Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reflections on Taking a Break

Our lavender truck, taking a well deserved break under the Fall colors

We have been away from the houses the last few weeks, taking a bit of a break as we struggled to resolve the issues with the City of Berkeley. Despite the fact that it is painful for us financially, it has been a good break.

For me, it was somewhat enforced. I had to have surgery to repair a hernia - a minor enough procedure, but painful enough to take me out of the running for over a week. I had the surgery on the day before Thanksgiving, and though I was back at work on Monday, it took me longer to heal than I had thought.

The time off has given me time to reflect on where Tom and I are in our lives. I remember reading "Breakfast of Champions" as a teenager, and one line has stayed with me: Kurt Vonnegut wrote the book as a 50th birthday present to himself, and he said something along the lines of "Turning 50 is like crossing the peak of a roof - having ascended one sdie" I always knew that, past 50, the slow slide down the shingles begins, quickens, and ends with a trip over the gutters and a final face plant on the pavement below.

In my mind, I thought this change would be lessened for me than it is for most. By beginning losing my vision at age 23, I felt I had already addressed the decline that we all get to experience. Somehow, I had gotten there earlier than everyone else, and the increasing infirmities of davancing age would be easily taken in my stride.

But I find that I'm as vulnerable to this as everyone else. My vision has prepared me only to recognize that our bodies change over time, but this surgery has made me start to really see the view down the slope of the roof. It's an amaazing, awe inspriing and terrifying view, all at once. I feel more keenly than ever that who I am, and who my body is, are two very dstinct beings, and that my body is going to take a path that my mind cannot greatly control.

We all get to take this trip down, and it is in many ways a wonderful thing. Feeling the aging of my own body, and seeing Tom dealing with aches and pains that, at times, slow his step, continues to be fascinating to observe. How much worse would it be to confront mortality after having a life of no pain, no disabilities, no limitation? This slide helps us all prepare for that final free fall - it's frightening and beautiful.

The hernia surgery has also reminded me of another important life lesson: at 52, I should stop lifting radiators.

So now we are getting back into the swing of work. Our bond application is moving forward, and we hope to be back moving the Cheney Cottage very soon. As I type, Tom is on 62nd Street, finishing the laborious process of scraping the paint on the front of the Delaney house. I'll go over in an hour or so and put up all the colors we've chosen, so we can see how the house will look.

Soon we hope to have the two houses on the same lot, and electricity and running water restored. Then the real work can begin - the restoration of the Cheney Cottage, and the building of the new first floor for the Delaney House. This blog should go from being my railing against the City of Berkeley's draconian policies to being what I hadhoped it would be: an interesting tale of restoration of these two beautiful houses.

Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Second Owners

Been a while, hasn't it? Things have not been moving much, so I haven't had a lot to post - but there is progress being made.

Basically, we've had to cave if we're going to get this project done. The City of Berkeley screwed us over - had we known they would be so implacable on the bond issue, we would never have moved the Delaney House back, and simply sold it. But now that we've moved it, we're kind of stuck - we HAVE TO finish this project. So we're proceeding, following the City's rules. But rest assured: the City of Berkeley Permit Center is an evil entity. The Death Star. Darth MacQuarrie rules.

Okay, so enough of that....

We have done a lot of research about the Delaney Family, the first family we know of who owned the house on 62nd Street. The house was probably built in the 1880s, but the first records we have found have been from 1901. So we can only assume the Delaneys owned the house before that - there's no way of being sure.

The Delaneys sold the house in 1947 - but to who?

In our work fixing up the house, stuck behind the wainscoting in the kitchen, we found a negative for an old photograph. We had it developed, and it showed a strong, somewhat stern looking african american woman, sitting on a porch that, although it resembled the Delaney House, was not our house.

Doris Anderson, from whom we bought the house, was really nice to us - waiting while we dealt with all our odd financing, and trusting that we would be successful in purchasing the house. So we wanted to do something nice for her - the negative presented us with the perfect opportunity, and we had it printed and sent her the photograph. We assumed the woman in the photo was her mother.

After receiving the photo, Mrs. Anderson called us, and Tom had a delightful conversation with her - from which he learned a lot of the Thomas family history. Here are his notes on his conversation with Doris:
Belle Dixon
The woman in the picture was not Doris' mother, but was her grandmother, Belle Dixon, at her house in Hearn Texas. She died at the age of 50 not long after the picture was taken in the 50's.

Doris was born in the early 1930's in Galveston. Doris's dad, George Thomas, came west from Texas to join his brother and cousin during the war to work in the Vallejo shipyards. Doris' mother Essie said she'd come west to join her husband if God gave her a sign that she should go. She said, "God, if I wake up at 2 am this morning, I'll take that as a sign I should move west." That night, she woke up at 2 am, and so she packed up Doris and her sister onto a train headed to Oakland. On the way west, Doris was impressed with all the soldiers and sailors, fearing that her sister would be snatched up, but her sister appreciated all the attention.

Doris lived with her folks during the war in a modern duplex in Vallejo. She and her family would visit with her uncle, a porter with the Southern Pacific railroad, who lived on Tyler Street in South Berkeley. Her uncle would take them joyriding around town on weekends. Little did she know that her family was looking for a new home in the neighborhood. Not long after graduating from high school in 1947, on a sleepover visit with friend or family member in West Berkeley, her mom called to tell to wait another week before coming home. When she called back, her mom told her to walk with her bags to 1634 62nd Street. Doris walked up the steps of a strange old Victorian home, and her mom opened the door, surprising her by saying "Welcome home!". After living in a modern duplex, and developing friendships in Vallejo, Doris was very disappointed to move to an old house in Berkeley!

According to Doris, back in the 1940's, 62nd Street was primarily an Italian neighborhood. She recalls only three other black families living on the street back then. After the war, George worked in San Francisco's Playland at the Beach amusement park. Essie raised chickens and Jackson roses (many of the rose bushes survive in the yard). Doris remembers having a chicken for a pet. George only had a 4th grade education, but he was very handy, building duck ponds and chicken coops, and basement bedrooms for Doris and her brother, Preston. Doris' older sister at first lived in the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen, until their aunt who came to live with them displaced her, and then she too moved into a basement bedroom.

