Snapping marital bliss at parks, churches — Duluth City Hall?

Korean-Americans are especially fond of making engagement photos there

Like many municipal hubs, Duluth’s City Hall bustles with activity. It’s where city leaders set policies, hash out budgets and handle zoning matters.

But over the past year, the 43,000-square-foot facility in the heart of historic Duluth has become the epicenter for something unique: memorializing marital bliss.

Wedding One, a local Korean American-owned and operated company, has used the red-brick Georgian Revival building — with its white columns, clock tower and glass-paned doors — as a backdrop for engagement photos of more than 100 couples, mostly Korean Americans.

Parks, gardens and churches are typical hot spots in metro Atlanta for capturing marital mirth. So what makes Duluth’s digs, built in January 2008, so special?

“I love the building,” said Kyehyun Kim, owner of Wedding One. “The atmosphere is very relaxing, but the building itself is so classic. The pictures turn out really, really nice.”

Beyond the building’s aesthetics, Kim says her firm’s affinity to the civic headquarters is rooted in Korean familiarity and culture. The building, she says, has similar features, including brick and stucco, to some in her native Seoul. And given that many of her clients are immigrants, photos at City Hall offer a nod to the U.S. government, which granted their citizenship, she says.

“To take those photos at a government location just shows they are part of this country and part of this government. It just shows ... this is our home,” said Kim’s son, Eddie, 27, who plans to have his photos taken with his bride-to-be at City Hall in the fall.

Hyangsoon Yi, who grew up in South Korea and now teaches Asian literature at the University of Georgia, says the picture-taking phenomenon is surprising given that traditional Korean weddings have “nothing to do with government buildings.”

And the architecture of Duluth’s City Hall, Yi notes, isn’t typical of many buildings in Korea. The exceptions are some structures outside city centers, such as hotels and private universities, that resemble the “exoticism” of Duluth’s building, she says.

“City Hall may be giving that exotic feeling,” Yi said. “[This trend] must have emerged in the diaspora of the U.S. Korean community.”

Whatever the reason, the city hub’s draw thrills local officials.

“We think it’s fantastic that they’re taking pictures of life-changing moments ... on our steps,” said Chris McGahee, Duluth’s economic development manager. “To me, it is quite unusual that a year-old City Hall, built to function as a government office space, has suddenly become a place of beauty worthy of recording a sacred event.”

During spring and the month of October, the city will see four or five couples a week striking a pose, McGahee says. Most pictures are taken in front of the facility facing Town Green, but he says some couples have posed on the staircase inside the building.

Given the trend, he says, the city will start tracking couples.

Wedding One says those photographed at City Hall come from all races, but that Korean Americans make up at least 50 percent. Of the nearly 74,000 Asians living in Gwinnett County, almost 18,000 are Korean Americans, according to 2007 census figures.

Steve Lee, 30, and Yoomi Ou, 26, who have been together seven years, are getting married Sept. 5 in Marietta. Last week, the couple, both born in South Korea and now living in the United States, smiled and embraced on the City Hall steps as a photographer snapped away.

Lee says the building’s “historic, yet soft look” makes it the ideal setting for engagement photos.

“This is something we’ll treasure the rest of our lives,” he said. “I’ll never forget this is where we got our photos — at City Hall.”