2 historic Southside Berkeley homes on the move, literally

Blood House getting ready for its move. Photo: Ted Friedman
Blood House getting ready for its move. Photo: Ted Friedman

A complex tripod of moving history is about to take place in South Berkeley.

In a unique and probably first-ever-in-Berkeley arrangement, two historical houses, one a city designated landmark, and the other a designated structure of merit, will be hoisted and trucked to a vacant lot a few blocks from their current locations, for a mini historical neighborhood cluster.

The carefully orchestrated maneuverings, which are slated to commence Saturday morning, Aug. 16, involve three well-known Berkeley developers and the city. The deal was sealed with approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“It’s a big project for the city; it’s a complicated thing,” said John Gordon, of Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services, which is accepting the two houses, preserving them and turning them into apartment rentals.  “I’ve agreed to allow them to mitigate. I’ll take your two houses, if you move them to me.”


He adds: “It’s a very unusual thing to move a house. It’s a long process, and it’s a frustrating process.”

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), the active watchdog of the city’s older places, while not endorsing the moves, is not condemning it either.

“Personally, I have mixed feelings,” said Anthony Bruce, BAHA’s executive director, noting that he was speaking for himself and not the organization.

“I’m glad they’re going to be saved, it will be a nice little group over on Regent Street. But we always prefer things to stay in their historical locations.”

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The years-in-the-making shuffle is a legal agreement between the city and the three property owners, which allows for development on their lots once the houses are gone.  Moving the homes mitigates objections to their being demolished, expressed in the environmental reviews required in the development process.

Under the city’s agreement, all three parts must happen, the two houses moved to Gordon’s lot, and his commitment to preservation.

Here’s a guide to the tripod:

• The Blood House, built in 1891 for Mrs. Ellen Blood, a new Berkeley resident, and a city-designated structure of merit, is currently at 2526 Durant Ave., just east of Telegraph Avenue. The house was owned by developers Ruegg & Ellsworth, recently of the Spenger’s parking lot archeological dig fame.

Ruegg & Ellsworth have sold the house to Gordon for $1, and agreed to move it to his vacant land on the corner of Regent Street and Dwight Way, which allows them to proceed with building a 44-unit apartment building on their lot.

The house-move is on target for Saturday morning.

“It’s been 15 years in the making, we first applied for a building permit in 1999,” said Dana Ellsworth, one of the company owners. “It will be neat,” she adds. “I’m happy it’s turned out this way. I wish it hadn’t taken this long.”

• The Woolley House, built by English immigrant John Woolley and located at 2509 Haste St., is a city-designated landmark owned by Ken Sarachan, the owner of Rasputin Records, Blondie’s pizza, the old Cody’s books building and a controversial vacant lot on the corner of Haste and Telegraph, of proposed Moorish edifice fame. The Woolley House, next door to the lot, was moved to its current location from nearby on Telegraph, probably around 1910.

Sarachan also agreed to pass his house to Gordon for a buck, which opens the door for him to build his proposed six-floor Moorish-themed building.

Gordon expected both houses to be moved at the same time, but said it appears the Woolley move is delayed.

When reached by phone, Sarachan said, “I don’t speak to reporters, I respectfully decline this interview.”

• The Regent Street parking lot, on the southwest corner of Regent and Dwight Way, is owned by Gordon, who also owns the adjacent city-landmarked Mrs. Edmund P. King Building, 2501 Telegraph, currently home to Peet’s, and the Soda Water Works building, 2509-2513 Telegraph, next door to the south.

Gordon, who has applied to the city for a Mills Act agreement for the project, which would provide a tax break for long-term building preservation, plans to turn the two structures into five apartment units, incorporating a small structure called the Bonnet Box, a former hat shop, already on the site. “It’s a good use of the property, it’s a unique opportunity,” he said.

John English, a BAHA member and close neighbor of the Regent site, called its potential exciting.

“Theoretically, it’s preferable for a historic house to stay in its historic location,” English said, agreeing with executive director Bruce, and also saying he was speaking for himself and not the group.

“In the case of these two houses, all things considered, it’s the best solution. They’re being preserved and fixed up.”

The houses, combined with the other historical buildings in the area, will make a “remarkable cluster of historical buildings, all constructed between 1880 and 1910,” English said.

He added: “I think both houses will be happier in their new location.”

English provided a list of key buildings in the cluster.

  • The King Building (a designated landmark) at the Dwight/Telegraph
    intersection’s southeast corner, constructed in 1901.
  • Adjacent Soda Works Building (a designated landmark) at 2509-13
    Telegraph, constructed in 1888 and enlarged in 1904-05.
  • The Needham-Obata Building (a designated landmark) at 2525 Telegraph and 2512-16 Regent, constructed in 1907.
  • The row of four Colonial Revival-styled houses at 2503, 2509, 2511 and
    2517 Regent, all of which were built between 1901 and 1903 (the one at
    2517 Regent has already been designated as a Structure of Merit).
  • The Stuart House (a designated landmark) at 2524 Dwight, built in 1891.
  • The Edwards House (a designated landmark) at 2530 Dwight, dating from 1886.
The route that will be used to move the Blood House on Aug. 16. Photo: Ruegg & Ellsworth
The route that will be used to move the Blood House on Aug. 16. Photo: Ruegg & Ellsworth

The move of the Blood House will begin at 6 a.m., according to Ellsworth. It will take an hour to bring it off the Durant Avenue lot and into the street. The house will travel from Durant to College to Dwight, and the move should be complete by noon.

Related:
Telegraph Ave. property owner shows plan for vacant site (03.19.12)

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