Houses on the Move

Moving a house is slightly less ludicrous when it allows you to build 60+ new units in the city.

A few years back, in the town of Belmont, Massachusetts, I witnessed the two and a half century old Thomas Clark House get moved. A developer had purchased the property, with plans to tear down the building and replace it with two new modern homes. Locals worked to preserve the structure, and paid to have it placed on a temporary lot about a mile from its original location, while a permanent home could be found.

The Belmont house, on a trailer[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

Though it was a cold February day, the occasion drew folks out of their own homes to see the spectacle. It’s not every day that a home from the 18th century (or any century) goes mobile. There, amongst a crowd of onlookers, I overheard a dad trying to get his kid excited about the unusual event.

“Look at that! Isn’t that interesting?” the father asked.

His son replied “NO! They’re moving a house.”

That jaded eight-year-old had apparently seen such a thing countless times, but it was new and novel to me. And yet, that move was a cakewalk compared to a recent move in San Francisco.

There, an 80 foot long Victorian originally located at 807 Franklin was moved six blocks. It went downhill, along a route where parking meters had been ripped up, traffic signs had been removed, and overhead power was turned off, before finally coming to rest at 635 Fulton. The moving company worked with at least 15 different government agencies, while the home’s owner paid $200,000 to the city and another $200,000 in moving costs.

Of course, those huge costs are a lot easier to understand when you learn that the house was valued at $5 million. Further, in its new location, the home will be combined with a former mortuary to create a new development of 17 housing units. As well, the lot upon which it formerly rested will be the site of a new 8-story apartment complex. Turning a single house and a single business into 65 units of prime housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country is certain to be well worth the expenses and headaches. Nevertheless, it’s still bizarre to see it in action.

The San Francisco House in the middle of a turn on a city street.

Despite the cost and complexity, the San Francisco move went off without any major issues. Ultimately, things did not turn out so well back in Belmont. A suitable permanent location for the Thomas Clark House was never found, and just two and a half years after more than $80,000 was spent to save it, the house was demolished after all. All we are is dust in the wind.