From a school to a casino, a brief history of epic building moves in S.F.


The move of a 139-year-old home from 807 Franklin St. around the corner to Fulton Street this weekend was the distraction San Francisco needed.

But the joyous event that dominated social media on Sunday, as crews took down wires and trimmed roadside trees to facilitate the move, turns out to be just a small footnote in a city that can’t seem to keep its buildings in one place.

At one point in the 1940s and 1950s, house moves were so frequent there were three different San Francisco companies bidding for the jobs. It happened so often, sometimes dozens of moves in a year, that a Victorian on blocks could be on the city flag.

With help from San Francisco Heritage and OpenSFHistory at Western Neighborhoods Project, we’ve collected some of the highest-profile building moves in San Francisco history. Here’s a look back in roughly size order, starting with the biggest.

Commerce High School was moved four blocks in 1913 from Grove Street to a new home on Fell Street.

Courtesy OpenSFHistory

Commerce High School

Year of move: 1913

Newton J. Tharp Commercial School, a three-story steel-and-concrete building named after the city’s architect who died during the school’s completion, was San Francisco’s grandest high school when it was completed in 1909.

The problem: It was built on Grove Street between Larkin and Polk, where the new Civic Center was intended. So four years after the building went up, the city paid more than $100,000 to slide the 8,000-ton high school four blocks — a glacial move on steel rollers that took more than seven months before it reached its current home at 170 Fell Street. It blocked entire streets for weeks, spurred a lawsuit and never traveled farther than 25 feet in a day.

“The movers did not even break a window,” The Chronicle reported on Nov. 13, 1913, when the journey was complete. “The plastering is cracked in some places, and there is a tiny crack in the brickwork in some places, but that is all.”

The school closed in the 1950s. And while it sustained damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the structure still stands.

The Ohio Building gets shipped on a barge in 1915.

The Ohio Building gets shipped on a barge in 1915.

Chronicle file photo

Ohio Building

Year of move: 1916

The Ohio Building, a copy of the capitol building from that state, was one of many structures quickly created for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

But like almost every structure beyond the Palace of Fine Arts, it needed to be demolished or moved for the future construction of the Marina District. Bought for $1,000 at auction, the 1,000-ton Ohio Building was dragged on skids to a barge and on Aug. 16, 1916 was shipped 23 miles to San Carlos.

It was initially abandoned, served as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and in 1956 was intentionally torched to clear the property.

The Golden Gate Park Casino was moved from the park in the 1800s, and became a roadhouse at 24th Avenue and Fulton Street.

The Golden Gate Park Casino was moved from the park in the 1800s, and became a roadhouse at 24th Avenue and Fulton Street.

Courtesy OpenHistorySF

Golden Gate Park Casino

Year of move: 1896

From the moment Golden Gate Park Casino opened in 1882 next to the Conservatory of Flowers, it was at odds with with the family-friendly vibes of the park. So it was purchased and moved 20 blocks in 1896 to the corner of 24th Avenue and Fulton Street.

Through the early 1900s the property thrived as an outpost for dancing and drinking, close enough to Golden Gate Park to draw park crowds but isolated enough for all-night partying. As late as 1909 advertisements ran in The Chronicle boasting the roadhouse was “open all night”; owner Carl Leonhardt was able to skirt curfew laws for years by classifying the building as a hotel.

As the Richmond neighborhood grew around it, the spot was demolished for more housing in 1922.

July 3, 1962: The Moffitt Mansion heads down Broadway and through the Marina District on its way to a barge. The Pacific Heights home floated across the San Francisco Bay to its new home in Belvedere.

July 3, 1962: The Moffitt Mansion heads down Broadway and through the Marina District on its way to a barge. The Pacific Heights home floated across the San Francisco Bay to its new home in Belvedere.

Bob Campbell / The Chronicle

Moffitt Mansion

Year of move: 1962

After World War II, city residents were used to seeing moving houses, as developments such as the Broadway Tunnel, Central Freeway and Interstate 280 caused entire neighborhoods to transform in short periods of time.

But the Moffitt Mansion move in 1962 was a huge event, as the elegant home was chainsawed in two 85-ton pieces, pulled by truck to the water and placed on a barge that crossed the Bay to Belvedere. (Many more photos and details in this 2020 Chronicle article.)

The developers hoped the move would be the start of something big; shipping mansions across the Bay and building high-rise apartment buildings in their place. But even though the Moffitt Mansion was a success — it still stands in Belvedere — it turned out to be one-of-a-kind.

The Vollmer House, one of 12 homes slated for demolition in the 1970s, was saved through the efforts of San Francisco Heritage.

The Vollmer House, one of 12 homes slated for demolition in the 1970s, was saved through the efforts of San Francisco Heritage.

Heritage archive

Vollmer House

Year of move: 1974

The non-profit group San Francisco Heritage began by saving Victorians. With San Francisco redeveloping blocks around Franklin and Turk streets, including where the Opera Plaza now stands, beginning in 1971 the group identified and saved 12 historic houses — finding new homes throughout the city.

Most were beautiful buildings in need of a little care. But the most striking, and the biggest headache, was the tall, narrow and ornate Vollmer House at 773 Turk St. — close enough to the 139-year-old Victorian that moved this weekend to borrow a cup of sugar.

The Vollmer House traveled 11 hilly blocks in 1974, and several inches were shaved off the side before it fit in its new home at 1735 Webster Street. (For years, the house was featured on S.F. Heritage letterhead.)

An earthquake refugee shack moves to Market Street in San Francisco in 2006.

An earthquake refugee shack moves to Market Street in San Francisco in 2006.

Mark Costantini/The Chronicle

Earthquake refugee shacks

Year of move: 2006

Western Neighborhoods Project also has an origin story involving an ambitious move, saving four of the remaining earthquake refugee shacks built after the 1906 earthquake and fires.

There were once more than 5,500 shacks built for refugee camps in Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park, Washington Square and other parks. Most were carted around the Bay Area in 1907, often combining several shacks together and adding more construction until the original huts were unrecognizable.

In 2002 Western Neighborhoods Project formed in part to preserve a few remaining shacks on Kirkham Street, arranging one on Market Street for the 100th anniversary of the earthquake. That shack is now on display at the San Francisco Zoo. Two more have been restored at the Fifth Avenue Institute in Oakland. And the organization continues to find new earthquake shacks in the Bay Area.

Two homes are moved from downtown San Jose to the San Jose Historical Museum on Feb. 2, 1987. They had to use overpasses because they were too tall to fit under Interstate 680.

Two homes are moved from downtown San Jose to the San Jose Historical Museum on Feb. 2, 1987. They had to use overpasses because they were too tall to fit under Interstate 680.

Ken Cavalli / The Chronicle

And more …



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