Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stripping Wallpaper

It is somewhat out of sequence, but I spent a very pleasant afternoon in the three bedrooms and upstairs hallway of the Cheney Cottage, stripping wallpaper.

Of course, all three bedrooms and the hallway have one thing in common: there is no floor. The second floor is still on top the first floor of the Cheney Cottage, still sitting in Albany. Each bedroom consists of the walls and ceiling, and when you look down, you see mud, the wheels of the dollies used to move the house, and the metal and wood beams that are holding the second floor of the Cheney Cottage rigid. In order to stand in the rooms, you have to walk on the beams.

Because of the house's extended stay in Albany, the inside of the second floor is very damp. The plaster is mostly damp, and the wallpaper is coming off in sheets. Since we had planned to strip the wallpaper anyway, I decided to start today. I climbed up and walked on the beams, and stripped wallpaper wherever it was coming off - which was most places. It felt good, like the house was whole again, and like progress was being made.

I also spent some time walking around the outside of the house, pulling nails. This is all easier to do now with the second floor only 3 feet off the ground. This week, Phil and his crew will come back and lift the second floor 16 feet in the air. Then on Sunday, the first floor will be slid underneath it.

So we keep thinking of things we can work on that we will find easier now, with the second floor at ground level, than when it is raised.
The eaves back on the house
The eaves are also complete, and already the house looks like it's coming back to what it was. It has a long way to go, but the work has begun.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cheney Cottage: The Movie

Pete Alvarez, our wonderful neighbor on 62nd Street, made a 6 minute video of the house move from last Sunday. It's quite wonderful to watch.

We have had one delay: the move of the first floor of the Cheney Cottage will not happen this Sunday, but has been postponed to Sunday, March 6th. So this weekend we'll probably be at 62nd Street, prepping the second floor for paint.

We're hoping the rains go away soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

And So It Begins

Today we started working on the Cheney Cottage again.

The lot is a sea of mud, and even getting around the house requires leaping from pieces of plywood to old tarps to dry islands. The two houses are sitting there, definitely a work in progress. The Delaney House is on cribbing, a big space under it. The Cheney Cottage's second floor is still sitting on the wheels that brought it to 62nd Street, and those wheels are coated with the mud of the lot.

But the work has to start, and it did. Neil and Reuben came and started putting the eaves back on the west side of the house (the eaves on two sides were removed to make the house fit down the streets as it was moved). To do this, we needed to sort through all the wood we took off the house when it was on campus, and figure out which pieces went on each place. Then all the various pieces of the eaves had to have the nails pulled, so they were ready to be reinstalled.
Neil and Reuben begin the work of rebuilding the eaves

Sabastian came down this weekend, and we enlisted him in this process - along with the two of us. We pulled nails out of dozens of boards, each one having lots and lots of nails. It sounds like grueling work, but actually, it was enjoyable: we all felt great the things were happening, and that the house was finally getting some work done on it.
Sabastian at work pulling nails, under the shelter of the Delaney House

Tom and I both spent a lot of time on the roof. I climbed up and took down the pipes that had been installed on the roof, the ones that let wires slide over it as we went down the streets. Then I pulled off the original tarp, which had been screwed down under the pipes before we left the campus. Tom then climbed up and installed new tarps on the house (the roof is completely shot - no idea when we'll get to fixing it).

We also spent some time climbing around the beams that are currently holding the second floor together, inspecting the plaster and determining how much work needs to be done. There is no floor in the upper section of the house, but by standing on the beams, we can feel like we were back in the bedrooms and the bathrooms on the second floor of the Cheney Cottage.

The place is a wreck: holes in the plaster, damage from the rains, a bullet hole in one of the bedroom windows. All the wiring and plumbing is gone. And, of course, the floor is gone, still sitting in Albany Village on top of the first floor of the house. But just being in there made us feel like the house was coming back. It's on its way back to being habitable.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Fourth of Five

Phil Joy spent half the day, as Ricky would say, "yanking our Cheney".
Getting ready to leave the Gill Tract, Albany Village

The day started early, after a night of little sleep, with me scraping ice off the windshield of the car. It was cold and very clear, with 3/4 moon shining brightly in the clear, cloudless sky.

We got over to Albany Village at about 6 AM, and the house was sitting there, ready for its journey. We had a few quiet minutes alone with the house, taking some photos, taking some loose trim down, and getting ready for the move.

Then the crew arrived: first Dre, who helps guide the house, then Phil and Celeste and the rest of the crew, driving various trucks and vans and pickups.

