Friday, April 22, 2011


Things are humming at the Cheney Cottage, as the work on the house moves quickly along.

The connection of the second floor to the first is mostly done. Eric and his crew have opened the exterior walls around the building, and installed blocking and Simpson ties. Our inspection is on Tuesday, and we expect to pass and have the reconnection of the two floors approved. This should enable us to get the bond money released, which will then allow us to finish the restoration of the house.

Meanwhile, Tom and I are working on our projects. The most noticeable was the installation of the window over the stairs. All the windows in the Cheney Cottage remained in place during the last year, except for one - the large window over the stairs, that bridges between the first and second floor. The window is a key element of what is now the east facade of the building (it faced north when it was on College Avenue). For a year, the window and its frame has been sitting in the house, waiting to be reinstalled. As the two pieces of the house were lined up, the opening for the window was the most visible piece, showing how the house was coming together.
The opening for the window over the stairs

So now that the two floors are coming together, we reinstalled the window. It makes the house somewhat more weathertight (there are still lots of openings), but as one of the signature features of the house, it shows that the house is really coming back into its own.
The window reinstalled - note the siding removed for the new blocking

This weekend, we will mostly be doing clean up - taking trash to the dump, cleaning up inside. We've started replacing some of the trim on the second floor, and we might reinstall the stair railings. After the inspection on Tuesday, we will start replacing the siding and then the decorative trim. There is some final foundation work to do, and then the porches will be rebuilt. Then the outside of the house will be ready for paint, and the new roof will go on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It was a year ago today that the second floor of the Cheney Cottage crossed Berkeley to Albany Village, to sit 50 feet away from the first floor, which had made the trip two days earlier. They spent a full year in pieces; at times, they were 5 miles apart; they moved from the Campus west and north to Albany, then crossed Berkeley again to the souther most edge of town, and hovered inches apart. But now, the first and second floors of the Cheney Cottage are back together

It was quite a process. The first thing that had to happen was Phil Joy and his crew had to get the long beams out of the house. So they built cribbing inside the house: from the dirt in the crawlspace up to the first floor, then from the first floor to the ceiling below the second floor, and then from the second floor to the ceiling. The house was then lifted on jacks to pull the second floor up off the beams, and the beams were slid out.
With cribbing inside the front door, getting ready to move the beams

The beams were huge and hard to move. The beam in the back was particularly difficult, as they couldn't just pull it out the side (the apartment building next door was in the way). So they built another pile of cribbing in the parking lot next door, and slid the beam out onto that, then used the crane to lift the beam off.

Once the beams were removed, the second floor had to be adjusted to get it perfectly in place. Plumb bobs were hung from each of the corners, and the house was lowered slowly - first one corner, then another - to get them to line up. The crew put jacks on a slight angle, raised the second floor a little bit, and let the jacks rock forward to get it into position.

When the second floor was perfectly aligned with the first, it was slowly lowered into place. Yesterday, the two pieces touched, and Eric and his crew started screwing and nailing the wall studs to the sole plate.

We went over this morning and walked around inside the house. The beams that for the last year held the second floor walls rigid are all gone, and we are finally back in the upstairs bedrooms. The place is a mess, but at least it's one house again. It was nice to reacquaint ourselves with the house we have worked and sweated for all these many months.
Peeling wallpaper, standing in the back bedroom for the first time since April 2010

Now, Eric and his crew are working on the connection details. Of course, it isn't just a matter of nailing the house back together - there are seismic requirements and engineering details that have to be completed - but by Tuesday, they should be done, the inspection should be completed, and we can begin putting the house back together. We will have plenty of siding to patch, and then lots of interior plaster to repair. Not to mention all the other work that has to get done.
The view on 62nd Street, with the Cheney Cottage back together

But the streetscape on 62nd Street looks different than it did, with the two houses on our lot in their new locations (one still on cribbing). The picture above shows our two projects, plus Christine's house next door. Her house was built by the Delaney family when they subdivided the lot, back in the early 1920s.

Tom also went up and took a picture today of the former site of the Cheney Cottage on what was once College Avenue - now a parking lot with temporary buildings on it. So both sites have been changed dramatically. But the Cheney Cottage survives.
The former site of the Cheney Cottage (darker patch of asphalt)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Getting Grounded

The back room of the Cheney Cottage hovering above its new foundation

The Cheney Cottage has a beautiful new foundation. The house isn't sitting on it yet, but the foundation is there.

Looking at the Cheney Cottage is a bit like looking at one of those Time-Life diagrams of how a house is put together - it's kind of the "exploded view". The new foundation is in place, then 4 feet above it hovers the first floor, and two feet above that floats the second floor. The pieces are all there - they just aren't together.

This week, Eric and his crew will build the walls on top of the foundation that support the house. Then Phil will come back on Thursday to gently lower the first floor down onto the walls, and the first floor will finally come to rest on its new foundation. Then Phil will begin work on lining up and lowering the second floor onto the first.,

Soon the Cheney Cottage will be done moving, and will be ready to face another 100 years in its new location on 62nd Street.
The east side of the Cheney Cottage, with its new foundation and the cribbing that supports the second floor

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Catching Up

My computer has been offline for a good week, so even though lots has happened on 62nd Street, not much has happened here on the blog.

The biggest issue was the rain. As soon as we got the first floor situated under the second, it started raining, and rained pretty much every day. Eric and his crew got in a couple days of work on the foundation, but it wasn't until last week that the rains finally broke. The last week has been sunny and clear.

So the foundation is going in, and the house should be set down on the new foundation in the next two weeks. Eric and his crew poured the new footings last week, and they are working on the forms for the foundation this week. After they pour the foundation, they'll build the walls of the basement, and then Phil will return to set the house down, and then lower the second floor back onto the first floor.

We've also been working inside, doing lots of clean up and organizing. We tore down the furring strips in the kitchen (that held the old suspended ceiling) and all the wallpaper in the kitchen and dining room. The wallpaper was easy to remove, but it was holding water against the plaster - so now the walls are drying out, and we can see how the rooms will need to be repaired.

I spent yesterday on my hands and knees, pulling carpet tacks out of the stairs. The stairs got a lot of rain on them, having no ceiling above them, but since they were painted at some point, the paint protected the wood. Now they're cleaned up and ready to be sanded and varnished, once the house is enclosed.

We also took the stair railings back to Parker Street (the railings that were removed when the second floor was removed) and stripped them. The paint comes off pretty easily, and underneath, the railings are beautiful fir with a shellac finish. We're pretty committed to stripping all the paint in the living room and dining room - a huge job, but the wood is beautiful and it should make the house really shine.

We've also been sorting all the pieces of the house. The front porch pieces are in the dining room, and much of the exterior stickwork, as well as the second floor trim, is in the living room. Other upcoming jobs include replacing the inappropriate front door with one of the doors from the Cheney's house (we asked Noel to save the front and back doors before they demolished the house), fixing broken windows, and doing more clean up.

The site is drying out, the mud is mostly gone, and we're seeing real progress. Now that the move is over, things are moving along.