19th Century house to be picked up and moved from Union Street

Cassidyhouse.  Work will start around ten or eleven at night since part of the route will include I-5.

Cassidyhouse. Work will start around ten or eleven at night since part of the route will include I-5.

Andrew Cassidy arrived in San Diego in 1853. He was part of a team of engineers who were tasked with building a self-recording tidal gauge station at La Playa near Ballast Point in Point Loma that served as San Diego’s main harbor for close to a century . Cassidy’s team departed San Diego after their work had been completed and left him behind to monitor the gauge. It would record a very early local earthquake in July 1854.

If Cassidy were to travel through time and arrive in San Diego sometime in, say, late 2023, he would likely be amazed at how much the town had changed since his days at La Playa. He might be thrown for a bit of a loop if he ran across his old digs of it. He might not recall his modest, 1900-square-foot house from him as being lined up with the Silver Strand. “This is definitely my house,” he might say, “but I clearly recall the northern portion of the bay and Coronado Island as being directly to the west of my residence.”

He would be correct. Cassidy’s house currently sits where it has sat for many, many years — at 1620 Union Street (between Cedar and Date streets) in Little Italy. It resides on a plot of land that is likely to become a 250-foot tall, high-rise apartment in the coming years. In most instances, the modest four-bedroom/ three-bathroom structure (last sold for $1.25M in May 2019) would be nudged and yanked into oblivion by a large construction excavator until all that was left of Cassidy’s former residence was a dusty pile of splintered building materials. This is the scenario that plays out the most often as older, single-family homes are leveled to make way for mid- and high-rise apartments in the region. The Union Street house will likely evade the excavator of death when it is relocated to a new plot of land on Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan. This isn’t to ensure that a complex practical joke on a time-traveling Andrew Cassidy is pulled off successfully, it’s because the home has a historic designation and is protected from demolition.

Jonathan Segal is the developer who is spearheading the projects on Union Street and Newton Avenue. The Little Italy project on the lot where the house currently sits will become a 24-story high-rise with 73 units, eight of which are deemed affordable. The new location of the Cassidy house in Barrio Logan will share a lot with a mid-rise that Segal plans to build. This building will be composed of 14 units, two of which will be affordable. Whereas the Cassidy house may now seem a bit out of place aesthetically amongst the towering complexes that have taken Little Italy by storm, it will share a block in Barrio Logan that is filled with similar, single-family homes.

Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization, a local non-profit that works on preservation issues throughout San Diego County, seems to share the opinion that the Newton location is now a better fit for the Cassidy house. “We would always rather see a historic site in its original location because the location is an important part of its history. In this case, its current context has changed so much and the new location will be similar to the way it was originally with other historic houses of a similar age and in a neighborhood,” he says.

“The really cool part about moving that house is I have two more lots that other developers can move their houses to,” Segal explains. “So, we can save three really interesting projects along Newton Street, and it perfectly fits in. It’s not like I’m trying to shove it into a place that eventually all the other places will be torn down.”

So, it becomes a bit like a mini Heritage Park?

“Yeah, but not a fake one — a real one,” Segal explains. “It really has a street and entry. Heritage Park is a little bit of a cartoon. It’s nice and it saves property, but it’s still sort of a cartoon.”

The approval process for moving the historic property has slowed down the potential development of the Union Street lot at a tough time for Segal. “Interest rates have massively moved, and the price of construction is going up so dramatically,” he explains. He estimates that the move of the Cassidy House will run him “half a million dollars all-in, not including the land.”

Moving these structures is a tricky and costly endeavor, one that Mike Brovont, a lead project estimator for Wolfe House Movers, is familiar with. He points out that many of the older, historic houses “have features that require additional attention or maybe they are in disrepair and require additional steel to support it.” Brovont’s company strictly handles the raising, transport, and deposit of the house. This is accomplished primarily by a series of steel beams that are cross-fit under the structure and which serve as a sort of custom flat-bed trailer for the building. A series of large dollies are then individually connected to the two main beams supporting the house. These eight-wheeled dollies will allow the house to be slow-rolled to its new home at a pace between walking speed and 10-15 MPH.

“We have to check the route ahead of time to know what obstacles there are,” Brovont adds. “Then we have to pull a permit from the department of transportation and/or the county for hauling an oversize load. On move day, there are usually police to help direct traffic and utility companies to remove and lift wires as we come through.”

When queried about the move, John Thomas Hanson (with local John Hansen House Moving) adds that the roof of the Cassidy house will have to be removed so the structure can travel under trolley lines, which can’t be temporarily moved like traffic lights. He says that if his company does the move all work will start around ten or eleven at night since part of the route will include I-5. “If you go over or under a freeway you have to have CHP with you,” he says. CHP is only available to escort these moves late at night.

The Union-Newton project will be part of the San Diego Planning Commission’s agenda on May 19. The public will be able to comment via Zoom call-in. If the project is approved, Andrew Cassidy’s old house may be heading to Barrio Logan (at a snail’s pace) sometime soon. Perhaps it will spend as many years there as it did in Little Italy.

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