Howl's Moving Victorian Time-Lapse

Karl Mondon:


If like me you're wondering, "But why tho?", you might dig up this article: mostly a history of other times that people have moved houses, and including only this by way of explanation:

The move of 807 Franklin St. is being done by a private owner looking to restore two empty Victorian-era buildings while making way for a new eight-story, 48-unit rental property.

...leaving me still wondering, "But why tho?"

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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38 Responses:

  1. thielges says:

    Why? Because the developer couldn’t get a demo permit for 807 Franklin. It is likely a historic resource.

    So then why not just redevelop the lot where 807 was moved to instead ? I dunno. Maybe 807 Franklin has better development potential? Zoned higher? Able to consolidate with other parcels?

    • MattyJ says:

      I think you're right about zoning/height. The destination neighborhood doesn't have much over 3-4 stories and you have high-rises on Franklin, and much higher rents. I would say that calling the destination 'Alamo Square neighborhood' as SFGate did is being generous.

      They also reported that this particular Victorian is not one of the pre-fab/standard cookie cutter ones but was custom built by the architect and is a rare specimen. That's not going to stop the owner from sub-dividing it and the mortuary into a bunch of apartments, though. I guess historic worth is only on the outside.

      I couldn't find video of them backing it into the space next to the mortuary. That was a _tight_ space and must have taken some serious skills on the part of the movers to slide it in there. I can barely back out of my garage without dinging a side view mirror into the door frame.

  2. Doctor Memory says:

    My horrible suspicion is that someone ran the numbers and decided that even after sinking $66,666/bedroom in costs (and god know how many lawyer-hours an expediter-hours and etc) before a single electrical cable or water pipe was run at the far side, that it would still be simpler than getting a permit to actually build a new apartment building at the site of the mortuary and would still be profitable.

  3. BHN says:

    Are you implying that the whole move isn't justified by that awesome timelapse video of the house traveling through the streets of SF like a mighty ship of yore?

    • jwz says:

      I could accept that as the reason.

      That's not the reason.

    • Karellen says:

      like a mighty ship of yore

      Maybe they're off sail the wide accountan-sea and join the fleet of the Crimson Permanent Assurance.

      (You just gave me prompt needed to figure out what's been nagging at my brain about this whole thing for a couple of days. Thanks so much!)

    • David Konerding says:

      I work in computers, so my assumption is that humans can get nothing done at all. But then I look at things humans can do well, and building buildings, moving buildings, and building ships are all things we've gotten absurdly good at.

      This includes things like building the world's tallest building, and stopping when the funders ran out of money, rather than when the maximum height was reached. And monster cargo ships that are build as huge parts and then integrated into a final assembly by massive cranes.

      Other things humans are good at: making war. Ensuring stable food supplies to rich cities. Extracting resources. Basically, everything that isn't computer programming.

  4. FM says:

    We've been moving houses in San Francisco since the 1850s! There's even a book about it. I guess redwood is really light.

  5. J. Peterson says:

    Maybe this will qualify it as a Blue Check Home.

    • Dude says:

      I was very, VERY relieved to find out that whole thing was just a joke.

      • thielges says:

        Well Blue Check might be a joke though there are still plenty of services pandering to the vain. Remember those “Who’s Who in ...” registries? The first time I was “invited to join the rolls” I was still in high school. Then for photographers vying to shed their amateur status there are plenty of vanity galleries, some in posh locales, where you pay for the privilege of being able to brag that your photos hung on the same wall as Weston and Adams.

        • jwz says:

          Unless they are actual museums, all art galleries are vanity galleries. Usually that's a side-line to being a money laundry, however.

          • thielges says:

            Maybe we have different definitions of what qualifies as a vanity gallery. Galleries that rep artists on commission only are likely legit. Galleries that expect artists to pay to play are vanity. Maybe some galleries take both approaches. I've known a few artists repped long term at Union Square blue chip galleries. While the commissions are borderline usurious, net cash does indeed flow towards the artist. A bizarre but necessary symbiosis of creativity and commerce.

            Another way to detect a vanity gallery is to determine who they consider their customers. Legit galleries consider art buyers as customers. Galleries like this one court artists as if they were customers. In addition to making it clear that artists must foot the bill, they have a long list of testimonials from their "customers" who talk glowingly about how well the gallery boosted their ego. But barely a mention about how well the gallery did at selling their artwork. Isn't sales the primary function of a legit private gallery? You'd think their testimonials would include "I was able to quit my day job!" outcomes.

            Compare with a proper blue chip gallery like Berggruen. Maybe they pander to mediocre artists behind the scenes but at least they're not directly courting their business on their website.

            • Dude says:

              Galleries and dealers don't sell art, they sell reputations. When it's in a museum or other educational facility, the purpose is to examine it and educate the viewers on the artist's worldview at the time and the difference between the world then and the world now.

              The art market is just that: a market. It's a speculator-boom industry that has nothing to do proven value but rather perceived value (kinda like another industry discussed on this site just days ago). As an artist myself (though not of this medium), I don't doubt the necessity of commerce (nor the fact that profiting off one's art is not synonymous with pandering), but that doesn't change the fact that a gallery is just a glorified car lot with similarly shifty dealers running it.

