Last Sunday, a house went on a journey across Berkeley. To be precise, it was half a house, the top half, and eagle-eyed Berkeleyans may have spotted it making its way, slowly, at walking pace, from Albany Village into Berkeley on 8th Street, then down Gilman, down 6th onto University and then along Sacramento until it reached its new home on 62nd Street.
The house belongs to Tom White and Dmitri Belser who bought it for $16.00 from UC Berkeley in 2009 after it was advertised on Craigslist and Ebay.
Known as the Cheney Cottage, it is the smaller of two properties originally located at 2241 and 2243 College Avenue on the Cal campus and built by journalist and real-estate agent Lemuel Warren Cheney. The larger of the two homes, the Cheney House, was demolished in March 2010 after the university failed to find a buyer for it. Built in 1885, the Cheney House was believed to be the second oldest surviving structure in the Berkeley Property Tract. (Read the full history on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association website.)
The landmarked Cheney Cottage was built in 1902 as a rental property for Cheney and his wife May. It appears to have been inspired by Bernard Maybeck’s Boke House on Panoramic Way
White and Belser, who have a history of renovating period homes, both in San Francisco and Berkeley, say they are making it their business to “restore old Berkeley”. “We’re just two individuals with a love of Berkeley history,” says White. “It’s a hobby,” he adds, “we both have full-time jobs.” White is the publisher of Home Energy Magazine and Belser is the president of the recently opened Ed Robert Campus.
On their 62nd St blog, the couple have documented their latest, ambitious restoration project. The blog’s sub-title — “How a gay blind jew and his lover of 30 years managed to move two 100 year old houses and restore them — and lived to tell the tale” — speaks volumes.
The couple has fought a long battle to move the house. White says the bureaucratic hoops they have been required to jump through by the City of Berkeley have been legion and time-consuming. The Cheney Cottage was sliced in half in April 2010, and they were all set to move the two halves last summer, but problems with permits put four months on the project.
“The property was almost destroyed by the weather during that time — it degraded its value and we will have to do more restoration work than we’d planned,” says White. “It’s sad that the city does not do more to encourage the restoration of its historic architecture,” he says.
And the pair are are not quite done yet. The first floor of the Cheney Cottage is due to be moved on Sunday March 6. Then both sections will be reunited – — which involves, says White, hoisting the top half high up into the air before placing it carefully on its counterpart.
The Cheney Cottage will be sited next to the existing property that the pair own on 62nd Street — a Frontier Italianate style cottage which the couple have moved to the back of the lot to make room for its new neighbor. They are also in the process of restoring it.
“It’s one of the oldest homes in South Berkeley,” says White, who refers to it as the Delaney Cottage and dates it to at least the 1880s, perhaps even the 1870s. The couple’s research, including conversations with neighbors, reveals that the home was likely to have been surrounded by corrals originally, and probably belonged to a farmhand. Cattle drives were common on the street back then.
Diane Dew documented the first part of the Cheney Cottage’s move in a series of photographs. Another friend and neighbor, Pete Alvarez, shot a six-minute video of the move, which, according to White, went relatively smoothly. He says he police had to go ahead to stop traffic at one point and a couple of trees had to be trimmed for clearance. But, as he points out, “One more move to go and we’ll be old hands at this.”