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Passing the Preservation Torch

Jim and Abigail Beck restore an old historic church into Abigail’s new home. Courtesy photo

Abigail Beck won the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s 2012 Award for “the outstanding rehabilitation and repurposing of a former historic church, home and workspace.” She had great teachers, her parents, Jim and Christine Beck, who won the Thomas H. Wright, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004, for a body of work in the restoration of historic homes.

But Abigail kept pace with her dad (almost) in the three-year restoration of her house, putting in the traditional sweat equity expected by past generations. She and her mom went to their librarian-friend Beverly Tetterton in the NC History Room at the main branch public library to find the insurance maps that showed how the house looked in 1881. After chipping away a truckload of concrete, a beautiful bell tower was uncovered topped by the round spire original to the house. Heart-of-pine floors were found under carpet, plywood and five layers of linoleum. Multiple layers of paint and wallpaper were peeled and sanded away to reveal beadboard wainscoting.

Friends and colleagues of the Becks donated time and materials: Kelly Jewel from Ted’s Fun on the River gave part of the ceiling for Abigail’s office floor. Another friend spotted discarded doors on 2nd Street which fit her house just right.

A dozen of Abigail’s new neighbors, thrilled with the beautification of her house in their integrated neighborhood at 7th and Queen, gave support in various ways, extending food and friendship. “It’s like we live in a bubble of community here,” she said.

Abigail’s main forte in restoration is her ability to apply paint to a house in such a way that it only requires one coat. This interest in paint was noted when she was still in her mother’s arms. “We were walking through a house and Abigail told me that the hallway needed painting,” Chris said. “She was only two. She was right.”
At three and a half, Jim allowed Abigail to paint a closet in one of their apartment rentals. She continued to watch her parents and subcontractors exercise their skills, and by age 14, she painted an entire house.

“We looked at her paint job and it didn’t need a second coat,” her proud father said. “It’s just the way she paints. She’s a very good painter, which feeds into her business of being a printer. You have to be able to apply ink properly or you can’t print.”

There is a history in the Beck family of father helping daughter. When Chris was 10, she decided to enlarge her attic room by removing a wall. She chipped a hole in the plaster and slipped it out of the house little by little until there was almost no plaster left. One evening her father went up the stairs, and when he came back down, Chris knew the jig was up.

“A very large rat has been chewing a hole in the attic wall,” he said, bemused. Not having any more knowledge of the building process than she did, he agreed to help and together they jury-rigged a clean space.

“Both Jim and I were raised in historic districts,” Chris said, “and have always loved history. Preservation takes many forms: restoring a house where it is, moving the house to a safer location, or reusing materials from a house that the city has determined to demolish. We have moved four houses. Our home and all the houses we’ve restored have interesting materials in them from buildings that were torn down. Abigail’s house has reused parts that we’ve saved and stored since she was a small child.”

Abigail’s been cherished since the day she was born. Her dad chose her name which means “of the father”­—something appropriate as she continues following in his footsteps.

“[Historic restoration consists of] really long days and very hard work,” Abigail said. “I’m glad to trouble-shoot for our tenants when my parents are out of town, but I’m grateful to be on close terms with my computer (UNC-Asheville grad in New Media and Interactive Web Design). I enjoy my home business, the Salt and Paper Press, printing wedding invitations, stationary and calling cards. I also work part-time at the Soapbox in promotions and maintenance of their website schedule.”

This story is dedicated to Joseph Louis Grattafiori and all fathers who love their daughters.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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