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Move It or Lose It

Saving old homes by relocating them can take months of preparation and paperwork. And just how do you go about lifting and moving a home?

April 01, 2001|SUSAN CARRIER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tina Boyd always dreamed of living in a Victorian house. She used to spend her free time driving around Pasadena, admiring the turrets and steeply pitched roofs of the "painted ladies."

A single teacher, Boyd joked that she would have to "marry rich" to afford one of the elaborate homes she treasured.

But she found a way to turn her fantasy into reality.

After learning from a contractor friend about a house slated for demolition, Boyd checked public records and discovered that the Federal-Revival-style house belonged to Pasadena Christian School. She persuaded the school to give her the house and throw in $7,000, a fraction of the demolition cost. Boyd moved the house-lock, stock and balustrade-to her lot in Altadena.

Moving a house can save historic structures from the wrecking ball, divert tons of trash from landfills and provide affordable and low-income housing.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 4, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
House movers--In Sunday's Real Estate section story on moving old houses, a photo caption misidentified the son of Jimi and Dana Hendrix. The child's name is Max.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 8, 2001 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 2 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name-The son of Jimi and Dana Hendrix was misidentified in a photograph that ran April 1. The child's name is Max.

But it's not for everyone.

Michael O'Brien, a Pasadena architect, thought he had won the lottery when he paid $1 for a 1903 Greene and Greene craftsman home in Pasadena. Developer Greg Yerevanian offered the historic house at the bargain price so he could make way for 17 condominiums.

O'Brien moved the house two miles to a vacant lot in Pasadena's Garfield Heights neighborhood. The landmark district was the "perfect home" for a Greene and Greene house except for one factor: The street is lined with century-old oak trees and trimming them was out of the question in a city that treasures its oaks as much as its historic homes.

"A phone or cable wire can be moved, but the trees are immovable objects," O'Brien said.

To ensure safe passage between and under the trees, the house was cut in half vertically and the entire second story was removed.

"It was such a big job, deconstructing and reconstructing," O'Brien said. "It would have been cheaper to demolish and build new. But this was no ordinary house."

Cheryl Clark and Vincent Landay of Santa Monica also discovered the cost of a "free" house. This summer they plan to move into a 1906 American Four-Square home that once sat on a church parking lot.

The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission designated the two-story house a "structure of merit" because Four-Square design, essentially a large no-frills square box of framed construction common on the East Coast, is rare in Southern California.

Clark and Landay, a film producer, have no regrets about moving the house, but they discovered three stumbling blocks that can make the process frustrating: land scarcity, hidden costs and bureaucracy.

"If only we'd known," Clark said.

Because of the shortage of vacant land in Santa Monica, they had to demolish an existing 1940s ranch home to make room for their historic Four-Square.

Unexpected costs, including complete reframing, have inflated the price of their free house to "comparable to building new."

"But we couldn't build a house like this new," Clark said.

Clark and Landay had expected the entire moving process to take nine months to a year, but the permitting process has helped to double that original estimate.

"It was hard to find the right person to move things through," Clark said. "There's really no structure in place."

*

Amanda Schacter, Santa Monica's chief planner, acknowledged, "The permit process, for relocations or otherwise, is not a one-stop system, but we are in the process of revising and will move toward that."

Permitting procedures, notoriously complicated, costly and time-consuming, can be daunting to homeowners and moving companies. In Los Angeles, pieces of the permit puzzle include checking the plans, making arrangements for street use, complying with building and safety codes and checking with the cable companies and utility companies.

"Sometimes you just can't get to the last piece without having all of the other pieces in place," said Arnie Corlin of Corlin Co., a house-moving broker.

Consequently, Ted Hollinger of Master House Movers is uncertain about the future of house moving.

"It's a dying industry. The cost of government. The cost of raw land. The rules and regulations. It all makes it tougher to do this job," said Hollinger, a house mover for more than five decades.

In the 1920s, house moving was so common in Southern California that the city of Monrovia alone had two companies that took care of the city's many "mobile" homes. Today, according to Hollinger, only three major players remain in Southern California, an area once considered the house moving capital of the United States.

Corlin also wonders how much longer his business can survive. He specializes in slicing and dicing apartment buildings and moving them to low-income areas of South-Central Los Angeles. He often carves a single, multiunit building into separate duplexes and places them in different locations.

Currently, Corlin is converting a 40-unit apartment building from Van Nuys into a series of 1,400-square-foot townhouses in Watts.

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