[O]n my twelfth birthday, my dad took me to town, like he always does for my birthday. We went out to eat, to shop, and to walk the streets of my beloved, though dilapidated, downtown Jacksonville, Florida. As we emerged from a local gift shop, I beheld the most glorious structure I had ever seen in my twelve years of life. What I would later know to be called the Marble Bank Building, it glimmered white in the sunlight, its columns shooting far above my head, and immense arched windows towering the eerily quiet downtown street. I scurried up the front stairs to peer into the glass door. What I found was beauty in utter abandonment, the detailed white plaster moldings and decorative cast iron rails under a magnificent skylight, flooding the building with natural light, while exposing its desertion in mistreated floors and rough walls. I wondered how such a seemingly significant structure could stand here in disrepair, and how I hadn’t noticed it before.
The truth is, many don’t notice. In all our eagerness to build, to develop, we find ourselves leaving the true treasures of our architectural past behind. Since my twelfth birthday, I’ve noticed dozens of historical structures in shell condition, some on the brink of demolition, others, merely fading away structurally, as they already have in the memories of many. Most, like the Marble Bank Building, have sat vacant since the 80’s or 90’s, and are becoming a burden to the community, and a lost hope for local preservation societies. There are a few brave enough to put forth the effort to restore, but even our definition of restoration has been distorted with modern development. Buildings are often gutted and furnished with modern fixtures, altering the character and original design of the structure. They are often then converted to nondescript office buildings, unseen to the fleeting glances of onlookers.
As an artist, I see historical landmarks as places to be appreciated by all, like a work of art in a museum. And, like a painting or sculpture, architecture requires as much creativity and labor to complete. Why then, should we look more contemptuously at the person who defaces a portrait? Or accept the compromise of historic value and beauty entirely for modern “improvement?” Can we do the disservice to the architect- to the artist?
Thus, preservation is more than a concern to me; it is a necessity to communities and even economic development. While I intend on being an advocate for the silent, looming structures of our past, I am also determined to increase awareness for their value by restoring and opening structures for public use as museums, music halls, and retail establishments, in addition to housing.
Embarking on a new journey toward higher education, I am forced to ask myself: What do I want of my life? Peering again into the Marble Bank Building five years later, I see myself as this empty encasement, full of life and potential, and I know.
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