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This Old House

Sunday, September 28, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:47 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

On any weekend, Becky Snider can be found balanced atop scaffolding next to her house, carefully scraping layers of paint off the wood siding and shingles.

  “As a historic preservationist I couldn’t live in a historic house with vinyl siding,” Becky says. “The good thing is the wood is in decent shape, and there are shingles on the house, which add interest.”

  Becky spent a year pulling siding, replacing wood trim where it was removed to accommodate the siding and repairing damage.

  “One problem is that vinyl siding holds moisture in — and you wouldn’t believe the number of wasps nests and ladybugs I found under it. Unlike today’s houses, historic houses aren’t sealed tight, they have to breathe,” Becky says. “And vinyl siding really isn’t no-maintenance, it mildews, fades and breaks easily.”

  Working on the house has been how Becky and her partner, Karen Cone have spent most of their free time in the three years since they bought the house. They have completely redone all the rooms except Becky’s office — she’s too busy to move out — and are working on restoring the outside. They’ve done all this, even though they plan to sell the house.

  “It’s a large job, but mainly because I insist on doing it myself,” Becky says. “It’s a labor of love. It’s my pet project that never ends.”

  She compares working on the house to a science project and tries all sorts of new tools for rehabbing historic buildings. Her favorite is a paint shaver which halves her work time.

  Karen teases Becky about never completely finishing a project before starting another.

  “I’m good at starting projects, I’m just not good about the final details,” Becky says. “Karen usually takes care of those.”

  Becky has completed one section of the exterior and neighbors can see how it’ll look when completed. She chose sage green and terracotta paint so the house stands out from the others nearby. She’s already gotten compliments.

  This is not the first residence Becky has restored. Since renting her first apartment, she’s worked on every place she’s lived, doing things from painting the walls to completely rehabbing the interior. She’s also restored commercial properties.

  “A lot of it I figure out how to do. And I’ll hire out the high-end things that I can’t figure out or don’t think I will do well,” Becky says.

  She says she’s always loved working with her hands. Her first career was as a theatrical designer and technical director, building sets and creating lighting designs at Stephens College. She decided the theater schedule was too hectic so she enrolled in the environmental design doctorate program at MU. She had first become interested in historic preservation when she worked with the Houston Grand Opera. While touring Texas, she saw a number of small, historic theatres and her interest in old buildings was piqued. Historic preservation wasn’t what she or her professors thought she would do.

  “I really never fit into the mold people wanted me to,” Becky says. “That’s not the way my life works.”

  Although Becky is a historic preservation consultant and works on the house, she still makes time to play softball and volunteer for the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation, which she is president of.

  “I’m thankful I have a flexible job,” Becky says. “I can work on the house in the morning, Missouri Preservation management in the afternoon and consulting research in the evenings. I wouldn’t do well working an eight to five schedule in a cubicle. I have an artist’s mentality and don’t deal well with the constraints of a regular job. Working for myself works for me because I’m pretty much a solitary person — I can turn on the radio and work happily for hours. But doing it this way means I work all the time.”

  Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving old buildings. The organization releases a 10 most endangered list, works on tax legislation, gives awards for restored buildings, holds conferences, educates the public about preservation and provides consulting services.

  “Our role is to bring recognition to worthwhile projects and figure out how to save buildings — how to prevent decay and put the building to new use,” Becky says. “We give people information about listing historic buildings in the national registry. Often people don’t understand that listing a building in the historic registry does not in any way restrict what they do to the property. It just allows owners to qualify for grants and tax credits. We have to convince owners of that and convince the legislature that tax credits aren’t handouts but actually foster development, increase taxes paid on income and construction materials, revitalize blighted areas and attract tourism.”

  As Becky continues to scrape paint, Karen replaces a storm door. They knew the amount work they took on when buying the house and don’t regret it. They devotedly watch the Home and Garden channel and “This Old House,” delighting when the show solves their problems.

  “We love the neighborhood, and I wanted to buy a home that needed work,” Becky says. “It had a lot of knotty pine wall and shag carpet to get rid of. But we’ve found little treasures in the walls — original wallpaper, Kennedy campaign buttons and postcards from 1908.”

  And in doing restoration work, Becky goes to unusual places and meets many interesting people.

  “People who own historic sites are definitely kooky,” Becky says.


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