On a recent visit to the downtown office of her friend Clyde Ruffin, Lucille Salerno gazed out the door toward the home of ragtime musician John William “Blind” Boone and admired the restoration in progress at the national historic landmark.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked.
“You’re like a mother describing her kid,” Ruffin responded.
Of course, not many children get the kind of expensive makeover the Boone home is receiving.
“Boone is considered an American musical genius whose contribution to the development of music was elevated to national status,” Salerno said. “He’s not just Columbia’s favorite son.”
The city bought the former funeral parlor at 10 N. Fourth St. in 2001 for about $165,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and funneled another $70,000 in CDBG funds toward its restoration. Salerno, president emeritus of the John William Boone Heritage Foundation, was instrumental in persuading the city to buy and restore the home and in winning national historic status for the structure.
The national designation makes the home eligible for up to $250,000 from the Save Our National Treasures fund, Salerno said.
While the house might not look the part of a national treasure yet, it’s clear to anyone who drives by that the money pumped into the project has had a dramatic impact. Contractors have installed a brand new roof and stripped the exterior of flaking paint. The light-brown look of smooth new siding intertwines with dark original planks to create an interesting patchwork appearance. The old boards have an almost elastic feel to them, easily pushed in at the slightest touch. The house’s design and rustic look give it the feel of an 1880s home coming back from the dead.
“It hasn’t been a rapid process, but certainly progress has been made,” Salerno said.
Plenty of work remains to create the museum Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins envisions.
“We’ve stopped the bleeding,” Watkins said, referring to the water and termite damage the building sustained. “Except for the kitchen, we’ve taken it back to its original footprint.”
The porch, however, remains in a shambles. Random beams support its leaning roof, and its cement stairs are chipped and cracked, no doubt the effects of more than a century of wear. Boone’s father-in-law built the house in 1889.
The porch has not yet been restored because of a lack of funding. Salerno said that task, along with a fresh coat of paint, will cost about $20,000; half will come from CDBG money and the other half from the state’s Office of Historic Preservation. The porch should be fixed this summer.
A look inside windows destined for replacement reveal the interior challenges. The walls are torn up, and drywall litters the floor. Broken-down appliances have been moved to the middle of the rooms to allow crews to pour concrete for a new foundation.
Salerno and Watkins said the money needed to restore and furnish the interior will come from a combination of federal grants and private donations. Watkins said the city and project supporters will have to use local donations to match with every dollar in federal grants received.
“It’s a little easier to raise money for this project because people are interested in the homes of great people,” Salerno said. “Missouri is known for ragtime music, and people come here to experience it.”