[Editor’s note: Merry Christmas! This week, we’re taking time off to focus on our loved ones, so we are sharing some of our favorite stories from this year. Keep an eye out for our top features from the archives as we rest and get ready for a brilliant 2019! Cheers, from Candy and the entire staff at CandysDirt.com!]
Bethany: It never ceases to fascinate me, how entire homes are moved from one spot to another – and what has long been known as the Blue House in the Cedars was a very painstakingly precious undertaking. I had the chance to talk to the man who will be restoring the home to its former glory, and get a better idea of what it takes to bring a long-neglected beauty back to life.
It took a bit, but the Blue House is almost completely safe now.
Almost, because windy weather has held up the removal process, so it sits on two lots — its original on Griffin, and the new lot at Beaumont and Browder.
It may take a while for the entire house to make the trek over to the new location, Dallas developer Mark Martinek told me last week.
“We’re still moving it,” he said. “It’s kind of half on the original location, half on the new location.”
Wind, he said, has made it unsafe to use the cranes that have been slowly taking the aging, rotting Victorian Queen Anne mansion built in 1885 by Max Rosenfield.
“Wind is always a major problem,” he said. As soon as the weather permits the crane operators to work without danger, they’ll start up again.
“It may be more like two weeks before it’s all moved,” Martinek said.
After that, the company tasked with moving the house will “restack” it from the bottom up. Martinek said he will check their work, and then — once he’s satisfied — he’ll begin the work of restoration.
The Cedars resident is no stranger to restoring some of Dallas’ oldest treasures. He won awards for his restoration of two shotgun homes on Gould Street, but even with that experience, this new project does bring some new opportunities.
“This is the first one I’ve moved,” he explained. “I’m working with who I believe to be the best house mover in North Texas, so we don’t have too many problems.”
The house is making the move because Time Warner (now Spectrum) bought the Griffin Street lot in 2016. For a while, it looked dire for the Blue House, like maybe the old girl wouldn’t see another 130 years of Dallas history.
But then a campaign to save the house gained traction. The city issued a 10-day demolition delay. Preservationists and history lovers lobbied the company, who eventually relented and agreed to save the building — and pay for it to be moved to a new location, if one could be found.
That was probably one of the keys to making the project a reality.
“Typically the cost of moving a home like this is so high,” Martinek said.
But then Katherine Seale, chairwoman of the Dallas Landmark Commission, said she’d buy a lot on Browder and Beaumont — just seven blocks away — so the home could be moved and saved. Martinek came on board to restore the home.
It won’t be an easy restoration — restoration in the Cedars neighborhood isn’t just a matter of dropping an old house on a new lot, like a tornado in Munchkinland.
“The other real challenge in Cedars is that the way that the new PD is written, the setbacks that are required don’t accommodate these old houses anymore,” Martinek said. “It’s not an easy thing to just move an old mansion to a new spot.”
But now that the home is well on its way to its new location, Martinek can begin mining his stores of old materials, sourcing replacement parts, and studying up on materials that were used on the house.
“We’re gonna more or less restore it to the exact same condition it was built in, but the plumbing will be modern, it will have air conditioning, and will be insulated,” he explained. “The windows will continue to be the old sash windows — but we will rebuild all of those so they’re not as drafty.”
The exterior, he said, will be pretty much identical to the original home, and any newer materials that may have been used over the home’s 130 years will be replaced — like the Hardy board that will be swapped out for solid pine.
“I’ve got a pretty good stash of old materials from other houses,” Martinek said. “I will probably use old-growth southern yellow pine and cypress.”
They saved all the brick that came from underneath the building. “We’ll reuse all of that,” he said.
When it’s done, Martinek said the home will have three units — it won’t be a single family residence.
“It appears that’s the way the home was built,” he said, adding that it wasn’t unusual for homes to be built for the possibility of being home to multiple families at the time Max Rosenfield built his home.
Although it appears that Rosenfield did rent his home out at one point, he rented the whole home out. Paula Bosse recently took a deep dive into the history of the Blue House for Flashback Dallas, and found (among other things) that Rosenfield and Gersen Meyer, a coworker at Sanger Brothers department store, bought and sold real estate as side business.
“They bought and sold real estate (often to fellow Sanger’s employees), apparently as a lucrative side-business (Rosenfield even conducted his real estate transactions from his Sanger Bros. office),” Bosse wrote. “They apparently had acquired enough land by 1886 to have their own ‘addition’ — ‘Rosenfield and Meyer’s Addition’ in East Dallas.”
A 130-year-old house that has sat patiently dormant and unattended for years won’t be a quick rehab, and Martinek said he is prepared for that.
“It’ll probably take us two years to get it done,” he said. “It’s not just a production job. It requires a great deal of thought, and care.”
“If we, for example, need to have some of our moldings custom made, we’ll do that, and wait for them to come in,” he added. “We’re not trying to do it quickly.”
Martinek said that in restoration and homebuilding, there are often three things desired — speed, economy, and quality.
“Most of the time, you only get to choose two of those,” he said. “And we’re going to choose quality, and we’re going to choose economy, over speed.”
Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.