You can currently choose from four historic Oakland homes to call for free. The catch? The building is free but you have to pay to move your home of your choice to new lot.
These homes are up for grabs because of heritage conservation efforts that require developers to make older Oakland homes available for relocation before they are demolished. And while picking up and moving an entire home is far from easy, some locals who have been through it say it can be worth the time, money, and effort.
Currently available homes include one located at 2428 Chestnut St., a large residential lot in West Oakland. Once the land is gone, it will make way for 12 new townhouses. The other homes are in Uptown, and the move (or demolition if no one takes the free offer) will make room for a 16-story, 320-unit tower block and retail space on the ground floor.
Although the houses are old, none have been rated by the city’s historical and architectural rating system as of sufficient historical importance to be saved from the wrecking ball. Two of the homes were designed by prolific East Bay architects Leo Nichols (265 24th St.) and AW Smith (2343 Waverly). Smith alone designed several hundred buildings of all kinds in his 40-year career. Both houses were built around 1908; At the time, the Waverly home was valued at $ 1,500.
“Oakland actually has a long history of moving house,” said Naomi Schiff, a board member of the Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA).
In the 1990s, Oakland updated its rules to require developers to use a good faith effort to relocate historic buildings that are about to be demolished to a new location acceptable to the city. Property developers are obliged to advertise the availability of buildings with signs on the site, in local media and by contacting neighborhood associations and for-profit and non-profit housing and monument protection organizations. The advertisement must be running for at least 90 days. The provision of the building with no or little cost is also mandatory.
Schiff participated in a grassroots campaign over 40 years ago that eventually led to these city regulations. Efforts have focused on rescuing a “wonderful old mansion” known as Metcalf House at Adams Point from plans by a developer to demolish it and build condominiums in the country. A neighborhood group sued the city for allowing the builder to build without first preparing an environmental impact report. Effort became a focus when OHA was founded in the early 1980s.
Finally a compromise was found: the client was able to continue his project, but had to offer the house for relocation. A buyer eventually stepped forward and the house was divided into three parts and transported by large truck to its current location on the 14th floor.
Schiff says this attempt to save Metcalf House (owned by Victor Metcalf, Secretary of the US Navy under Teddy Roosevelt) was her introduction to Oakland Historic Preservation. This also resulted in the city making this arrangement the city code almost a decade later.
The most ambitious moving project in Oakland was the public-private partnership that created Preservation Park in downtown Oakland, which is now home to nonprofits and small businesses. Located between 12th and 14th Streets, this Victorian neighborhood includes 16 historic buildings, 11 of which have been relocated to avoid the demolition required in the 1970s and 1980s to give way to Interstate 980.
Other major moving companies were featured in a 2017 episode of East Bay Yesterday, a podcast documenting the history of East Bay. It told how even massive structures like the Oak Knoll Marine Officer’s Club and a Buddhist church in Oakland were transported.
Those who have gone through moving an older home admit that it can be a lot of stress and money to do, but they also felt it was worth it.
“There are some advantages to moving the houses – the hard part can be finding lots,” Schiff said.
In a city with few vacant lots, securing a piece of land can be costly and time consuming.
Despite the challenges, Schiff believes there is an appetite for finely crafted houses and the preservation of the ancient materials that went into them, such as first-grown mammoth wood. “You will never find wood like that again,” said Schiff. “I hope someone will move these available homes. They can be used immediately. “
Bruce Loughridge, who lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, received an “Award of Merit” from then Mayoress Dianne Feinstein for his work rescuing old Victorians who could be demolished for housing developments. He then moved to Oakland in 2000, bought and developed real estate, and eventually relocated again. His adventure of moving a two-story Victorian maisonette from Chinatown to West Oakland was documented in a 2007 episode of the HGTV series “Haulin ‘Houses”.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Loughridge. “Even if they give it away, you can still lose a lot of money.”
