Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kitchen Cabinets

With one house in two pieces in another town, and the other not yet moved or raised, the kitchen not even framed - why are we talking about cabinets?

But today, Tom and I moved 17 cabinets from Ohmega Salvage to 62nd Street. Most of our friends are putting in brand new, state of the art wooden cabinets with easy glide drawers that close automatically, low voltage cabinet lighting and handles that cost $40 per.

But we love old stuff (in case the careful reader hasn't figured that out yet), and we love old metal cabinets. So last week, we went to Ohmega Salvage, looking for pretty much anything, and we came across a huge set of St. Charles metal cabinets, circa 1949. And best of all, they are not white - they are aqua.

St. Charles cabinets are incredibly durable and well made, and they last virtually forever. They are also beautiful in a retro kind of way. St. Charles are the gold standard of metal cabinets - the top of the line from 1949. So we did what any insane home remodeler would do - we bought them all.

So now, sitting in the back bedroom of the Delaney House, are 17 cabinets, waiting to be installed in two kitchen that aren't even on the property yet.

The problem with buying metal cabinets is that you have to move them. So we rented a 20 foot truck, and loaded them all in. Then, once we got back to 62nd Street, we had to haul all 17 cabinets, plus their various accessories, up the stairs, down the hall and into the bedroom. Metal cabinets are sturdy in part because they are so heavy.

A man and his truck

Now I'm sitting here with layouts of the two kitchens-to-be, plus all the cabinet dimensions, trying to figure out which cabinet will go where and how to use all the cabinets. We should end up having enough to do both kitchens.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trying to Protect Cheney

The Bay Area's bizarre May rain has sent us out to Albany Village to make sure the Cheney Cottage is staying dry.

We replaced the tarps again last night. The site where the Cheney Cottage is sitting is flat, open and near the bay - so it's extremely windy. The plastic and tarps with which we have covered the two sections of the house have repeatedly come loose or torn in the wind.

So last night, again, we were back at the Gill Tract, putting a new tarp on the house. We covered the entire first floor with one tarp, screwed down and relatively tight against the second floor. Hopefully, this will remain in place until we get the permits and can move the house back to 62nd Street.

The second floor has been harder to cover. When Phil Joy moved the house, he screwed plastic pipes to the top of the house from one side to the other. These pipes were put there in case the house happened to hit a low hanging cable or telephone wire - the pipes let the wires glide over the house without getting snagged in the shingles and pulled down. But the pipes also make it very difficult to cover the house. Fortunately, the second floor also has the roof on it, so even if we don't get it perfectly covered, it's relatively waterproof.

But water has gotten in to both sections and caused damage. In the living room, there are marks of water intrusion through all the woodwork, particularly the coffered ceiling. The large redwood panel under the stairs has cracked from one side to the other. The stairs have gotten wet and have water marks on them, and the floors of the upper story are damaged by the water.

It's certainly been difficult to monitor a house that is not on our property, across town from us. The house is clearly being damaged by sitting out in the field, exposed to the elements, when it could just as easily have been moved to 62nd Street and made weathertight.

As always, I look to the City of Berkeley, that bastion of historic preservation, a city concerned about creating additional housing and eliminating blight, for their forward thinking bureaucratic processes that have made all this possible. When we're attempting to restore the house, and having to not only spend thousands of extra (and unavailable) dollars on the City's bureaucratic lunacy, but also on restoration that would not have had to happen had the City assisted with this process, I'm sure Tom and I will again be reminded of the joys of life in this burg.

The latest is that one of the people responsible for reviewing the plans is gone until June 7th. The City has given her responsibilities to someone else, yet that person seems unable to respond to requests for assistance. Tom called a week ago, after sending an email that got nowhere, and the guy called back with his email address. Tom sent another email, and three days later, has heard nothing. Clearly, we're on the fast track with the City staff.

Careful blog readers will remember that the City was originally going to work with us to ensure we could move the house by May 15th, that the permits would be available by then. Today is May 25th, and no permits are in sight. But the two permits (because the City wouldn't let us get one permit for both houses for the same parcel) are slowly grinding their way through the City's endless morass. We know that, in order to make this project viable, we have to get the Cheney Cottage rentable by mid August, when the students return. Now it looks like the City will continue to ignore our requests for help, and keep the entire process bogged down in bureaucratic mire.

When I started writing this blog, I had no plans to make it a place for bitching about the City and it's processes. What Tom and I love is historic preservation, and our small place in preserving some of the historic properties in Berkeley. But until the City gets off its collective backside and actively participates in saving these houses, the blog will remain a place that is mostly made up of rants such as the above.

I apologize to any reader who was hoping to read about historic preservation and our work on the houses. I hope to be back to that soon. But at this point in time, when that will happen is anyone's guess.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Hiatus and the Frustration

The work on both houses has been temporarily sidelined, due to visiting family.