After that, things started happening fast. The house was attached to a long bar, which was then attached to the back of the truck. Suddenly, the truck started moving forward, and the house responded, coming off the dirt and onto the blacktop. The house was on the road.

Tom and I both later said that this was the moment when we finally relaxed. Seeing the house start moving made us feel like everything was going to be okay.
Leaving Albany Village

And so it began: we went through Albany Village, then back into Berkeley on 8th Street. We had no trouble with parked cars, and we mostly glided down the streets, down Gilman, down 6th, and onto University.
Heading up University Avenue

We had some problems on University, but moved along at a walking pace for most of the trip. Then we turned south on Sacramento.

Sacramento is a four lane divided street, with lots of trees. The house fit down the street, but in several places we had to navigate through the trees, losing the occasional roof shingle in the process. Only one of the trees had to be trimmed, and Phil used his chainsaw to cut two relatively small branches free.

Avoiding the trees on Sacramento

As I walked in front of the house, I was on the phone with the Berkeley PD. Somehow, despite the fact that we had gotten permits for the move, gotten the Police and Fire Departments to sign off on the move, and called Dispatch the night before to let them know about the move, the Berkeley PD knew nothing about it. Julia had gone on ahead to see how Alcatraz and King Streets looked, and they were clogged with parked cars.

The Police responded incredibly well, assuring me that all the parked cars would be removed by the time we reached Alcatraz. When we finally turned onto Alcatraz, we saw all the cars had been moved: Julia had knocked on doors and told people of the move, the police had blasted their sirens to get neighbors to see what was going on, and only two cars ended up being towed.

We went quickly up Alcatraz, and as we turned onto King Street, we saw the whole street was empty. So we blasted down the last two blocks, and turned onto 62nd Street.

The neighbors were out in full force, everyone happy to see the project moving along and fascinated by the process. The house moved down 62nd and stopped in front of the Delaney House. Then Phil and the crew detached the truck, and attached the Cheney Cottage to the winch, and began to winch the house in to the lot.
Arriving on 62nd Street

At this point, a hook and ladder truck and an ambulance came around the corner of 62nd and Stanford, with the sirens blaring. Of course, no one from Dispatch had notified the Berkeley Fire Department either, so they went around the block, and then pulled up on the other side of the house, two doors down from the house across the street.
A fire truck arrives on 62nd Street

Jon and Emily Mires had brought their sons, Cole and Lane, to see the show, and the boys were in heaven: a house move, a fire truck and an ambulance!
Watching with the Mires family as the house moves onto the lot

Slowly, the house moved back onto the lot. By 12:30, the second floor of the Cheney Cottage was in place on 62nd Street.

The Cheney Cottage is moved in front of the Delaney House

Diane Dew was there and took a slew of wonderful photos - you can see them on Diane's Facebook page.

So we're tired, we walked for miles, and we're happy. The Cheney Cottage is halfway there.
The Second Floor of the Cheney Cottage, now on 62nd Street

4 AM

Two hours to go. We meet Phil Joy in two hours to begin the fourth stage of this odyssey. And of course, I can't sleep - but tonight, even Tom is awake. It feels like the first hill on a roller coaster, the expectation as you hear the clanking of the car being pulled up, knowing that the ride is unstoppable, that soon you'll be moving quickly, your fate in someone else's hands.

There is so much riding on this, and the house has to travel so far. Even though the trip from 2243 College to the Gill Tract was probably more dramatic (particularly the steep hill up to Gayley that started the whole trip, then the long trip down Bancroft with tight squeezes on every block), this feels huge to us. The Cheney Cottage will soon be transversing Berkeley, North to South, from Albany to the Oakland line. We have so much riding on this, and there are so many things that have to go right.

Fortunately, what we mostly have is faith in Phil Joy. We know he can make this happen.

And the moon is shining, the sky is clear. The rains, which haven't let up for a week, are gone.

So, here we go. You have to be this tall to ride the Cheney. No pregnant women or people with heart conditions allowed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Since then, it has rained every day.

But the house is moving tomorrow, rain or shine. We have tarps on the lot at 62nd to keep the ground from getting too muddy, and the second floor of the Cheney Cottage has been pulled out of the Gill Tract and is sitting on the concrete. Tomorrow morning at 6 AM, we're meeting Phil and Celeste and the crew to start the move. We hope to get to 62nd Street some time close to 9 AM.

