April 7, 2015

How to Host a Successful Heart Bomb Event

Some old buildings need a little love.

Around Christmas in 2012, Bernice Radle of Buffalo’s Young Preservationists got the idea to put a big red bow on a nearby vacant building to spread holiday cheer. Then it occurred to her to do the same with a heart-shaped cutout the following Valentine’s Day.

Thirty people helped Bernice place giant hearts on four vacant buildings, and heart bombing was born.

Today, three of those buildings are still standing and two have new owners -- a testament to the power of showing places (and their communities) that someone cares about them.

Since that February morning in 2013, heart bombing has spread to Philadelphia, Omaha, Hawaii, and beyond. (See our 2015 round-ups here and here.) We spoke with Bernice to get her best tips for a successful heart bombing event.

Rally Your People

Heart bombing is meant to be an inclusive community event, so put the word out through your social media and email channels. Heart bombing can be a great activity for families, young adults, senior citizens, and everyone in between. The more participants you have, the more fun and effective the event will be.

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Part of the fun of heart bombing is putting your own twist on the concept.

Get Crafty

You’ll need a large space like a church or community center for participants to create their heart bombs and materials to build them with. Construction paper, markers, buttons, scrap wood, and other miscellaneous objects are all great options. Just be sure to avoid anything hazardous or sharp. Encourage participants to be as creative as possible. Above all, this event is supposed to be fun.

Find Cool Places

Part of the fun of heart bombing is choosing which buildings to hit. Have participants decide which buildings are important to them. Look for important neighborhood structures or buildings on prominent streets and corners. Not every building you choose has to be vacant or endangered. It can be fun just to show which buildings you care about.

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National Trust staff heart bomb Drayton Hall, a National Trust Historic Site in South Carolina.

Make it Your Own

Feel free to get creative with your theme and expand on the heart bomb concept. Preservationists in Wheeling, West Virginia, constructed their heart bombs from discarded wood paneling. In Minneapolis, participants heart- bombed their favorite historic taverns to mark the stops on a community bar crawl. The possibilities are endless.

Do No Harm

It’s important to make sure your efforts are helping, not hurting, the buildings you choose. Don’t attach any heart bombs in ways that will damage a building’s structure or facade. When stapling, nailing, or bolting heart bombs, make sure to do so on plywood boarding or other temporary fixtures. Be respectful of each property and its surrounding neighborhood.

Heart-bombing the Colorado County Courthouse in Texas, February 2013.
Spread the love through social media, and don't forget the #iheartpreservation hashtag.

Think Safety First

Vacant properties can be particularly dangerous. Make sure to take proper precautions to avoid injury or other risks. If you plan to use any tools to help install heart bombs, make sure they’re in capable hands and that other participants are aware of their use.

Spread the Love

Once you’ve completed your mission, share the results through social media and other means. (For example: our #IHeartSavingPlaces hashtag.) Beyond simply showing love for historic structures, heart bombing raises awareness to help save buildings that matter to your community.

Now that you’ve had your pre-event briefing, it’s time to make your own heart bombing party. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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