Tom's parents, Carol and Carter, cane for a visit last Thursday (Tom's 55th birthday), and were here until Sunday. We took them by both houses (the Delaney House still in its original position, and the Cheney Cottage, still sitting in a field in Albany in two pieces). They were pretty amazed at all the work we've done, and all the work we're doing. They will be back on Saturday, when we're having a big family party, and then leaving for Massachusetts on Sunday. So last weekend, and next weekend, all the work has stopped while we are visiting.

When we were at the Cheney Cottage, I found myself getting angry at the City of Berkeley all over again. The house has been damaged: first by the additional move, and then by sitting in the field during all the rains. Although we have tried to keep the two halves of the house covered, rain water has gotten in and damaged the house. The coffered ceiling in the living room has been damaged, as has the plaster in the dining room. The floors of the second floor are also damaged by the weather, and the house has been left neglected for several weeks. Once again, the City of Berkeley, which claims to support historic preservation, has put this house at additional risk because of their petty bureaucratic nonsense.

We are protesting the City's decisions on several fronts, including wanting a surety bond, wanting us to do borings on the lot, and of course the demolition permit that we had to pay for, even though their rules say we don't need it. With each little chip at the project, the city of Berkeley makes it more and more difficult for us to complete the project, and more likely that we won't be able to restore both houses.

Yet they continue hassling us about various unimportant details. Because we have chosen to go through the permit process, we get the feeling that we get to be the recipients of all the pent-up frustration that so many other Berkeley residents avoided by doing their work illegally. Many people have commented that no City inspector would ever go to 62nd Street without cause, so it would be extremely unlikely that we'd be caught if we decided not to get permits. But we chose to use the process, and continue to be punished for it.

We have proposed to the City Council that they set up a Commission on the Building Department and Permit Center, to: review the processes; make recommendations for streamlining the permit process; find examples of other cities that have more efficient processes; and develop an appeal process for draconian measures of the Permit Center.

Bob and Ray, the stump grinders, with piles of redwood mulch, and Sox the dog

Meanwhile, there has been progress. The stumps have all been ground down, and the front yard is piled high with redwood mulch. The lot is ready for the houses to be moved to their new locations. The houses are ready to be moved. All we need is for the City to issue us our damn permits. We don't expect this to happen for at least a couple more weeks, however.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hans and the Sawyer

Hans Waller finished cutting down the two redwood trees this week, and yesterday, Bob Greer the sawyer came to start cutting the trunks up into lumber.
Elliott standing next to one of the tree trunks

Hans managed to cut down the two large trunks of the redwood tree and lay them neatly in the side yard on 62nd Street. The trees were massive, but not as old as we had thought - by counting the rings, we found that the trees were only about 40 years old.

Then Bob set up his mobile sawmill. The process of sawing up the trees into lumber is pretty amazing. Most of the time is spent positioning the logs so they are stable and in line with the mill. Bob spent a lot of time figuring out what cuts to make, and how to get the most lumber out of the trees. We're using the lumber mostly to build fences, so we wanted 4x4s, some 2x4s and lots of 1x8 planks. Hans had cut the tree down into 16' pieces, so we could get some good lumber, and Bob estimated that we have over 1000 board feet of lumber in the tree.
Once the tree was positioned (or rather, once the portable sawmill was positioned over the tree), the process moves quickly. Bob sets the blade and pulls it back through the tree, making a vertical cut. Then, he flips a lever, and the blade turns horizontal, and as he pushes it forward again, it makes the cut that separates the board from the tree. When he reaches the end of the cut, the board can be removed and stacked.

At the back of the lot, Tom set up a level drying area, and stacked the lumber there. Bob had cut strips of unusable redwood, all the same thickness, and Tom used those to separate the rows of lumber.

The cutting will take several days, but in the end we should have a stack of beautiful redwood, drying in the back yard and waiting to be made into fences. We have two fences to build: a 135' fence along the east side of the lot (replacing the ugly chain link fence) and a 50 foot fence across the front.

The next big job will be dealing with the stump of the two trees. Hans will come back in a week or so and grind them down level with the rest of the yard, so the Cheney Cottage can roll over them and into place. Hans said we will end up with an enormous pile of redwood sawdust (not mulch), which we can spread around the lot to amend the soil. It's nice that the trees are staying on 62nd Street, as fences and in the soil.

Meanwhile, work continued inside the Delaney House. I primed Elliott's bedroom, and hope to paint it today. We also did some additional work on the toilet, rewired a floor lamp, and get a futon and cover to go on Elliott's futon frame/couch in the living room.

The next couple weekends should be less productive. Carol and Carter, Tom's parents, arrive on Thursday, so we'll be spending each Saturday with them. But we still hope to keep moving on some of the work, as we want to move the Delaney House before the end of May.

I've also been having a nice email exchange with Pete Alvarez, our neighbor across the street. Pete's father owned not only the house he lives in ("La Casa Colorada") but also the grey house two houses down. Pete moved into La Casa Colorada in 1980 and has been there ever since. He told me that his cousin was a good friend of Darryl Thomas, who grew up in the Delaney House, and that Darryl and his brother and his parents lived in the basement of the house, while his grandmother lived upstairs.

