Originally Published: January 19, 2018 6:02 a.m.
Long before “reduce, reuse, recycle” became a familiar slogan for conservation of resources, a quiet revolution of salvaging the old was already underway on the streets of Prescott.
Over the decades, dozens of old and unwanted houses have been moved to new locations throughout Prescott and in the surrounding communities.
Those houses — and other buildings, as well — have gone on to have new lives as restaurants, inns, shops, duplexes and single-family homes.
“We’ve had a fair amount of house moving done in the area,” said Cat Moody, the city’s historic preservation specialist. She attributed the trend, in part, to Prescott businessmen who have long seen the potential, and had the equipment and know-how, to do the job.
And the trend continues in Prescott. On Jan. 11, local businessmen Vince Fornara and Garrett Denny got a recommendation of approval from the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission for a Lincoln Avenue reuse project.
The project, at 578 Lincoln Ave., is expected to go to the City Council for a decision on Jan. 23. The plans involve moving in five buildings to be rehabbed as homes, which would join an existing 1940s-era house that is being renovated by Fornara and Denny’s business, Vibrant Building Solutions.
Commissioners voiced support — both for the prospect of filling in a vacant parcel, as well as for the reuse aspect.
“I’m a big supporter of in-fill, and this looks like a great project for this property,” Commissioner Bill Sim said.
Commissioner Ken Mabarak added: “I think the process of recycling and providing more affordable housing is a great concept.”
Fornara pointed out that reuse of old buildings helps to reduce waste. “We’re trying to keep these houses out of the landfill,” he said.
That notion dates back decades. Moody said a number of prominent Prescott buildings were moved from their original spots to new sites. Among them: The Bashford House and Fremont House, both moved to the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds; the Willow Creek Inn; and the Pleasant Street Inn.
In most cases, the buildings were facing demolition because of encroaching development.
The Bashford House, for instance, was located on the Gurley Street site that became the Jack in the Box (now closed).
The prospect that the Bashford House, a stately Victorian house that dates back to Prescott’s 1870s, could be demolished prompted the formation of the historic-preservation movement in Prescott, Moody said.
A grassroots effort got underway to save the Bashford House in 1974, Moody said. The owner ultimately donated the building to Sharlot Hall Museum, where the house underwent a two-year rehabilitation and restoration before opening to fanfare in 1976.
Today, the Bashford House — once the elegant home of Prescott pioneers William and Mary-Louise Bashford — anchors the Gurley/McCormick corner of the Sharlot Hall grounds and serves as the museum’s gift shop.
Among the most prolific of Prescott’s house movers was Gary Denny, owner of a local moving business from the late 1980s through about 2008, when his son Garrett took on the business.
During his time with the business, Denny estimates that he moved about 200 Prescott homes. Many of them stayed in Prescott, but others landed in Chino Valley and Paulden.
Still, Denny stresses that the house-moving trend predated his time in the business. Early Prescott businessman Bernie Fisher also moved countless buildings in the area, Denny said, and Pat Moore, who Denny worked for before buying the moving business, was also an active house mover. A number of other have also worked in the house-moving field.
Early on, Denny said he moved about a dozen homes from the Whipple-Third Street area when the City of Prescott built the Montezuma-Whipple connector in the early 1990s.
Because the house moves typically take place in the middle of the night, Denny said residents are sometimes unaware of the process and the origin of the homes.
But he maintains that the community benefits in a number of ways.
“When the houses can be removed and repurposed, that is complete recycling,” Denny said.
In addition, he said, the move preserves the area’s early architecture. “I see a huge value in preserving that — that’s the flavor of Prescott,” Denny said.
And because many of the older homes are smaller than today’s new houses, Denny and others point out that the moved houses end up being an affordable rental or purchase option for young families or moderate-income residents.
“No one is building 800-to-1,200-square-foot houses anymore,” Denny said. “The value of saving those small homes is so much more important than people realize. We need places for the locals to live, the young people.”
Although house moving was largely halted during the recession of late 2000s to early 2010s, Fornara and Garrett Denny say it has come back in recent years.
Their business has made a number of recent moves, including three building from the lot that now houses the Maverik convenience store at the corner of Ruth and Whipple, as well as houses from the Hillside/Walnut location of the old Miller Valley Trail Park.
Fornara says many of the older homes are still structurally sound, but need to be moved to make way for other projects. In most cases, he said, moving the houses saves the owner money, compared to demolition.
As they are planning for the Lincoln Avenue project, Fornara and Denny’s company also is working on rehabbing a home recently moved to the corner of Ruth and Merritt streets.
Moving an old home generally takes about half the time of new construction, Fornara said, and results in a more affordable option.
One project that Fornara and Denny looked into was moving the old Miller Valley School to a new site, but the 1916-era school was demolished this week.
Denny said that Vibrant Building Solutions put in a bid, but the amount of rock under the school likely made the move cost-prohibitive.
“We need a lot of room underneath to get in steel beams, and there was really hard rock underneath the school,” Garrett Denny said, guessing that the estimated cost of moving the building outweighed the owners’ cost of demolishing it.