed and cleaned the bricks, and then relayed them, leveling the ground. This event was led by Bello Giardino Landscaping with food supplied by Pizza Rustica. By the end of the day, a portion of the brick sidewalk was repaired and a number of young preservationists had learned about historic brick paving.

“We partner with different organizations,” says Marsom. One example of this was working with Greenlawn Abbey, a Greek Revival Mausoleum in Columbus. “It had deteriorated over the years and a nonprofit was formed to save it. We partnered with them for a workshop where we learned how to clean marble. That was a unique opportunity because it is the only building of this style in Columbus–and most people don’t know that it exists.”

YOP members also got involved with a Louis Sullivan bank building in Newark, OH. “It is one of his jewel boxes,” says Marsom, “and it had deteriorated. It was a bank, then a jewelry store, and then and an ice cream shop. The Licking County Foundation, which now owns it, invited us to tour the beautiful building and provide insight as to it could be asset to downtown and how it might draw younger generations to the town. Thanks to bad renovations, most of the detail had been preserved.”

Heart bombing is another popular YOP activity. It was launched by Bernice Radle in Buffalo, OH. “Around Valentine’s Day, we look around the community to find neglected buildings. Then we shower them with large-scale Valentine cards to draw attention to them,” says Marsom.

YOP has expanded this effort across the state by creating Heart Bomb posters and sending them to Main Street programs across the state. “This helped them provide vibrancy during the Valentine season,” Marsom notes.

The organization is no longer limited to Ohio, however. It has expanded to Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia and New York to form the Rust Belt Coalition of Young Preservationists. (RBCoYP) “We wanted to share our experience and knowledge so we created this collaboration of groups,” says Marsom.

The group has also initiated a scholarship program for Ohio residents. The first Emerging Professional Scholarship was sponsored by Schooley Caldwell. It provides free conference registration to the annual Heritage Ohio Conference, plus two nights in a hotel, $100 travel funds, and a chance to present at the conference. The first recipients, Amanda Golden and Lindsay Jones, attended the conference in October last year.

Kudos to Heritage Ohio and to the Young Ohio Preservationists for spreading the word about the importance of historic preservation main street revitalization. Marsom summarizes the philosophy of the group: “I am a preservation because I love beautiful design and that reflects cultural shifts in society. A lot of young people want them preserved so they are utilized and used in the community. We look at how structures are integrated into the community versus saving them for historic reasons.”