Because 62nd Street has been part of both Berkeley and Oakland, the records at Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association are not very complete. Pete is going to go over there to do some research on his house, and then I hope to enlist his help in figuring out where in Oakland we can research the houses. Somewhere, there must be more information about the Delaney House - the first record of it existing in Berkeley is from 1904, but the house is clearly an Italianate Victorian cottage, which puts it being built in the 1880s. We assume that when the old 62nd Street (Todd Street) was connected with other streets when the farms in South Berkeley were subdivided, the Delaney House was moved to its present location. Hopefully, we can find some more information in the Oakland records.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Removing the Trees

Pete Alvarez, our neighbor across the street on 62nd Street, sent us these pictures that he took of our house. Not a lot of comment is needed here. This is the way the trees looked yesterday

And this is how they looked today.

The redwood tree in the back is being thinned, but will remain. We also transplanted most of the roses, and, of course, the Meyer Lemon tree.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In the Middle of a Ditch (Which was Not a Healthy Situation)

Eric Smith stopped by the Cheney Cottage to check on it last week, and noticed something that none of us did on the night we moved the second floor. It seems it came down faster than we had thought.
"I have a feeling we're not
in Berkeley any more"

This is making the travails with the City of Berkeley all make sense. See, in order to get the house back home again, we just have to prove ourselves worthy by performing a very small task. So if we can get the broomstick of the head of Planning........

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kafka Lives in Berkeley

When I was a kid, people would joke about the bureaucracy that supposedly existed in the Soviet Union. I remember people saying that, from the time you applied for a car until the time you could buy one, was a period of 12 years. Americans were smugly superior in the efficiencies of our governmental systems.

Now the USSR is no more, and our bureaucracies are as cumbersome as any could be. Take, for example, the City of Berkeley. We have had more dealings with the Permit Center, the Building and Safety Department, Forestry Department, Planning Department, Transportation Department, Zoning Department, Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Electrical Engineer, Department of Public Works, Berkeley Police Department - Traffic Division, the Berkeley Fire Marshall, and AC Transit. The people for the most part have been very friendly and tried to be helpful, but the system they are working under is unyielding and burdensome. Individuals have told us how much they like our projects, but mostly they have been unable to help us in any substantive ways.

Here are some highlights:

We attempted to submit the plans for the houses, because they are both on one parcel of land - but the City decided that we needed to submit twice (and, of course, pay two permit fees) since there are two properties (when we got permits for work on Parker Street, we got one permit, despite the fact that there are two houses with two addresses).

We were unable to submit the Building Plans for the Cheney Cottage until this week, because the house did not have an address. The Delaney House is located at 1634 62nd, and the house on the other side of the Cheney Cottage is 1630 62nd Street. Yet the City of Berkeley needs 6-8 weeks to determine an address (we asked them, "What else is being considered? 1620-12?")

We have had to apply for a demolition permit for the move of the Delaney House. By the City's own ordinance, a demolition permit is required when "50% or more of the structure is being demolished". As we are demolishing just the basement (20% of the structure), we were sure we were not required to get one. But the City staff told us that, the only way they have to track a house move is via a demolition permit - so because they can't keep track of the move (the house is moving approximately 25 feet), we had to shell out $900 for demolition permit that their own rules say we didn't need.

They are also requiring us to get a demolition permit for the old Delaney House "foundation" The house currently sits on a brick foundation - we plan to pick it up, brick by brick, and add it to the enormous pile of chimney bricks from both houses.

As blog readers already know, the City required us to move the Cheney Cottage across town (a distance of several miles) rather than to our own lot, because the permits weren't ready - they would not allow us to move the house to our own lot to save it from damage, and store it there until the permits were done (which everyone acknowledged was going to happen). And despite having applied for moving permits to move the house, the City neglected to notify the Berkeley PD that they had authorized "no parking" zones, so the police did not come to help with ticketing cars parked in no parking areas (so they could be towed) until two hours after we made the request.

The worst part of all this is that there is a good reason to get permits: cities want to ensure that people are doing work to code as a life/safety measure. Yet since we have begun this process, many many people have told us "I did work on my house and didn't get a permit, just because of their process" So the cumbersome and unyielding bureaucracy they have created is keeping people from doing what makes sense: having the city verify that work is done to code.

As a result of most people skipping the permit process, the City also does not collect revenue from permits. This undoubtably increases the fees for permits, which then create additional burden for people who want to do legal work.

When we inquired about reducing permit fees, we were informed that the City does not waive any permit fees. Yet Weatherford BMW recently got their building fees completely waived.

The system is set up so home owners, and people who are merely trying to improve houses in the City, are punished and put through the wringer. We still have no idea when we will have the permits to move the Cheney Cottage.

The City of Berkeley claims to have housing priorities, including
  1. improving blighted properties
  2. improving low income neighborhoods
  3. restoring/saving historic homes
  4. creating additional rental property

Yet despite the fact that we are accomplishing all of these priorities, the City is unyielding.

We plan, when this project is done, to appeal to the City Council for assistance on fixing this problem. The City of Berkeley, which claims to be a City that does things right, needs to do things right.