The Englander Victorian Rolls Through The Streets Of San Francisco
I heard about a plan to uproot a 130-year-old 5,000 square-foot Victorian and move it to a new location
a third of mile away.
I contacted the owner, the architect, and the contractor and got permission to document the process.
No Victorian had been relocated in San Francisco in nearly 50 years. The preparation and trucking
a three-story (plus basement), six-bedroom house with a 13-foot first floor was no trivial exercise.
It took two highly experienced crews from out-of-town to get it done.
Prior to the move, the owner spent four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars negotiating
with dozens of city, state, and county departments to arrange for the day when streets would have to be
closed in preparation to have a building as wide as a street make its way through town.
Before leaving the lot where it had been built in the 1880s, the house was 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.
The move was scheduled to start at dawn on a Sunday. Present were scores of city workers, police,
and tree-guys, all observed by many hundreds of spectators kept at bay by police. The house was on a
hill, and its first move would be to come down its driveway and turn right, by far, the most
hazardous part of its journey. If it was ever going to fall over, this would be the moment.
In the end, the house was pushed, pulled, and cajoled at one-mile-an-hour downhill - safely - after which
the streets were level the rest of the way.
Even then, progress remained fitful. 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 of the six platforms, and each of the dual sets of
wheels, one at a time.
Its new location was a 50-foot wide lot. The house's final placement was inches from a building of similar vintage
that itself been moved 14-feet sideways to make room for its 35-foot-wide new neighbor. The two structures
would eventually be connected. By the time the house arrived in front of its new location on a not-very-wide
street, it was ten hours into the process. Turning the wheels in increments of inches, pulling and pushing, the
workers slowly swiveled the house ninety-degrees so it could be shoved straight backwards onto five-foot-tall
stacks of oversized Lincoln Logs set on the basement floor, covered by thick sheets of metal which were
constantly adjusted so the wheels would roll onto them. It was, like everything else, a slow, exacting process.
The movers finished the job deep into dusk, 12 hours after the house rolled down its driveway.
As soon as The Englander House was in place,hardcore spectators across the street, many who had been
hiking along, making photos and videos of the house since dawn, broke into cheers.
This was in the early months of the pandemic. Everyone involved, without exception, was helpful and
gracious, apparently not irritated with the one person who was not involved in planning or executing the
project, but who would just not go away.