Not long after moving to 62nd Street, Doris got married (in 1949) at the Progressive Baptist Church on King St and Alcatraz Ave (two blocks away). Her husband was a veteran, and they decided to move into their own house in North Berkeley on Kains Street. Doris remembers having her wedding reception in the backyard on 62nd street, fearing that the chickens, ducks and roosters would interrupt the festivities, but they were respectful. Doris' new neighbors in N. Berkeley had a parade to welcome her husband back from the war. Despite the warm welcome, he made a point of regularly breaking down and cleaning his infantry service rifle while sitting on the front porch of their home. Doris was too young to recognize that there were race lines in Berkeley at the time. As a young UC Berkeley student told her as part of a college research project, Doris and her husband were among the first racial block busters in Berkeley. Doris still owns the house on Kains, over 60 years later. She has fond memories of joining her family for holiday dinners and neighborhood cookouts on 62nd Street.

Doris worked for the California Youth Authority and moved to Sacramento for work in 1979. Doris' sister passed away in 1979, her mother passed away in the 1980's and her brother Preston passed away in the early 90's. Doris herself is a cancer survivor, and she has three daughters, living in Berkeley, Fremont and San Jose. Preston's house was left to his son, but after he died shortly after his parents, the house passed to Doris, his nearest living relative.

From that time, the house was mostly empty, except of course when the squatter moved in. Doris finally got him out of the house in 2009, and the house was then purchased by us. So it's quite likely that the Delaney House has only been sold twice - once in 1947 and then in 2009.

Despite the City of Berkeley's shenanigans, we still feel lucky to own the Delaney House - and the Cheney Cottage, still in pieces under tarps in Albany Village. Some day, they'll be together, and the history of both houses will continue to be written.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Landmark in El Cerrito?

We are running out of steam. It's been almost two weeks since we sent Joan MacQuarrie the letter that was also posted to the blog. In that time, we have heard..... nothing. Eric Angress said that he has had some good conversations with Berkeley City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, but nothing has happened. The situation remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, both houses are at risk due to the rain, and the City of Berkeley refuses to do ANYTHING to help. The petty bureaucrats that run the Permit Center are more concerned with their own internal mishegoss than they are with actually preserving houses in this town.
What might have been?

So now, we're thinking: let's give up. We can move the Cheney Cottage anywhere - the City of Berkeley has no control over it, it's out of their jurisdiction. We can find a lot in El Cerrito, and move the house there. We feel confident that there are cities in the area that would love to have such a distinctive and important house moved to a lot within their city limits.

At this point, it is becoming imperative that we get the house moved somewhere and reassembled, and protect it from further damage.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recycling the Old Foundation

The new view from the porch of the rubble that was once the Delaney House's foundation

Today, HIlary brought his bobcat to 62nd Street, and after much work, the old foundation is mostly gone.

Because the house had a brick foundation, we thought that removing the foundation would be easy - we could practically pick it up, piece by piece. But in fact, although the perimeter foundation was brick capped with concrete, the central slab was almost a foot thick in places.
Hilary breaking up concrete with the bobcat

Hilary and Tom spent the day breaking up the concrete and loading two dumpster loads to be taken away. It's still not done - on Monday, Hilary will return to haul off the rest of the pieces and to break up the area that was under the front room. The concrete that was our foundation gets ground up and recycled as aggregate for new concrete projects.

With rain in the forecast, we expect that the new large front yard on 62nd Street will soon become a mud pit, so we'll be going back tomorrow to cover the gaping hole in our yard with plastic.

Next, the surveyors come back to site the Cheney Cottage - we're still optimistic that the Cheney Cottage will actually move to 62nd Street.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Letters to the City

I like to write letters. I enjoy the act of typing a letter (unless it's a thank you note, which are never typed), putting it in an envelope, and mailing it. I like to write bread and butter notes, the one page thank you letters to friends who have had us to dinner or done something for us. These days, one gets so few opportunities to actually write letters, but I embrace them when they come along.

Emails are a poor substitute, particularly for a Luddite such as myself. But I don't keep my head in the sand: I recognize them as the method of communication of our time, and I am a heavy email user. In my job, I get upwards of 200 emails a day (not counting spam), so I spend a great deal of time responding to email. It is an extremely convenient way of communicating, particularly when working on a massive project like the Ed Roberts Campus, which requires me to have several ongoing conversations at the same time.

As 62nd Street followers will recall, Tom and I asked the City of Berkeley to waive the requirement for a Surety Bond for completing the project. We had even offered to put up a Completion Bond covering a portion of the work. There are several reasons for this: the big one, however, is that we have been bilked out of so much money on permit fees that our cash flow is suffering.

So yesterday, Joan MacQuarrie, the Chief Building Official for the City of Berkeley, let us know that they will not waive this requirement for us. I won't quote her entire email, but her reasoning is that the City is concerned that they may end up with an unfinished and abandoned building that could be a haven to drug dealers and squatters.

Since the house on 62nd Street has been abandoned for 20 years, had a squatter living in it that the City spent years dealing with, and was a refuge for drug dealers, we're not exactly certain what they think we are doing. If a drug house for squatters was the plan, why would we have even unlocked the front gate? That mission was already accomplished.

But this gave me the opportunity to flex my letter writing muscle:

Hello Joan MacQuarrie,

I am responding to the email you sent to Tom today regarding the Bond Waiver Request.

I first want to congratulate you, as you have done something that few people have managed to do: you have offended me. I tend to be pretty thick skinned, but your arguments have offeneed and angered me.

To begin, I am amazed and awed with the City's reasoning that we are being held to the bond requirement because you "had many situations over the years where houses have been left on cribs, the work incomplete, the job abandoned, buildings left unoccupied for the homeless and drug users to squat. The city and the neighborhood end up with blight and an unsafe building and neighborhood." Noble words, but have you not been paying attention? The lot on 62nd Street has been abandoned, neglected, and had a squatter for the last 20 years. There is a video about the building: "Shelter: A Squatumentary" about squatting in the Bay Area (I would be happy to loan you my copy of this video). There were drug problems, shootings, and arrests made at this property.

