HCountless San Franciscans lined the streets on Sunday – phones drawn and ready – to watch a unique procession slowly moving through the city. “Ladies and gentlemen, please stand on the sidewalk,” yelled a police spokesman. “There’s a house coming down the street.”
Known as the Englander House, the two-story, 5,170-square-foot green Victorian building had lived in the heart of San Francisco for more than a century. But for years it stood empty and fell into disrepair, wedged behind a gas station and towered over by new residential buildings. The city, suffering from housing shortages, was ready to erect a 48-unit building in its place.
But instead of tearing down the beautiful building, the teams lifted it from the foundation, put it on wheels, and heaved it into a new home six blocks away. Arborists, town workers, and excited onlookers joined the parade through sharp turns and tight gaps with balconies and light poles as the six-bedroom house advanced at a speed of no more than 1.5 km / h.
Englander House was relocated to a new location about six blocks away. Photo: Noah Berger / APCarla Schlemminger and Corrina Chow pose for a photo in front of the house. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small / Reuters
The move, which cost owner Tim Brown around $ 400,000 (£ 280,000), was no easy task. According to the San Francisco Historical Society, it was the first time a Victorian had been relocated in around 50 years – but it is certainly not the first time at all. San Francisco has a long history of building relocation, often in similarly dramatic ways.
In the 1970s, 12 houses were relocated from the western addition of the city. Dave Glass documented the process. Photo: Dave Glass
As early as 1886, Samuel Clemens – better known by his pseudonym Mark Twain – mockingly reported about an unfortunate move for the local newspaper Daily Morning Call, as Andrew Chamings of SFGate noted in an article about the history of the house moving late last year. “An old house broke out of its berth last night and drifted down Sutter Street toward Montgomery,” the author wrote, adding that “the tramp’s two-story half-timbered house has been wandering listlessly on Commercial Street for several days.”
Back then, horses had to do the hauling. The crews used boards, ties, and oiled boards to slowly drag the houses over the hills of San Francisco. It seems like a difficult way to go, but Diane C. Donovan, who detailed the centuries of relocation in her book San Francisco Relocated, found it to be a fairly common practice. Some houses were even brought into town by ship before being transported across town.
The city’s most famous move – and probably the largest – took place in the 1970s when 12 Victorian homes were saved from demolition during the San Francisco Western Addition redevelopment plan. Two decades earlier, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency had set out to evacuate an entire community and build new homes that would attract wealthy residents. Western Addition’s neighborhoods, home to mostly black and immigrant families, were about to be demolished in what is now considered one of the most egregious acts of gentrification. In the end, more than 800 stores were closed and 4,729 households had to leave their homes. Around 2,500 Victorian houses were demolished.
Around 2,500 Victorian homes were demolished, but 12 were saved. Photo: Dave GlassA worker signals a truck driver pulling Englander House through San Francisco on Sunday. Photo: Noah Berger / AP
But 12 were spared. As public anger grew over the wiping out of the Victorians from the city, the redevelopment agency agreed to auction some of the homes and move them out of the area.
“It was like moving a herd of giant elephants – and about the same speed,” said Carlo Middione, a former redevelopment officer, in a video of the experience published by FoundSF, a local history organization. The project lasted almost a month.
“People who lived nearby opened their windows and saw a large Victorian house go by,” said Glass. Photo: Dave Glass
“It was a big spectacle,” says Dave Glass, a photographer whose parents emigrated from Poland and raised him in Western Addition. They moved to the Sunset District on the beach when his childhood home was demolished. Years later he documented the resettlement of the rescued houses. “People who lived nearby opened their windows and saw a large Victorian house go by. It was really something to see. “
The Englander House makes its way through San Francisco. Photo: Noah Berger / APThe process hasn’t changed much, Glass said. Photo: Dave Glass
Glass was out and about last weekend watching the Englander House move through town. The process, he said, hasn’t changed much. But he thinks has the feeling. He complained that the structures had not been valued in the past few decades. “People didn’t care about Victorian houses,” he said, noting that while dozens have been preserved, thousands have been destroyed. “Now they are valued.”
Glass hopes it stays that way, so that the San Franciscans take enough pride in the city’s history and aesthetics to protect the Victorians – even if that takes big strides. “We have these tall, ornate redwood buildings,” he said. “Nobody else has that.”