Several weeks ago, I wrote about my tour of the former Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane.
Included in the column was an observation I made about a pink, spray-painted message that was written across a wall inside the church: "I Love Taylor Walsh."
In the midst of the garbage-strewn, weather-beaten, ransacked room, the message stood out as a plaintive, human emotion in the midst of the soggy chaos — and so it was noticed.
Little did I imagine that a couple of weeks later, I'd be communicating with Taylor Walsh herself — yes, that Taylor Walsh — she who inspired the pink-paint avowal.
But it would not have happened had I not received a note from a young man in Huntington Beach. He explained to me his fascination with old, abandoned buildings. He described how, sometimes, he finds access into these places.
Not to steal. Not to ransack. But rather to imagine what the history may have been like in the building, to take photos and study the past.
"I've always had a passion for historical buildings," he wrote, "especially in Huntington Beach, where I've lived the majority of my life. I enjoy finding out about what buildings have stood the test of time, what buildings used to be used for and learning about abandoned buildings."
As well, he'd never entered a sealed-off structure with the intent to spray paint. But last year, his love of a local girl got the better of him.
Another excerpt from the letter: "I wanted to say I'm sorry because I spray-painted 'I Love Taylor Walsh,' on the inside of that church — at that time breaking into historic buildings, Tay and writing were the three most important things in my life, and they still are. The reason I am apologizing though is because at the time I had heard that they were going to tear it down, and this upset me. I loved that building and that mural."
Daniel (last name withheld by request), who wrote the letter, also explained at length about some of the other places he had "visited" over the years. Familiar with some of the books I've written about historic places, Daniel felt I might empathize to a degree with his numerous wanderings to off-limits places.
And to a degree, admittedly, I do. While I will not condone trespassing, truth be told I have ventured occasionally into places that I know will soon be gone for the purpose of documentation. Sometimes, the siren call of the past is simply too strong to resist.
So, at Daniel's request, I agreed to hear more about his story. His lengthy letter to me was heartfelt and well-written, and it seemed like the right thing to do.
At Jon's Coffee Shop one morning, we met. Daniel, a recent graduate of Huntington Beach High School, described to me his fascination with old, abandoned places. He showed me photos he's taken inside these places and spoke of some of the things he's discovered (near-new automobiles, homeless camps, etc). He was earnest, funny and very well-spoken. His passion for history was obvious.
As was his passion for Taylor Walsh.
Ms. Walsh, part of a group of high school friends of Daniel's, was not just the object of his eye.
"A friend of mine sort of liked her, too," he told me. "And when I heard he was going to ask her to the prom, it really threw me. But we talked it out and he said he would pass if it meant a lot to me. But I told him it was fine and so he took her. But it got to me."
Soon, after Daniel decided to visit the inside of one of his favorite local buildings, the abandoned church, his heart got the better of him. Daniel described how he wanted, in that moment, to document the burning sensation in his heart and soul. He brought the can in with him deliberately, with the intent of adding the message to the wall.
"I figure if they were going to tear it down anyways, I might as well let them know that someone thought the place was beautiful enough to announce their love (with glow in the dark spray-paint)," Daniel wrote in his letter.
The can of pink spray-paint, used just that once, remains in his spotless car trunk today — evidence of his adoration.
Ms. Walsh learned of the message after reading about it in this column. In fact, she is the one who wrote Daniel and made him aware that I'd written the story in the first place.
She doesn't live in Huntington Beach anymore. But via email, from Ghana no less, she told me this: "When I first saw the article, I actually wasn't mad or upset. It was just rather comical. There's no need to get all worked up over it really."
She also described her move to Africa in August.
"My life has changed so dramatically since the move — spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. It's the best thing yet the hardest thing I ever done. I loved Huntington Beach and all the friends and family I grew up with, but I always had a yearning to live in Africa as a missionary to serve the people. Instead of dreaming and fantasizing about it, I just went with it."
So there you have it. Two young people who have answered their own calls. Title it "The Ballad of Taylor Walsh," a tale of confession, passion and curiosity; one made possible by technology and one of the most vital institutions left on the planet — the local paper.
(And Daniel has offered to remove the message should the owners request it — though, personally, I hope it remains as long as the place stands here.)
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.