I would suggest you have a conversation with Officer Spencer Fomby, who I believe is the Beat Sergeant (Berkeley PD) for 62nd Street. When he learned we had purchased the house, he stopped by to tell us that he was "very happy" that someone was finally addressing an ongoing blight problem in the neighborhood. Perhaps you should also speak with our neighbors, all of whom were sick and tired of the squatter, the drug problems, and living next to a boarded up house. They are all thrilled about what we are doing, and sickened by the amount of trouble we are having getting through the City's permit processes.

So your concern is that this property will end up with squatters and as a drug haven - that has already happened. That is so last year. We are here to FIX that problem. If you have spent any time on 62nd Street between King and California, you may notice the beginnings of a renaissance on that block. People are fixing up the houses and developing pride in our block. We are proud to be part of that process.

Let me also clarify that Tom and I are not a corporation: we are two individuals who are passionate about old houses, and have spent years working on houses in Berkeley. We have won a preservation award from BAHA, we have restored several blighted properties, and we are committed to improving our neighborhood (South Berkeley). We are not developers - we are a couple who have raised our children here, who run non profits here, and who have worked diligently to improve the quality of our City.

I'd also like to point out that, as we are not licensed contractors, we are ineligible to obtain a bond. The only way we could do that would be to put up the ENTIRE amount of the improvements in escrow. Do you seriously expect that all Berkeley home owners will do this in the future? If so, you are certainly creating an environment that is unfriendly to home owners, and that will make many many more people do un-permitted work (a big problem in the City already).

If you are so concerned about buildings being left on cribs to deteriorate, I'd also like to invite you to stop by the Gill Tract in Albany, and visit the Cheney Cottage. Because of the City's implacable processes, that house has been sitting there, in two pieces, for 5 months. This is a house that is a historic property, and, had the City allowed us to move it, it would have been well on the way to being restored, it would be providing much needed housing, and it would be a jewel in what has been a blighted neighborhood. Instead, it continues to deteriorate while we wait for the City to allow us to do something good for the neighborhood.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: we are taking a blighted property in a distressed neighborhood, and not only restoring it but also saving an endangered historic building and bringing that house into this neighborhood, to help bring the neighborhood back. The City has done little to help, and has cost us significant amounts of money and delays, which have also caused damage to both houses.

As I believe we have showed time and time again (in our earlier home restorations, in our work to save the Cheney Cottage, in my work on the Ed Roberts Campus), we are "get it done" people. I still cannot understand why the City isn't rallying behind us, cheering us on as we try to do something right for this property and this neighborhood. But I am respectfully asking that you get out of our way, waive the Bond Requirement, and let us get this project done. The neighborhood, and the City of Berkeley, will thank you for it.

Thank you.


I recognize that this blog is at risk of needing a name change: the sub heading might soon have to become "How A Gay Couple in Berkeley Spent Years Raging Against the Machine" It is tedious, right? But we still have high hopes that, before the rains start, we will get the approval to move the Cheney Cottage. We hope that soon, this blog will again be about the process of moving and restoring two historic houses.

We keep waiting.....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Unobstructed View

The Delaney House, on blocks, with the security gates removed from the windows

With everything mostly on hold waiting for permits, Tom and I are doing a lot of smaller tasks at on 62nd Street. But sometimes, those tasks are extremely satisfying.

Today, we removed all the metal security gates from the windows of the Delaney House. It was a relatively small job (complicated by the fact that the gates were rusted and very difficult to remove), but it had a huge impact on the building. The house without the security gates looks so much better than with the gates, and it appears to fit more into its neighborhood.

Although some people may think 62nd Street is not the best neighborhood in town, few of the houses have security gates on the windows. Mostly, we've found the block is one where neighbors watch out for each other, and where people are relatively safe. We've become increasingly found of our new neighborhood and especially our new neighbors, and removing the security gates not only makes sense for the house, but it makes sense for the neighborhood.

The old foundation is ready to be removed - we are waiting for Hilary to tell us when he'll be there to tear out all the concrete and bricks. We might keep one small piece of it, that we'll use as a pond in the new landscaping.
The first floor of the Cheney Cottage, still waiting in Albany
Meanwhile, in Albany, the Cheney Cottage is still sitting, waiting to be moved. The tarps need to be replaced again, but the house, though dirty and damaged, is still there, still waiting. Maybe it'll move this month.

The view through the living room door to the stairs of the Cheney Cottage, with the second floor missing.
The two halves of our house, with torn tarps, still waiting.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The View from the Porch

A picture is worth a 1000 words, so I'll let this one do the speaking: this is the view from the front porch of the Delaney House, showing the old foundation.

This weekend, it was incredibly hot - just in time for the weekend when we planned to demolish the old foundation, using sledge hammers and a jackhammer. We spent several hours at the Delaney House on Saturday, in the intense heat, breaking up the old foundation. But today, we decided that it was too hot, so we stayed home. We'll finish the work next weekend, if it cools off.

Friday, September 24, 2010

How Much?

We've been adding up the costs of the Delaney House and the Cheney Cottage, and it's pretty amazing to see the numbers.

To date, not including the purchase of the houses ($285,000 for Delaney, and $17 of Cheney), we have spent $100,000. Not surprising: we moved the two sections of the Cheney House to Albany, moved the Delaney House back, hired an electrician to install a new box, paid PG&E, paid AT&T, paid EBMUD, etc etc.

But the most surprising number is the cost of the permits. Of the $100,000, almost 1/4 - $22,000 - has been paid to the City of Berkeley. There were several things that jacked this number up and really made us reconsider doing this sort of project in Berkeley:
  • The City refused to let us have one permit for this property - it is one parcel, but because it is two houses, they required two separate permits (doubling the cost). Our understanding is that developers can get one permit for more than one structure, even if they are on adjoining lots - but not small time clowns like us
  • The required a demolition permit for the Delaney House, even though the house was not demolished (even under the City's guidelines)
  • Asking for a surety bond and liability insurance (this was waived on Delaney, but we expect to have to fight the whole fight all over again on Cheney)
What this does not include are the electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits (which, because they are two houses, will require 6 permits in total). So we expect our Permit Center total to top out close to $30,000

We expect the costs for everything else to be somewhere in the range of $150,000 - $175,000. So the permit costs will be as much as 20% of the total cost of the project.

