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?)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Moving Forward

The lists of chores to do before the Delaney House gets moved has gotten significantly shorter.

We've been moving plants and cutting down trees in the back yard, and the place where the house will go is almost completely cleared. We've removed the back stairs and filled in the floor. Most of the work we wanted to get done before the move is now done.

So do we have permits? Of course not, but there is a chance we'll actually get the Delaney House permit on Monday. This assumes that the City of Berkeley doesn't decide to put us through yet another series of hoops, but we think we've satisfied what they want to date. This includes a water tank in the back yard, new sewer laterals, a drainage plan and a traffic plan. Not a traffic plan for when the houses are being moved - a traffic plan for when we have people working on the house.

I have to admit, that last one stumped me: what does a traffic plan look like? Mostly, we are doing the work, but when the foundations are going in, there will be other workers on 62nd Street doing the work. So I guess the traffic plan is "They will turn onto 62nd Street from King Street, proceed 4 houses, and park" We do not have residential permit parking on 62nd Street, so no one has to move their car every two hours, and there is plenty of parking.

We're still fighting the good fight, trying to get the City of Berkeley's bureaucracy to move in our direction before they manage to bankrupt us. We are still trying to figure out how we appeal the demolition permit they required us to get, even though the project doesn't meet the requirements of a demolition permit.

Tomorrow, we're letting anyone come who wants to take some of the redwood mulch that is still piled in front of the house where the two redwood trees were. We've been moving a lot of it ourselves (Elliott has done most of the hauling) and there is still a lot left, so we've ben letting neighbors and friends take what they want. Now we've put an ad on Craigslist to see if we can just give it away, and so far, several people are planning on coming.

So we hope to have Phil Joy back on site soon, hauling our houses around. Maybe soon we'll have both houses on 62nd Street. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Mishegoss with the City of Berkeley (who else?)

The Permit Center of the City of Berkeley. What a joy, what a pleasure to deal with.

Last week, Tom went in to submit the corrections for the Delaney House. When you submit a permit, the City comes back with corrections, that you then have to resubmit. Tom made an appointment and went down at the agreed upon time. After waiting 45 minutes, his name was finally called, and he went up to the desk.

The woman behind the desk took his packet and said "Thanks you're done". There was no discussion, no meeting, nothing. It was like dropping off a package at UPS.

So today, Tom went down to submit the Cheney Cottage corrections. Because of his experience, he figured that he would just drop it off, so he went by the Permit Center to give them the package. But no! That's not the way things are done at the Permit Center. We again need an appointment, presumably so we can sit around and wait to hand the package to someone behind the counter. And we can't get an appointment to hand the package to someone until Monday.

Remember that we are under some time pressure to get the houses moved. And remember that the City of Berkeley says historic preservation is important, restoration of blighted properties is important, and creating additional rental housing is important. City staff have told us that they are glad we're doing this on 62nd Street, a neighborhood that needs more homeowners who are passionate about improving the area. Yet the Permit Center can do nothing - NOTHING - to help move the process along.

It's beginning to feel personal. Are staff ot the Permit Center reading this blog, and treating us this way as retribution? Is the City really pissed off that we managed to save the Cheney Cottage despite their best efforts to (you'll pardon the expression) "queer the deal"?

Or is this just typical Berkeley Bureaucracy?

Whatever it is, we're tired of it. The next house we restore will be in Oakland.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hard Times

The last few days have not been the happiest days on 62nd Street

On Thursday evening, a man was murdered on the corner of 62nd and King, just 4 houses up from our house. The police think this was related to an incident that happened on May 20th, over on 63rd and King, where two people were critically wounded in a shooting.

This weekend, one of the local police offers, Sergeant Spencer Fomby, stopped by the house and talked with us. He had been involved in trying to get the squatter out of the house for several years, and he was, in fact, the officer who finally arrested the squatter and got him to leave the house. He also told us more about the shooting. (You can read more about it here:
A memorial was set up by friends and neighbors of the victim, and seeing it there, so close to our house, made us again aware that this neighborhood is still struggling. Our neighbors are all wonderful people, and all working to improve 62nd Street. But we know there's still a ways to go.

It seemed everyone was out on the street this weekend. Dave and his family next door had a barbeque on Saturday, and their family and friends were stopping by and celebrating, which made the street feel very festive. On Sunday, Pete and Kevin, our neighbors across the street, came by, as well as Tom and Monique, and we got to go in and see Ralph and Karen's house down the street, a beautiful old victorian. Frank's house is currently on the market, so everyone went to see the open house (for those interested in a house in Berkeley under half a million, here is the listing: http://www.redfin.com/CA/Berkeley/1626-62nd-St-94703/home/573602)

But despite all the socializing, 62nd Street had a subdued feeling, as if, despite the beautiful weather, a shadow was passing over the neighborhood. We were at the house both days, but didn't get a lot of work done. The ongoing drama of the permit process has been wearing on us, and our frustration continues to grow that we can't do a lot until the City of Berkeley gets off its butt and gives us our permits. The trouble in the neighborhood weighs on us as well, and we worry about what will happen on 62nd Street.