The Englander Victorian Rolls
Through The Streets Of San Francisco
I heard about the plan to uproot a 130-year-old 5,000 square-foot Victorian
house shortly before it was scheduled to happen, spending a week photographing
the workers as they prepared the three-story, six-bedroom house with a 13-foot
first floor to be trucked to its new home a half-mile away.
I documented the house being separated from its foundation, jacked up, placed on
steel beams, and rolled sideways 50 feet, where it had six eight-wheeled
platforms placed underneath to support its 100-ton weight. And that was after
the inside had been stripped to the studs.
At dawn one Sunday, with scores of city workers, police, and tree-guys attending
- watched by many hundreds of spectators - the house was carefully towed,
pushed, and cajoled at one-mile-an-hour down its hill, after which the streets
leveled out for the rest of the seven blocks, though not in a straight line.
From the moment the Englander House pulled out of its driveway, progress was
fitful, sometimes halting after just a few feet. It was not just the
right-and-left turns to be managed and buildings to be avoided; or the street
signs and streetlights taken down and trees trimmed en-route, or even the
streets blocked off and reopened and spectators constantly wrangled to stay out
of danger. Houses don't steer like cars. For the wheels to turn even a few
degrees, the house had to be jacked up to take the weight off each platform in
turn. It took the time it took.
At the end of the day, the house was parked in front of its new home in the
middle of a not-very-wide street, ready to to be backed onto metal paths laid
across 5-foot-tall stacks of oversized Lincoln Logs set on the basement floor, a
long, difficult, and fraught process. The house was to be placed just a few
inches from a building of similar vintage that itself been moved sideways
14-feet to make room for the 40-foot-wide building to be backed into a
50-foot-wide lot. The movers finished the job deep into dusk, 12 hours after
they first rolled down the hill. As soon as The Englander House was in place,
the hardcore spectators across the street broke into cheers.
It took two moving companies, an architect, a structural engineer, a general
contractor, a permit facilitator, the owner of all the properties, city workers,
police, tree guys, and lots of other people to get this done. During a
pandemic. Everyone involved was helpful to me, apparently not irritated with the
one person not involved in planning or executing the job, but who would just not