And the City wonders why so many of the residents do their work without permits.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's just a Jump to the Left

The Delaney House has arrived in it's new location, 40 feet south and 4 feet west of where it spent the last 130+ years. We hope it'll be another 130 years before we have to move it again.

Maybe we're becoming jaded to how amazing it is to move an entire house, but it seems almost routine at this point. Phil and his crew came back yesterday and slid the house over, straightened it out and lined it up with the points set out by Moran Engineering. Moran had sited the house and made sure it would end up where the plans said it would.

The process is to again jack up the house, and put the rails on rollers. Then, using a come along, the house is gently winched into position.
Using the come along, the house inches to the west

Phil used a plumb bob, hanging from each corner of the house, to line the house up perfectly with the points determined by Moran. Then, once the house was in place, it was lifted up, and the rollers removed.
Aligning the house with the northeast corner marker

The house is now sitting on cribbing, lined up where it will stay. But there will be one more move for the old place - straight up. Once the Cheney Cottage is moved and repaired, the Delaney House will be lifted higher into the air, and then a new foundation and first floor walls will be built.

Now, where were we on the permit issue for the Cheney Cottage??

Sunday, September 19, 2010

For the Love of Truck

Our 1965 GMC truck is quite possibly one of the smartest purchases we ever made.
Barnaby in our purple truck
We bought the truck back in 2003, when we were beginning work on the Old Magahey place. We had often thought about getting a pick up truck before, to use for hauling and to make it easier to do dump runs. But we never really looked for one.

In 2003, as we were starting the Herculean task of restoring the Magahey place, we noticed the truck sitting on Parker Street with a for sale sign. It was mostly primer color, but looked pretty good, and the guy who was selling it claimed the engine was "excellent" but it needed some work. So he sold it to us for $900.

Since then, we have probably invested about $1000 in the truck (not including the can of purple house paint we used to paint it) but it has done an incredible amount of work. It has hauled furniture, building materials and lots of debris. We use it for everything, and it runs great. The electrical system is still dicey (the tail lights and blinkers are currently out of order) but other than that, it runs strong and never causes us any trouble.

This weekend, it took several loads of debris from the back yard to the dump. Both loads were approaching 2000 lbs, but the truck sailed through with little trouble.

So, other than hauling debris, what did we do on Saturday? I soldered a spigot onto the place where we cut the water main, so we again have water at the site. We finished transplanting roses, cleaned up the site, and fixed the holes in the siding in the back of the house. Now that the basement has been demolished, we have lots of extra siding that matches the rest of the house, so we finally had some we could use to patch.

On Sunday, we'll be breaking up the old Delaney foundation. Then on Monday, Phil will slide the house over some to get it perfectly aligned in its new location. And we'll begin our next battle with the City of Berkeley to get them to release the Cheney Cottage permits.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Third of Five

The Delaney House has been moved to the back of the lot on 62nd Street.

As always, we continue to be amazed by the sheer force of will that is Phil Joy. Phil spent two days at the site. On Wednesday, he and his crew installed cribbing under the Delaney House, jacked it up, and the basement walls were pulled apart. Tom spent some time digging out the last couple rose bushes to be saved, and I demolished the front stairs.

Anyone who went up the old front stairs of the Delaney House would know that they were not in good shape, but taking them apart was a revelation. The redwood siding was in good shape, but the support posts of the front stairs, unlike the rest of the house, were not made of redwood, and so were completely rotted. I had a hammer - no pry bar or anything else to work with - and within about 5 minutes, the stairs were gone.

Yesterday, they erected more cribbing further back on the lot, and put rollers under the beams supporting the house. The house was then gently rolled backwards towards its new place, about 40 feet back.

The process of actually moving it is almost anti-climatic. When they are ready for the next pull, Phil attaches chains to the bobcat, and then gently tugs on the house. The house gently slides back, appearing almost effortless. Despite the size of the house and the weight of it, it seems to glide.
Phil using the bobcat to gently pull the house back

Phil also used the bobcat to dig out the two big roses (that we thought we couldn't save) and we moved them to the backyard of the Delaney House. The house still has a good sized back yard, and Phil also used the bobcat to clear away all the brush and debris from under the redwood tree. Tom took two loads of it to the dump, and the back yard is now significantly larger than it had been.

We'll spend this weekend doing clean up, and beginning the demolition of the old foundation. On Monday, Phill will come back to slide the house two or three feet to the west, and to get it perfectly centered on its new location.

Tom, Phil Joy, and Dmitri after the house moved back

And then, when the City of Berkeley gives us the permits, we'll move the Cheney Cottage. We are finally making real progress here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Basement no more

The Delaney House on cribbing, ready to move

At the end of the day, Tom and I went by the Delaney House, to discover that progress had been made. The basement is gone - the walls have been taken down, and the house is sitting on cribbing.

Tom and I spent 2 hours cleaning up the site and putting up some chain link fencing where the wall of the basement used to be.

The house is ready to move - either tomorrow or Friday, Phil will be back to lower the house and begin to move it back. By Friday evening, the house should be in its new location. More pictures to come.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Progress At Last

Cribbing under the Delaney House

The moving of the Delaney House is underway - or at least, the prep for the move is underway.

Phil Joy and crew arrived today to begin the set up for the move this week. They popped out the windows in the basement, and have built cribbing and put i-beams through the house. The jacks are in place, and the house is ready to be lifted.
A beam on top of the cribbing

Once the house is lifted, the basement walls will be cut and removed. The house will then be lowered, put on rollers, and rolled 35 feet south and 4 feet west. Then the house will be jacked up high, and put on cribbing.
Things are finally moving again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Home Stretch

We have it on good authority (the Permit Center) that we will have the Delaney House move permit this week. Probably Wednesday.

So, we are pushing forward. This weekend, Tom and I spent a lot of time getting the house ready. This is not a simple task: everything has to be thought through and figured out, and there was a bunch of things we had to do. We removed all the downspouts: we removed all the gas pipes; we disconnected the water main and cut back the pipes that extended below the bottom of the first floor joists. PG&E came (at long last!) and disconnected the power and the gas. We took everything out of the basement. We organized our piles of stuff in the yard (old bricks, building supplies, garbage).