              From 2016:

              • thielges says:

                I totally agree with the kingmaker role of galleries. Just as with the music industry, only a small fraction of talented artists ever make it big enough to quit their day jobs. There is some alignment between merit and fame though it is far from perfect.

                Legit art galleries are a little like central banks: they print money. But at least that money is shared with artists. Vanity galleries are a different story. Despite what they may say, their business model doesn't include making their artist clients rich or famous.

        • Dude says:

          I mean... it's basically the same thing as "Maps to the Stars' Homes" and the specific brand of paparazzi that's been around for over a century now. Hell, the Hollywood Walk of Fame isn't commissioned by the city, it's paid for privately and always done to promote movies/tv shows/etc.

          I wouldn't be surprised if some influencer or whatever seriously did consider putting a blue check on their house (or actually tried before an HOA used their powers of fascism to shut 'em down), but it's nothing new.

        • Elusis says:

          "Who's Who" is meant to prey on the unwashed lower middle class.

          It was a big deal to my mom to pay for my listing in "America's High Schools" and buy the (overpriced) volume.

          We had no idea what a vanity press was at the time, or how they operated, and it being 1989 and my family not being connected to anyone who might be a more worldly mentor type, but desperate to get me enough scholarships to pay for my tuition and room/board at the nearest state school, we were the perfect mark.

  6. cmt says:

    Moving a house... how about moving a city? https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/sweden-kiruna-relocation/index.html - Kiruna, Sweden is relocating as iron ore mining is causing the ground to sink in.

  7. CdrJameson says:

    Yakkety Sax also acceptable.

  8. eekee says:

    My favourite building move is a big office building which was moved over the course of several weeks with people working at their normal office jobs inside, and the electricity and gas connected the whole time. That one didn't go on-road. It was moved and turned from the middle of the front of a large lot to the back corner. I can't remember the names involved. The article was nice but I couldn't find it just a couple of days later, which was odd.

    As for why; I really don't know. :D Big business decisions don't seem to have a lot of sense behind them these days, but I thought they were better in the days of black and white photos. But I'm probably wrong about that.

  9. Dim says:

    I'm assuming the question is rhetorical, since the answer to "But why thoo?" is almost invariably "Because money".

    I was reminded of the time that a 12,700 tonne church was moved in Czechoslovakia in 1975 because it was in the way of coal workings. Even under communism, the answer is almost invariably "because money". (This is not a political point.)

  10. Kyzer says:

    I don't think you've ever covered when Soviet Romania split and moved a 7,600 ton apartment building in Alba Iulia in 1987 with the residents still in the building.

    They did it because Ceaușescu liked nice boulevards.

    As FM says above, San Francisco has been raising/moving buildings since 1853. A large part of Chicago was raised or moved in the 1850-60s using the technology from SF, including the >24,000 ton Robbins Building.

  11. jwz says:

    People, it is well established that buildings have been moved before.

    Nobody has cited an actual, non-hypothetical, non-guess answer to the question of: why, in 2021 San Francisco, did someone decide that this was a good idea?

    I'm sure you have guesses. I'm not really interested in those.

    • Chris says:

      I sent Phil Joy, "the veteran house-mover who oversaw the move," an inquiry on their website. Maybe they'll comment here and we'll all know.

    • Kyzer says:

      I'm not sure what answer would satisfy. The summary already given, covered here back in 2015 with more detail but is still essentially the same:

      Built for the Englander family in 1880, the home’s carriage house burned to the ground in 1950, leaving half the home’s 75-foot-wide lot empty to the north. And in 1982, the property was bequeathed to the First Baptist Church of San Francisco.

      Sold to a private party in 1991, the then-owner subsequently filed for bankruptcy and the property hit the market in 2013 listed for $2.2 million and sold to Brown & Company for $2,650,000. As we noted at the time, "while the existing house is protected [as a historical resource] and in need of "major repairs," with a lot that's zoned for 80 feet in height and high density development, the listing touts "tremendous potential for high rise condos" to rise on the undeveloped half of the lot."

      ... makes it clear there is a protected building, in need of repair, that is (accidently) underutilising its land.

      As buildings can be moved, then the building could be moved somewhere acceptable to the planning dept, still preserving the historical character of the neighbourhood, and the building itself, then a larger building can be built in its place, which still meets all zoning codes, but creates 51 apartments.

      And if the moved building is stitched to a similar building with vacant space, creating 17 more apartments.

      Whether you think that's a good answer depends on what you think about rundown buildings in general, and how far you're willing let people make change in order to make a building usable again.

      • margaret says:

        i'm surprised jwz's experience suggests "a good idea" somehow survived the crucible of assholes involved in this sort of activity. that this was the least-shitty option available to develop that property seems like a complete and non-hypothetical answer.

        p.s. crucible of assholes is my new band name.

    • Joe Luser says:

      807 franklin is/was ~5000sq ft. new construction in SF is ~$500/sq ft. total cost of moving was reported as $400K. total savings, $2.1M

  12. bq Mackintosh says:

    If only this could be legitimately awarded a pranks tag.

  13. Brian B says:

    "One day, when I came home from work, I accidentally put my car key in the door of my apartment building. I turned it, and the whole building started up. So I drove it around." --Steven Wright

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