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Originally published July 5, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified July 6, 2010 at 1:18 PM

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Vintage West Seattle home is on the move

In a couple of weeks, a three-bedroom house will be slid off its foundation on 42nd Avenue Southwest and moved a mile north, with part of the route on West Seattle's major north-south arterial, California Avenue Southwest.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The care and craftsmanship Thomas Jensen put into his 1924-vintage West Seattle home clearly indicate he intended it to last, but chances are the Norwegian immigrant never envisioned this:

In a couple of weeks, this three-bedroom house with wooden columns in front is scheduled to be slid off its foundation on 42nd Avenue Southwest and moved a mile north, with part of the route on West Seattle's major north-south arterial, California Avenue Southwest.

"This would be like a dream come true for him," said Jensen's daughter, Audry Taylor, who grew up in the house.

Taylor's father, who died in 1983 at 96, built dozens of homes and some commercial buildings, mostly in West Seattle.

Although her family no longer owns the house, Taylor is delighted that its current owners, Beth Koutsky and Jacques White, are able to have it preserved and restored.

And there's an added bonus: After the house is moved, Taylor will be able to see it from her living room: Koutsky and White live just a few doors down, on Southwest Stevens Street.

"I have so many memories from growing up there," Taylor said. She recalls her father leaving for work with his toolbox, and her mother, Henrietta, preparing holiday feasts and Scandinavian treats in her tidy kitchen.

Even though eight to 10 houses a year are moved in Seattle, no house move is simple.

Streets have to be closed, no-parking signs have to be set out well in advance, and arrangements have to be made with power, cable and telephone utilities.

Even a city arborist gets involved, checking to see whether any trees along the route need to be trimmed.

The actual move is done in the middle of the night to minimize the effects on traffic. This one, slated for 2 to 6 a.m. July 18, is being handled by contractor Alex Schenkar of Schenkar Construction Design/Build and Everett-based D.B. Davis House Moving & Raising.

"It's a lot more complicated than we thought going in," Koutsky said. She and White needed city approval to split their lot and move the Jensen house onto a parcel slightly smaller than city code calls for in that area.

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To help their case, Koutsky and White held an open house and gathered signatures of more than 50 neighbors supporting the project. Moving the 1,970-square-foot Jensen house to the site, they said, is more compatible with the neighborhood's character than what zoning policies actually would have allowed — a "mega-house" taking up both lots.

In approving the project, city planners noted the applicant's aim of "expanding housing opportunities while preserving the historic character of this particular place ... is laudable."

White said moving the house and finishing two floors will likely cost about $375,000. That probably doesn't make it cheaper than just building a new home, he said. But he and Koutsky have a strong environmental ethic and were motivated by the chance to preserve an old house and keep the material out of the landfills.

"Why throw out all that building material?" Koutsky asked. "It's better wood than they use now."

White and Koutsky will get a solidly built house with quality touches, such as leaded-glass windows with crystal insets and custom, hand-finished wood touches on window and door frames, coved ceilings and more. The columns on the front porch were made with slats of fir that had to be soaked until they could be bent into curves.

There have been trade-offs: To fit under the dozens of cables and utility lines along the route, the attic and roof of the Jensen house have been taken off.

Schenkar, working with architect Paul Whitney of Whitney Architecture, will recreate the upper floor and roof with materials and a style faithful to the original home and its period. And in keeping with current building code, the house will get a taller basement, making the space more usable.

Before the move, four heavy-duty jacks will gradually raise the 25-ton house on steel beams, on which it will be moved laterally about 55 feet, then lowered four feet onto dollies in the street.

Among those glad to see the house survive is Taylor's daughter, Kaye Hall, granddaughter of the builder.

Hall purchased the home from her father's estate in 1984, then lived in it for seven years. Three years ago, she sold the lot to a developer planning a mixed-use project of residential and commercial space, but she retained the rights to salvage the house.

"We actually were hoping we would be able to move the house, but we really couldn't find a piece of property that would work," she said. She then approached Koutsky, whom she had previously met, and the present arrangement began to take shape.

"We felt very comfortable with them [Koutsky and White]," Hall said. "We felt very confident they would be good stewards of the house."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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