There are still a couple more tasks to do: we have two rose bushes we want to dig up and move so they don't get mashed by the house; we have to remove the fuse box; we have to disconnect the house from the front stairs (which should be easy - they've been trying to separate from the house for years).

When Phil Joy and his crew arrive this week, they'll jack the house up, and put it on cribbing. Then they'll remove the basement walls and lower the house down toward the ground. The house will then be slid on beams back to its new location, and lifted 11 feet in the air, and placed on cribbing.

Hopefully, the Cheney Cottage permits will be ready soon, and then we'll get the 2nd floor of the Cheney Cottage brought over to 62nd Street. We'll have a week to work on it: reattaching the eaves that were cut off, tearing off the old roofing and sheathing the attic, then putting down building paper and getting the roof ready for shingles. Then the 2nd floor will be lifted high in the air, and the first floor will be brought to 62nd Street. The two halves of the house will be married back together, and then we'll begin the Cheney Cottage restoration.

I'm cautiously optimistic that the City of Berkeley Permit Center is going to continue to cooperate to get this project moving. So stay tuned for more frequent blogging!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cheney Cottage: The Video

Eric Angress, who worked on the cutting and prep of the Cheney Cottage before we moved it, sent me a link to this video - it's definitely worth watching:

It really didn't go that fast, and I didn't remember it all being in German, but other than that, this tells the story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Plans They Are A-Changing

It seems that our plans are going to have to undergo significant changes over the next couple weeks, thanks to the delays gifted to us by (you guessed it) the City of Berkeley's Permit Center.

We had hoped to get the Delaney House moved back and the Cheney Cottage moved to 62nd Street in May, so we would have the summer to work on the houses. Both houses need significant amounts of work: new foundations; wiring; new bathrooms; new kitchens; heating; plaster wall and ceiling repair; floors refinished; windows repaired; doors fixed and replaced. The Delaney House needs an entire first floor built, plus a staircase to the second floor. The Cheney Cottage needs just a crawl space. Both houses need extensive exterior work (new roofs, painting, new porches and stairs).

The way Tom and I can afford these houses is we do the work ourselves. The only exception, on the whole list above, is foundation work. Everything else, and I mean, EVERYTHING else, is being done by the two of us.

It now looks like we will get permits and sign off from PG&E some time late this week or early next week. So we may have the house move permit (just for the Delaney House) by the end of August. Four months later than we expected.

What this means is, we can't do it all. The plan was to move the Delaney House and put it up on cribbing, then move the Cheney Cottage and re-attach the two floors. We would then put the new foundation under the Cheney Cottage, and do the restoration of the house. Once that was done, and we can get people living in it, we would turn our full attention back to Delaney, and get the foundation done, the new first floor framed, and do all the interior work.

Now it seems we will move the Delaney House to the back of the lot, without demolishing the entire basement, and we will not lift it. Instead, we'll put the house back down, probably on blocks or on a thin slab - enough to keep it steady - and we'll leave it there. Then we'll get the Cheney Cottage moved, and hope to finish the restoration by the time the rains come. In the Spring, we can then go back to working on the Delaney House - we don't want to have it sitting up on cribbing during the winter, when it could be damaged by water and storms. This will cost more - we'll have to put the temporary foundation, and then get Phil Joy back to lift the house in the Spring.

This will put the Delaney House at greater risk for the coming winter, just as the sluggish permit process has damaged the Cheney Cottage by forcing us to leave it sitting in two pieces out in a field for 4 months - during the rainiest Spring and Summer in recent years.

So hat's off to the Berkeley Permit Center - they have managed to endanger a historic structure, endanger an 1880s victorian house, and keep needed housing off the market far longer than was necessary.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

By now you're wondering: did the boys get the permit? And the answer is: no.

Marsha Cook, who is a "Permit Specialist" (which in Berkeley is an oxymoron if ever there was one) has evidently gotten the approval on our Soils Report (this is the one we waited two weeks for). So today, when Tom called her (repeatedly), guess what? No answer, no call back, no response to email. We know that she now has to get some signatures to issue the permit, but our belief was that this part was pro forma, that everything was done, and that we could (finally) get the Delaney and Cheney permits. So we could actually start really working on 62nd Street.

No such luck.

And now that Marsha has ignored our calls and emails, the Permit Center is closed tomorrow. So the very earliest we will get our permits is August 16th.

I thought my reaction was quite calm and measured:
More fun next week.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We do not have our permits in hand. But by this time tomorrow, we should have the Delaney House Permit, and we should receive the Cheney Cottage Permit by Friday.

Tom just got word that the final piece, the Soils Report, was reviewed and approved today (after a two week delay). So we can pick up our permit tomorrow from the Permit Center. The Cheney Cottage Permit should be following close behind.

Careful blog readers will recall that the original plan with the City was for us to get permits by May 15th so we could move the Delaney and Cheney houses that week. So we are receiving our first permit on August 12th - three months later than we expected. Not to mention all the added expense we had to go through, the various additional charges and reports the City heaped on - all the time telling us they really supported what we're doing. As I've mentioned in several other posts, this is the reason so many residents of Berkeley circumvent the permit process.

But I have spent enough time kvetching about the City of Berkeley. Let's look forward:

Today, the last of the landscape work is happening (removing another tree, cleaning up all the plant debris left from prior tree removal, etc). We will get PG&E to cap the gas and disconnect the power, and we will cap the sewer line. Then, Phil Joy and crew will return, and lift and move the Delaney House to the back of the lot. The new site has already been staked out, so we know exactly where to put the house.

On the first available Sunday after that, they will bring the second floor of the Cheney Cottage to 62nd Street, and lift it up high in the air on cribbing. The following Sunday, they will bring over the first floor of the Cheney Cottage, carefully position it below the second floor, and gently lower the second floor down onto the first floor.

And then the fun begins: reattaching the first and second floors of the Cheney Cottage; fixing holes in the walls and siding where the beams went through the house; replacing the trim removed prior to cutting the house in half; new foundations for both houses; building the new first floor for the Delaney House; new wiring and plumbing and heating systems for both houses; interior stairs for the Delaney House; new kitchens for both houses; restoring the Cheney Cottage bathrooms; landscaping; patching plaster; refinishing floors; fixing windows; painting the exteriors of both houses........

