By Diane Slawych
Two years after he moved his historic Victoria, B.C. house to a new neighbourhood – a sight that attracted hundreds of onlookers – managing broker Harry Newton says he learned one thing. “You can save any building, no matter how big.” Whether it’s feasible, however, is another matter.
Newton, of Newtco Real Estate Company, along with partner and co-owner of the house Michael Sweet of Black Horse Contracting were up for a challenge and there were many along the way.
Perhaps the biggest involved cutting the two-storey, 120-ton house in half so it could fit on the road. The move itself (a distance of half a mile) was supposed to take about seven hours but instead it took 18 hours due to issues with cables, phone and hydro lines along the way. And then there was the cost, which ballooned to nearly double what the pair had anticipated.
Acknowledging the whole experience was “very stressful,” Newton commended the moving company, Pridy Bros. for a “fantastic job.”
“Now that it’s done, it’s receiving lots of praise,” he says. “The city is happy with it, the neighbours like it and we got the Hallmark Heritage Society President’s Award.” It was also the only building project the Rockland Community Association has ever endorsed.
The pair bought the circa 1880 building from Abstract Developments for $1 in 2012 with the intention of moving it from its location at Oak Bay and Richmond avenues to a spot between two of their three other existing houses on Pemberton Road in the upscale Rockland area. Abstract wanted to demolish the home and develop the land, but the city objected to the home’s destruction due to its heritage value. Newton wanted to add to his existing rental stock.
“We thought that by saving this building the city would allow us to create a lot and save the building at the same time and it became part of four buildings all in a row of character conversions that are rental suites,” says Newton.
The wood frame house had served for a time (1905-6) as a school – the predecessor of St. Michael’s University School. By the 1920s it had been converted into five suites. Newton said it was run down both inside and out and in need of repairs. The 6,299-sq.-ft. building with a basement and an attic was the largest single lift that Pridy Bros. had ever done.
Long before the actual move on Sept. 22, 2012, Sweet worked six days a week for 18 months getting the house ready. He tore up floors, removed the chimney, moved the home’s central staircase and built walls on each side of the planned cut as reinforcement. “Everything was labelled and numbered so we could reassemble it later,” says Sweet.
After being cut in half with a reciprocating saw, the home was hydraulically lifted and put on I-beams. “Have you seen the (HGTV) show Massive Moves?” asks Newton, trying to describe the process that followed.
The home was rolled apart and loaded on to 16 wheels or rollers, which can be steered. “Once it was on the street we moved it like a parade – the first half of the house, followed by a vehicle in between, then the second half of the house,” says Sweet. There were trucks everywhere, plus 20 flaggers controlling traffic, and about 500 people watching the event. “There were guys in front checking the wires and the City of Victoria, who didn’t want to cut trees, was cutting branches at 4 am,” says Sweet.
They then backed the house up the street and into a huge hole at its new address. “Both halves had to be backed in, then aligned and when you’re talking tonnage, it’s quite a bit of manoeuvring,” says Sweet. “When we got it back together, we raised it up in the air 13 feet to put the foundation in.” Once the foundation cured and all the main beams and sub posts were in place, the house was lowered into position on Nov.14. At this stage, most people would assume the hardest part was over, but Sweet knew otherwise. “That’s just the beginning,” he says. “Now you have to fix the whole house.”
That work included replumbing and rewiring the home, redoing the floors, putting in new windows and a roof, and adding new kitchens and bathrooms to the five-unit property.
They had no problem finding tenants. “We didn’t have to advertise to rent it out,” says Sweet. “This place has character.” Many 1880s features were retained including the original fireplaces, claw-foot bathtubs and big stand-up sinks, all of which were refurbished while modern conveniences were also added including gas stoves and heated bathroom floors. Once called Richmond Court, the building is now known by its new address: 1016 Pemberton Rd.
As for the final cost of the move and the renovations? “We ball-parked it would cost maybe $500,000 to $700,000,” says Newton. “But in the end it was closer to $1 million.” Though he’s pleased with the end result, he admits he’ll probably never recoup the costs of the move. “It’ll work out better for my kids,” he says.