Left: The former location of Bruce Loughridge’s Victorian house in Chinatown. / Right: Loughridge in front of his home at his new location in West Oakland. Photo credit: Amir Aziz
Only companies that specialize in these removals can take on such projects, and depending on the route and effort involved, costs can easily exceed $ 100,000. For example, Solares House Movers, which specializes in this area, recently put in an estimate of $ 65,000 to move a house three miles.
For Loughridge’s ordeal, he had to find a way to pull the 120-year-old house out between two modern buildings – less than three inches apart on each side – and traverse downtown Oakland and Chinatown. The police supervise these complicated maneuvers, which can only take place on Sundays.
“Do you know how busy Chinatown is on a Sunday?” Said Loughridge. “Are you kidding?”
The planning and care when navigating 90-degree bends, driving around traffic lights, crossing weight-restricted flyovers, dealing with rain and people who ignore the signs “do not park here on this date” and have to park the house after dark is his final resting place were just some of the challenges.
Government agencies and companies that needed to be part of the process were the Southern Pacific (for railroad tracks to cross), the Highway Patrol (for crossing a freeway), PG&E, and the cable company (for the utility lines to be crossed) in the Levitation), OPD and the City (for commuting traffic lights and hanging power lines out of the way and keeping impatient motorists at intersections), someone cutting trees along the way, and a moving company familiar with the business of moving is.
Loughridge recalls that the day the Victorian was moved there was a major football game on TV and it was raining lightly. When the power went out unexpectedly on his route, neighbors came out of their homes and cursed him, even though he says his surgery was not to blame. Other people weren’t upset, they were more intrigued. Many walked behind the house the entire trip, fascinated.
“It was like a parade,” said Loughridge. The two-mile drive took over 10 hours.
Would he do it again? “Yeah, now that I know how,” he said. “It’s not about the distance. It’s what’s in the way. “
Chris Buckley is another Oaklander who has moved a historic home. From the mid-1970s to 2006, he worked as an urban planner in Oakland. He now volunteers for OHA in their efforts to preserve historic buildings, based on firsthand evidence from 1954 when his grandmother’s house was bought by developers of the former MacArthur Broadway shopping center.
“They actually moved the house and all of the furniture,” he said, including the family wing. The one-story Victorian building had a high roof, the top two meters of which had to be cut off to reveal power lines. Buckley temporarily lived in the new location of the house on East 27th Street. “Back then the rules were simpler,” he said of the rules for moving buildings.
And while vacant lots aren’t the easiest to find, Oakland still has plenty that can house homes in need of land. The problem is, there is currently no system in place that helps ordinary people, not just brokers, identify them. Buckley says advocating changes to these structures is on OHA’s “to-do” list.
After looking at the challenges of finding a viable location to lay it and a route that avoids or minimizes conflict with overhead lines, he says the greatest expense is building a foundation for the new location and then doing any other renovations that an owner wants to perform.
Relocated homes also need to be renovated in accordance with the stringent current regulations for electrical, plumbing, energy, earthquake safety, windows and stairs, and this can prove prohibitive. The OHA is currently trying to convince the city to expand its rules to better align them with the California Historical Building Code, which provides alternative (and less stringent) standards and makes the process much more affordable. Buckley said the city appears to be happy with the proposal and plans to confirm the details soon.
Buckley, who is passionate about the environmental benefits of moving historic buildings rather than building new ones, said moving old houses means using less new material, including increasingly expensive lumber, and a lack of a manufacturing process that Resources like chemicals and energy consumed. A lot of energy is embedded in an existing building and energy is also required for demolition.
For Buckley, moving existing homes is more than just a conservation issue; it is also about conservation. “The benefits are pretty broad,” he said.
Loughridge is currently working on four restoration projects, all Victorian-style in Oakland, and is also keeping an eye on any that may only be offered at the cost of removal. “I like restoration – I don’t even mind paying more,” he said. “It’s about the story.”
Historic Homes Currently Available for Relocation in Oakland:
265 24th St.
2342-44 Waverly Str.
2346 Waverly Str.
For information on Waverly and 24th Street, contact Kevin Ma at 510-227-6689.
For information about the Chestnut Street house, contact Alex Walker at 609-707-7644.