Stay tuned - we're almost on our way.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Guess I Spoke Too Soon

The mishegoss with the Permit Center is unceasing. We've started to refer to the Permit Center as "Dysfunction Central"

Here's the latest: the one missing piece for the Delaney House has been the Soils Report. This is the report that we were told had to be done. We thought it was pretty unnecessary, as did the Soils Engineer, but we paid to have it done, waited 3 weeks to get it, and now have to turn it in to get our permit.

So on Monday, Tom went down to turn in the Soils Report. But the Permit Center doesn't let people turn in reports. You have to make an appointment. So Tom asked for an appointment and was given one - for Thursday, three days later.

Yesterday, Tom went to the Permit Center, waited the seemingly standard 45 minutes past his appointment time, and was finally called to the desk. When he got there, he handed them the report, and left.

This is the kind of thing that would make me go insane. I'm extremely thankful that I have someone who is balanced and able to let these things roll off their back - I would have gone postal.

Meanwhile, Aaron Sage, the one person in the Permit Center who we think is actually trying to assist us, got the final corrections on the Delaney House finished quickly, and everything is good to go.


Now we have to talk to one more person and get his sign off on the Soils Report. But since there was a three day delay, and the City has furlough days on Fridays, we won't know if we're getting our permit until Monday at the earliest.

This is a broken process, and the City of Berkeley has no interest in fixing it. Once again, the forward-looking, innovative City of Berkeley embraces a process that tends to alienate the citizens. The amount of work done without permits in Berkeley is huge, and I understand why everyone does it that way. There is no good reason to get a permit. I kind of regret that we started the permit process. We should have just moved the houses without asking, and then hoped no one would notice.

But who knows, maybe by Monday we will have a permit. Or my head will have exploded.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The City of Berkeley Comes Through

It looks like we will get our permits for moving the Delaney House next week.

Joan MacQuarrie, the Chief Building Official, initially had said that she couldn't change the requirements, but she met with Dan Marks, Director of Planning and Development. Yesterday afternoon, Tom and I received the following email:

I’m cc’ing Tom White and Dmitri Belser on this e-mail.

We’re reconsidering the request to forgo the bond requirement for the ‘back house’, so once everything else on this permit is in order, you can go ahead and approve for Building and Safety.

Here’s why:

· The house currently on the lot is just being moved to the back.

· Tom White and Dmitri Belser do seem to have a track record in this work.

· Bonds will still be required for moving the house from UC to the lot and to complete the work on that structure.

· And, we always have the ability to use our code enforcement tools, if needed.

Let me know if you have questions.

So what is next? We have received the Soils Study we paid for, so on Monday Tom will call the Permit Center to make an appointment to turn that in. Hopefully, he'll be able to go in on Tuesday, turn in the Soils Study and, if all goes well, we will have our permit for the Delaney House.

We're hopeful that later next week, the process of moving the house will begin. Elliott has to move out, and we need to cap the gas line and the sewer line. A surveyor from Moran Engineering will come to mark the exact location where the house should be placed. Then Phil Joy can separate the house from the basement, and put the upper storey on wheels. We'll then take down the walls of the basement, and the house can start it's trip 4 feet to the West and 25 feet to the South.

So expect more postings and more pictures. Finally, things are going to start happening again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Letter to Joan

The Chief Building Official in Berkeley is named Joan MacQuarrie.

The somewhat Flintstone-ian sound of her name is appropriate: She is tough, a rule follower. She is passionately committed to enforcing the rules and regulations of the Permit Center, with little regard to whether or not the rules make sense. She's a very professional, to the letter of the law kind of person. Quirky. Pleasant. Polite.

Joan is the last person left to sign off on the permits for 62nd Street. We have done it all, including the soils report, which we are poised to turn in.

But there is one more step in the process, one final hurdle we are attempting to remove, that will enable us to start work again on the Delaney House and Cheney Cottage restorations. Midway through the process, the City decided that Tom and I needed to post a surety bond toward the completion of the project.

A surety bond is something that, until now, has generally been required for large capital projects. Though the 62nd Street project seems large to us, surety bonds generally cover things like the Bay Bridge project, rebuilding the MacArthur maze, or painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Our project is tiny, not run by a large corporation but by two guys with a couple houses.

On Monday, Tom wrote her the following email:

Ms. MacQuarrie,

I recently met with Ellie Leard and Eric Angress, my construction contractor, to discuss Ellie's House Move permit corrections (attached) for a blighted 1870's-era single family residence located on 62nd Street, Berkeley 94703, also known as the Delaney House. This property has been vacant for approximately 20 years, aside from squatters who battled the previous owner and Berkeley Police for over 2 years. Ellie's corrections include requirements for a surety bond or escrow account, and liability insurance, by owner, and she said that I should contact you directly if I have any questions or concerns about these house move requirements.

Dmitri Belser, my husband and co-owner of this property, and I would like to formally request that you waive the requirements in the Delaney House Move permit correction letter, and the Cheney Cottage, for the surety/cash bond, escrow account and liability insurance by owner for the following reasons:

1) Dmitri and I have successful prior experience as owner/remodelers restoring four older (1904-1910) Berkeley homes, two of which (our two houses on Parker St.) won a BAHA Preservation Award in 2008;

2) Dmitri and I are contracting with Andus Brandt (Blackbird Design), Eric Angress Construction and Phil Joy House Moving to move both the Delaney House and the City of Berkeley Landmark Cheney Cottage, now sitting in two pieces in the University Village Gill Tract in Albany. Both Eric and Phil carry contractor's completion bonds and liability insurance and all three have experience with us on past house lifts/moves and/or remodeling projects;

3) Dmitri and I have already deposited a $50,000 cash completion bond with UCB's Real Estate Division that they are holding to guarantee our moving the Cheney Cottage off their Albany Village lot. We have already expended over $70,000 in fees paid to our architect, designer, engineer, house mover, construction contractor, arborist, and City Permit Officials. We have already committed major sums from our personal finances towards completion of this project;

4) Both of these projects involve remodeling relatively small single family residences, not vast capital outlays and risks typical of large scale multifamily developments. The Delaney House has only to move 5 feet away from the lot line and approximately 20 feet towards the back of the lot;

