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Crestone Eagle, July 2003:
text & photos by Kelly Hart
few months ago I was driving down Road T and noticed a house
in the middle of the road. I didn’t remember a house
being there and thought that I was seeing a strange mirage.
The closer I got, the more real it appeared, until I was forced
to slow down and drive around the thing, at which point there
was no doubt about its authenticity.
A big truck tractor was towing this entire 1200 square foot
house balanced on two huge steel I-beams and a bunch of wheeled
dollies. Progress was slow but steady as it inexorably moved
toward its next incarnation in the Baca Grants. Just that
morning it had departed its original home north of Monte Vista
along highway 285, where it had been seasonal housing for
Ann Bunting and Tom Dessain had searched for just the right
orphaned house to adopt as their own, lovingly place on a
new foundation, and refurbish. Many houses would not be suitable
for such a trip; only well-built wooden structures can withstand
the stress of such a move. This house had all the qualities
they were looking for: charm, integrity, and affordability.
The entire cost of the house and having it moved was $10,000.
By the time they have it completely fixed up with new plumbing
and electric service, an insulated stucco exterior, new energy-efficient
windows, a metal roof, a completely rebuilt front porch, all
of the interior walls resurfaced, and miscellaneous repairs,
they estimate that the total cost of the project will be about
$50,000, including the land. Not bad for what in most regards
will be as good as new!
Of course new is not what they wanted; they bought this early
twentieth century house (it’s actual date of construction
is unknown) precisely because of its special vintage quality.
It reminds Tom of the house his grandmother lived in, with
9 foot ceilings, three smallish bedrooms, tongue and grooved
fir flooring, cast-iron radiators, built-in cabinets, drawers
and even ironing board, and the intangible quality of a by-gone
era. They plan to retain the original floor plan intact, only
altering a walk-in closet to become the mechanical room and
turning a room off the kitchen into a dining space.
The house made the entire trip with just a few plaster cracks
in one corner, which are easily repaired. This is one very
solidly-built house, made from the sort of fir that no longer
can be bought. There was only one place under the kitchen
sink that had suffered leak-induced rot over many years; everything
else is as straight and true as any carpenter would want.
This house was not the first to find a new home in the Baca.
Five years ago Barbara Hoeppner was led to adopt a house from
Fort Garland. Through a series of fortuitous events, she purchased
the perfect lot for $1,000 and then noticed an ad for a house
to be moved for $7,995. She asked Gary Olson to help her inspect
its condition, and they agreed that it would be suitable for
moving onto her lot. She hired Bob Hansen (the eighty-something-year-old
who also helped move Tom’s house) to transport her new
purchase. Barbara knew that the house was not insurable until
it was set on a new foundation, so she kept her fingers crossed.
Barbara’s late twentieth century second home of about
800 square feet came from property leased from the Federal
government, and so it needed to be moved. Barbara, with the
help of Keith Conway, added an additional room onto the original
to comply with the Baca’s 900 square foot minimum. She
has thoroughly enjoyed the process of remaking this simple
cabin into her charming home, imbued with the wonderful quirky
qualities that spring from her fanciful mind.
Once a house is moved, it must comply with current plumbing
and electrical codes, so these elements were completely redone.
Most of the windows were replaced with second hand units that
gave her just the views that she wanted. The exterior was
resurfaced with rough-sawn lap siding and a new metal roof
was installed. The original interior plastic paneling was
replaced with sheetrock, and decorated with lots of natural
wood trim. The whole feeling of the place is one of lovingly
crafted touches wherever the eye lands. Barbara says, “I
would much rather live in something recycled than buying something
brand new which has no character. I let this house come together—it
Then about a year ago, after having done most of what she
wanted to do with her house, she realized that if she did
it once, she could do it again. So she set about finding another
suitable house to move. She put an ad in the paper announcing
her interest in buying a house to move and contacted several
cities and asked if they knew of any houses that needed to
be moved because of their right of imminent domain. The city
of Alamosa suggested that she contact the hospital, because
they had bought property to enlarge their parking lot, which
led her straight to her next adoption. At 1,350 square feet,
this one was larger than she really wanted, but it was in
good shape and they only wanted $5,000, so she agreed to purchase
One of the walls was brick, which had to be completely dismantled
and then reassembled later. She hired two guys from the La
Puente Homeless shelter to help with this project. Local builder
Mike Dennett helped with most of the heavy construction at
this end. This second project has totaled about $74,000 to
accomplish, but Barbara is happy with the results. She has
entered into a lease-option arrangement with a tenant, and
can break even on the mortgage payments, so she feels it is
a win-win situation for everybody. Even though she felt she
was under more pressure with this second project, she still
enjoyed the process. After all, Barbara says, “When
you can follow your heart, life works!”
Creating new life for old or abandoned houses has got to
be one of the most sustainable ways of making habitation.
This is the ultimate form of recycling, where most of the
basic components of a house are utilized intact instead of
being tossed into a landfill or burned. There is a tremendous
savings in the embodied energy of the house (in both materials
and labor), so that all that needs to be done is to repair
and polish the original dwelling to create a whole new life
for it. Hoorah for these people who have the vision and willingness
to take on these projects!
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