July 23, 2015

This House Has a New Home

I watched a turn-of-the-century cottage be moved eight blocks last night.

Wait, I don't think you heard me: I watched a house be picked up, moved, and put back down in an empty lot eight blocks away.

It blew my mind. I couldn't stop giggling.

I knew this sort of thing used to happen in LA, as the city grew, and as people wanted to move to different areas but keep the house they'd built and loved. But I guess I didn't realize that it still happened, unless the house was being moved to Heritage Square for preservation.

USC had put in to demolish this cottage and another one on the same block, despite their historic significance, to make room for a new child care center. Fortunately, local preservationists rallied to find an alternative.

In stepped developer John Guell, president of Southland Development, which is better-known for its shopping centers and supermarkets than for Victorian cottages. He bought both properties and agreed to move them both to an already-empty lot in the University Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.

Image: Google Street View

The first of the two, known as the M.C. Mills Residence, made the journey from its original location on Royal Street in West Adams to its new home in University Park last night, in a process that started just after midnight and wasn't scheduled to complete until 6 a.m.

Image: Google Street View

It may not look that exciting, but all that stucco is reportedly covering up some lovely Victorian-era wood siding, preserved underneath there for decades.

How do they move a house like this? Fortunately many Southern California homes don't have basements, so as long as you turn off all utilities and unplug everything, you can kind of just pick the thing up, put it on the back of a flatbed truck and start rolling.

Some of the larger, multi-story mansions that have been moved in the past have had to be cut up, but this single-story cottage was small and portable enough to make the trek in one piece (though the front stairs had been removed).

It takes a whole crew to maneuver around trees and other obstacles, sometimes requiring superhuman strength to pull the thing into the correct position.

Once the house hit 30th Street, and then turned down Hoover, it was cruising. It was an absolute spectacle—window shutters and screen doors flying open—so fast, in fact, that we couldn't keep up walking at a steady pace behind it.

Once it hit Adams Boulevard and tried turning onto Portland Street, the real adventure began...

...first getting dangerously close to a stop sign, which the crew had to jostle out of the ground enough so that it could be bent out of the way...

...and then navigating past the cars that hadn't been cleared from the street, despite the "No Stopping / Tow-Away" signs posted and parking enforcement officers on duty. This was one of the craziest things I've ever seen. USC students came out of their frat houses and dorms to see what all of the commotion was about.

Despite a couple of obstacles, getting to the new location was the easy part.

Getting the house into the vacant lot was something else. The crew had to use hydraulics to jack the truck up while they switched the position of the wheels in its undercarriage, so that they could angle it in position, up and over the curb, without damaging the structure on the comparatively narrow, residential street.

Of course, that gave spectators like me (and I was not the only one) the chance to really examine the 115-year-old structure...

...and the amusing misspellings of USC's signage.

We could only see inside enough to tell that the blinds had not been removed from the windows, nor had the air conditioners. And it was big enough to split into a multi-unit dwelling, with three different mailboxes.

I actually didn't find out about the move until 9 or 10 p.m. last night, but it was worth it to me to drag myself out from the west side to West Adams for this historic occasion, which is certainly a preservation victory.

I had to see the move for myself. I had to be a part of it.

The second house, a 1915 Victorian cottage known as the B.P. Lloyd Residence, is being moved about three quarters of a mile just after midnight tonight, from 3024 Royal Street to 2350 Portland Street, Los Angeles. This one is bigger than the Mills Residence and will probably present a whole new set of exciting challenges and have to dodge even more obstacles.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
Photo Essay: Oxnard Heritage Square
Photo Essay: Behind the Closed Doors of West Adams Heights
Spotting the Shuttle Endeavour on the Streets of LA

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