5) Dmitri and I are not for-profit developers with deep pocket investors waiting to make big returns. We are self-financed, independent owner-remodelers with limited cash reserves. We are saving and restoring these two historic single family homes because we are committed to improving South Berkeley, where we have lived and raised our two children for over 22 years. We are committed to improving the existing housing stock, adding additional rental housing, and improving a depressed, crime-ridden neighborhood. Berkeley Police Office Spencer Fomby, our local beat Sargeant, has already complimented us on the improvements we've made to the 62nd Street property, including removing trees that used to screen sidewalk games of craps/dice. During the time we have lived in South Berkeley, Dmitri has also collaborated with Federal, State, Regional and City managers to complete the Ed Roberts Campus in his role as President of the ERC Board of Directors;

6) We have already completed one permitted house move in April 2010 for the Cheney Cottage, from the UC Berkeley campus to Albany Village. We have proven our personal commitment and professional follow-through in this regard. We have also submitted all the other required permit applications and corrections related to the move for the two houses on 62nd St, including demolition and Engineering/PSL permits for the Delaney House and building permits for both houses. The only outstanding correction items for the demolition and PSL permit is the utility/sewer disconnect clearances, and the soil engineer's report for the building permits, due for submittal this week;

7) Dmitri and I can't afford to restore these blighted and neglected historic properties, and provide the housing Berkeley wants, if we have to commit more money for additional surety/cash bonds or escrow accounts and liability insurance requirements. We have already committed large sums towards the completion of this project, our contractors carry significant liability insurance, and the UCB cash bond will be returned to us after the Cheney Cottage is sited at our lot on 62nd St.;

8) the house move permit application form we first received from the Permit Service Center earlier this year did not include the bond and insurance requirements stipulated in Ellie's correction letter. We have received three versions of the House Move Permit application, the first of which we received soon after we purchased the 62nd Street property and the Cheney Cottage. These bond and insurance requirements were not stated on the form at the time we committed ourselves to the house moves.

Thanks for your time and consideration of our request. I look forward to your favorable reply and to progressing with the restoration of these two historic properties as soon as possible.

Best regards,
Tom White

So that was Monday. We are now spending our time biting our nails and waiting. Will the City relent? Will the City finally take a step toward helping us complete this project? Or will the unbending and immovable bureaucracy that we have encountered to date continue to implacably work toward defeating the project?

Many of the readers of this blog have commented that we need to declare war on the City of Berkeley, and get this project in gear again. Our friends are frustrated and angry, and have many ideas as to how to create a storm around this issue. As everyone knows, in Berkeley, it's easy to create a firestorm of controversy.

We are hoping this can be resolved peacefully, by the appropriate decision of the Chief Building Official. So we're waiting. But if the decision doesn't go our way, we're not giving up. We are going to complete the 62nd Street project - though at this point, it'll be the last one we do in Berkeley. If we take on another house restoration, we'll do it in a City that will appreciate it, such as Oakland. The people we have spoken to in Oakland have told us that the City of Oakland would love to have us doing this type of work there, and we would meet with significantly less resistance. I have no idea if this is true - but it sounds good to me.

Stay tuned for further updates. Not much will happen until this issue is resolved.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rebuilding the Door

When Steven, the 62nd Street squatter, and his buddies left the Delaney House, they left behind a lot of wreckage.

Steven, you will recall, was living in the Delaney House illegally, and the family that owned the house had to have arrested to get out. We learned a lot about him because, after we bought the house, we found a note from him (to future squatters). When I googled him, I came up with "Shelter: A Squatumentary", a film about squatters in the Bay Area that heavily features the Delaney House, circa 2006. Tom and I bought a copy of the video, and there is an entire segment done on the Delaney House. (You can see the trailer at - our house is the one with the cops out front and in the front hall)

So when they were all finally evicted, they had trashed the house. Inside, several doors had been kicked in, including the bedroom doors and the door to the back of the house (by the bathroom).

The front bedroom door was destroyed, and had been removed when the house was cleaned up to be sold ("cleaned up" being a relative term). But the door to the back bedroom, with the top panels broken, was still there. The door to the back had the top rail, the bottom rail, and the two lower panels intact, but the rest was broken out.

We didn't throw away the doors, but we have often looked at them sadly, wondering what would make someone want to break a door that had hung there for 120 years. And, of course, Tom and I are crazy - so we knew WE weren't going to throw them away.

In the basement, there were also several matching 4 panel doors, all of them pretty much unusable. Because the height of the basement is only 6'6", the doors were cut down short, and although in relatively good shape, they were too short to bring upstairs.

So this weekend, we brought one up. I had measured it, and realized it was originally the same as the door to the back rooms. The bottom rail (below the two smaller panels) was cut down, but the rest of the door matched the broken door.

I started by taking apart the door from the downstairs, salvaging the two top panels and middle stile, plus the middle rail and the latch side of the door. I then took the door to the back, and removed the middle rail (otherwise known as the lock rail, which was badly broken). The two middle rails were identical, including the tenons, so I glued the new middle rail into the back door. Then, after removing nails and glue, I slid the top panels and the middle stile into place.

Now i had to replace the latch stile of the door. The existing door had about two feet of the bottom of the latch stile, and the piece from the salvaged door had the top part. So I cut off the latch stile just below the middle rail, removing most of the damaged section. Then I cut down the latch stile from the salvage door, and reassembled.

The repaired door - existing bottom rail, top rail, hinge stile and lower panels, with "new" middle rail, upper panels and stile, and a hybrid latch style.

The result is not beautiful (yet) - it needs a lot of filling, sanding, painting, new knobs and eschutcheons. But the two old doors have been united into one, a door that has always been part of the Delaney House, even though it in two places.
Another view - work still to be done, but Roxie and Barnaby seem appreciative.

We've also managed to salvage two panels that will fit in the back bedroom door - so once we take that door apart, we can slip in the new upper panels, and the two doors will be back in service.

This is the kind of stuff that makes Tom and I deeply happy. Go know.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Despite Berkeley, Progress Being Made

Of course, there is little news on the permit front, but we continue to work on the house.