Wish us luck. The story continues, tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nes Gadol Haya Sham*

February 16, 2011, 1 PM: Tom got the final signature on the permits to move the Cheney Cottage to 62nd Street.

What this means is that the City of Berkeley has finally, after 10 months of delay, gotten out of our way, and the project is moving - literally. The second floor of the Cheney Cottage has already been pulled out of the Gill Tract and is sitting on the parking lot, waiting to be moved.

Sunday morning, at 6 AM, we'll meet Phil Joy at Albany Village, and the truck will be hitched to the house, and we'll begin hauling the house over to 62nd Street. The first floor will follow, one week later.

Looking back over the blog, I find many points when we thought we were on the verge of getting the permits. Back in April, we thought it would be a matter of days. Several times, it appeared the City was going to help us get this done - but always there was another glitch.

Now finally, we have made it. The Cheney Cottage is heading home.


* "A Great Miracle Happened There" This is usually used in reference to the events surrounding the first Hanukkah, but actually getting our permits from the City of Berkeley seems to be a miracle as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Countdown

The future location of the Cheney Cottage, as seen from the Delaney House

One week from today, the second floor of the Cheney Cottage should be leaving Albany and moving to its new location on 62nd Street. By this time next Sunday, I fully expect to be sitting here, posting pictures of the house move - the fourth of five.

So today, Tom and I spent most of the day on 62nd Street. Hilary graded the lot with his bobcat, so the lot is level, with a gentle slope to bring the house in from the street. We repaired the chain link fences, cleaned up debris, and moved piles of wood into new piles. We also took down the section of fence that used to be at the back corner of the Delaney House.

The most important thing we did was sort through the pile of Cheney Cottage pieces. When we removed the eaves and the front porch of the Cheney Cottage, we saved all the pieces to be able to put them back. We labelled them, but at the time we had no idea it would take 10 months to get to work placing them back on the house. So we're not 100% sure what the labeling scheme we came up with means.

But we have lots of pictures, and as we look at the old eaves and porch, we're starting to figure it out.

On Sunday, after the Cheney Cottage arrives on 62nd Street, Eric and his crew will begin rebuilding the eaves. Once they are on, Tom and I will strip off all the old roofing, and the tack a tarp down over the house (we hope this is the last tarp, as we have gone through many tarps in the last 10 months!). Then the following weekend, the second floor will rise up into the air, and the first floor will arrive to slip below it.

The lot is ready. The house is ready. We are ready. The City permits are mostly ready. Phil Joy and his crew are ready. Eric Angress and his crew are ready. We're poised to get this project underway again. Keep your fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Back in Business

God willing and the creeks don't rise, we're going to be moving the house next weekend.

We have finally worked out all the details with the City of Berkeley, and although we don't have all the permits yet in hand, we will have them early next week. So the plan is to move the top of the Cheney Cottage on the 20th, and the bottom on the 27th. By early March, the house should be reassembled and sitting on its new foundation.

So the work has already started. Hilary brought his bobcat over to 62nd Street yesterday, and began grading the site so the house can easily roll in from the street. He also pulled up the rest of the roots from the two redwood trees we removed (seems like years ago.....) The site is level and ready for a new house.

Today and tomorrow, we're doing some final prep work. Hilary is back, finishing taking out all the piles of brush and debris, and loading them into his dump truck for recycling. We have to move some logs back to the back of the lot, out of the way of the Cheney Cottage. We also have to take down a section of the hedge, as the cribbing has to go there when we raise up the second floor. We'll also sort through the pile of pieces of the Cheney Cottage we took off, finding all the pieces of the old front porch and the eaves that we had to remove from the second floor.

Then the plan is:
  • Move the second floor to 62nd Street and position it in the house's new location
  • Put the eaves back on, and strip the roof down to the skip sheathing
  • Lift the second floor into the air
  • Move the first floor to the site, and position it under the second floor
  • Gently lower the second floor down onto the first floor
  • Reattach the first and second floors
  • Dig out and pour the new foundation
  • Reroof the house
  • Rebuild the front porch
  • Reattach all the exterior trim that had to be removed
Then the fun begins: getting electrical service and rewiring the house; running the water pipes to the house and the drain pipes out to the street; redoing the bathroom and kitchen; refinishing floors, patching plaster, and fixing all the damage caused by the house's 10-month unnecessary stay out in a field in Albany.

Once the Cheney Cottage is done and habitable, we will turn our attention back to the Delaney House: raising it up in the air, building a new foundation for it; building the first floor.

So after 10 months of inactivity, we see a lot of work in the next couple months. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy year.