While we wait for the Delaney House to be moved, we also are continuing to work on making it more livable. Since the plumbing and wiring are mostly done, we're now turning our attention to things like patching plaster and painting.

So to remind the casual blog reader, this is what the front room of the Delaney House looked like when we bought it:

The four broken windows were covered with plywood, the walls covered with layer upon layer of wallpaper (the last one being a busy 60s flowered paper), and everything was completely filthy.

Now, months later, the room has updated wiring and a working overhead light. The windows have all been fixed, and as of yesterday, the trim has been cleaned, sanded and painted.

We took pictures late in the afternoon, but they don't really do justice to the way the room looks. But hopefully this will give you a taste of how the house is changing. The walls have been painted yellow, and the green trim is now a cool grey with dark blue window sashes.

Our plan is to remove the security bars once the house is lifted. When that will be is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

62nd Street History

When the University first decided to sell or demolish the two Cheney houses, they first did a serious study of the historic nature of both houses. As a result, we have a copy of the "Historic Structure Report" done on the Cheney Cottage. It is 171 pages long, complete with photographs, plot plans, historic notes on the occupants, the community and the changing nature of the 2200 block of College Avenue.

For the Delaney House, we have very little information. But we have been doing our own sleuthing, along with our neighbor, Pete Alvarez, and we have learned a lot about the house.

The first mention of the Delaney House that Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association has is for 1904, when the Delaney family lived in the house. There were no records that show the house before that, and our assumption at the time was that the Delaney House was a farmhouse that was moved when they cut through some of the streets (South Berkeley went from farm land to more residential during the first decade of the 20th Century).

Research on 62nd Street is complicated, because the street names in the area changed, and because the Oakland/Berkeley line seems to have changed too. It appears that, even in 1904, South Berkeley was not considered one of the better neighborhoods to live in, and the records for the area were much less respected than the more "important" areas of Berkeley.

But Pete Alvarez, who lives across the Street, went into the Oakland History Room and discovered more. He found an early 1901 map of the neighborhood, which shows our house. The house is in the exact location where it is now, but the three houses to the east are not yet built, and our lot covered from King (which was then called "Paradise") to the existing west side of the lot.

So now, in addition to having this earlier reference for our neighborhood, Pete also researched who lived in the house. We know that the Delaney family didn't move to the house in 1904 - as early as 1894, William Delaney lived on "Todd near Paradise" (62nd near King). William's 1894 occupation is listed as "Capitalist." In 1895, William was listed along with John T Delaney, who is listed as "clerk". By 1896, Paradise had changed to King, and by 1898, a "Miss Annie Delaney" is listed as well.

John T and Annie eventually moved two doors down from the house, and John's name disappears off the records as of 1942. We know that Annie Delaney is the one who sold the 62nd Street house to the Thomas family 50 years later, in 1947. George Thomas, who bought the house from Annie, lived in East Oakland until moving his family in 1947. It was his daughter Doris who ultimately owned the house, after her brother, sister in law and nephew all died in the late 1980s and early 90s. She kept the house, vacant, for 20 years, finally selling the house to us. So it appears that we are the third owners of the house.

There's nothing momentous in any of this - it's not like the Wilmer McLean house in Appomattox Courthouse, where the surrender for the Civil War was signed. The Symbionese Liberation Army didn't camp out in the house. It was just family life, people living there, growing up and growing old, living and dying. Yet it makes us happy that we know this. As we strip wallpaper, we imagine which family members looked at the new decor with pleasure, and we try to figure out who lived in each room.

The house will be changing, going from a one storey house to a two storey house, but we hope to preserve as much of the past as we can,, and honor its history while creating a new life on 62nd Street.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Room, Recycled Window

The old stairwell at the back of the Delaney House

The Delaney House has increased in size, and it only has cost us about $340.

The back stairs of the Delaney House had to come out. They were old and beat, and when the house is raised, they will no longer reach the ground. They're also in exactly the wrong place: the southwest corner of the house, the place that potentially gets the most sunlight.

But they didn't get any sunlight for years, as the window was the last one still boarded up. This was because the lower window sash was broken, and missing the bottom rail. So the window remained boarded up, while other work took place.

The stairs had to come out, however, so last weekend we finally started removing them. Despite being beat up, they were pretty well made, and it took a lot of work to get them to give up the ghost.

Once we pulled them out, we had to fill in the large hole where the stairs were. We had 2x10s and joist hangers, so we cut down the 2x10s, and started hanging them as joists, matching the height (and the slope) to the floor in the rest of the back addition. The we put down plywood, and spent $300 on Douglas Fir tongue and groove flooring. The flooring went down relatively quickly, and the new room took shape.

The only problem was now we had a boarded up window that was exactly at floor level. Had the original bottom sash been intact, it would have closed almost perfectly level with the new floor.

Dave Clark offered to replace the bottom rail and the glass in the window, so we gave him the lower sash and started working on the window. First, we removed the upper sash. We carefully took off the interior trim, then pried off the outside trim, and lifted the trim, with the window frame attached, off the house. We took all the siding off the addition, and then re framed the window in a higher position. The we took the original siding and re-attached it to the house - the 3 boards that had been above the old window were placed below it, and the side pieces reinstalled at the new position.

The view with the new floor, the siding removed, and light showing through the old lathe.

Dave brought us the repaired window, and for $40 we had a usable lower sash. So the total cost of this deal was $340, and, except for the old stairs, everything was reused.

The result is that, from the outside, it is difficult to tell anything has been done. The siding, being original and as weathered as the rest of the siding, matches perfectly, and the window, also being original, matches the house perfectly.
The siding back in place, ready for the restored window

A lot of people wouldn't have done it this way: they would have torn out the old window, ripped off all the siding, and then replaced everything. But we think of ourselves both as restorers and recyclers. The old window will be caulked and sealed, and will be good to serve the house for another 100 years. The old siding will need scraping and patching and painting, but it too has more life in it.

Today, we're hoping to finish moving the last of the roses. But the Delaney House is ready to move. It should be on its 50 foot journey soon. And once that has been accomplished, the Cheney Cottage can then travel across down from Albany to 62nd Street, and we can begin the process of completing the restoration of both houses.

(Anyone notice that I didn't say anything nasty about the City of Berkeley in this post?)