Yes, the place looks like hell in this photo, but it was over 100 years old, and the house movers said we had to remove the front porch, prior to the lift. The house was craftsman built, and well worth saving. The pilings and floor joists were long-leaf yellow pine. There were three tiny rooms upstairs, and one big main room downstairs, originally with a wraparound porch. We bought the place from my brother-in-law and his wife. They had decided to enclose all the porches save for the one in front to make extra rooms. So, when we bought it, there were three up and seven down. and oddball layout for sure, but the price was right. And, except for the fact that it was below sea level, it was in a pretty terrific spot.
The first time the tide came into the house, I grabbed the mop and started trying to push Jamaica Bay back out. My husband came over and gently took the mop away, saying, "It's ok, it's ok. After the tide goes down we'll clean it all up." What I didn't realize was that any night while we slept, the tide could silently and inexplicably rise above the normal high water, and come into the house. I lost books and important documents, some bills, (no loss) and a box full of photo albums this way--that was probably the most painful loss.
In the winter of 1977-78 there were two major storms that caused enormous flooding in Broad Channel. There was three feet of water in the house during one storm, and four feet during the second one. It was a saltwater mess. We sat upstairs waiting for the tide to finally go back out. While I was sitting on the steps I saw a pink oil slick coming out of the kitchen, and soon a flotilla of Brillo pads came bobbing by. I saw some small fish swimming by, and wondered how the hell they got in, and more importantly, how would they get out. They didn't, and became part of the clean-up. Some monopoly money floated past, and we had a laugh over that. What the hell, it's only money.
After these storms devastated the island, the Federal Government offered us low interest, long-term loans so we could make repairs. We were approved for the maximum amount, and Tom started drawing plans on graph paper. When he first proposed raising the house, I was thrilled, but the problem was that underneath the house, it was totally a tidal zone full of Jamaica Bay muck, and the work could only happen on alternate weeks, during the time when the tide was low. Another decision my brother-in-law had made was to build a bulkhead, fill in all around the house creating a yard, and for whatever reason, he neglected to fill in under the house. Too much trouble, I guess. Which left us with this dilemma.
The front yard was 125 feet in length, from the front porch out to the street, and Tom decided that if we dug a hole, and built a footing in the front yard, we could have the house moved over the footing, raise it there, and build a foundation under it. Viola! I thought this job was too big for us--an insane idea. But, he found Jordan House Movers out on Long Island, and they came to look at the place, decided that even though it was larger than what they usually moved, it was doable, and so we started shopping for a local guy who could operate a backhoe to dig the hole.
We measured and measured, pounded stakes into the ground and tied strings from stake to stake. We bought bags of lime from the garden center, and like the lines on a football field, we marked out the footprint of the house in the dirt of the front yard. An off duty fireman (of course) came with his backhoe, and dug the hole more-or-less between the lines. Another off-duty fireman friend who worked construction on his days off fabricated the re-bar cages that were dropped into the hole prior to having the concrete poured. The man with the cement truck (not a fireman) said we "could have put the Woolworth building on this foundation. That's ok, over-built was better than under-built.
Jordan and his crew arrived very early one morning with a flat bed truck of I-beams, and an awful lot of timbers, and they began the process. It was forty years ago, so I'm not clear anymore on the details. I remember that I was busy keeping my three-year-old-son out of danger, and making coffee for the crew all day long. In the midst of the chaos, and in between helping Tom, all my regular chores were ongoing: watching over Tommy, laundry, shopping, food prep, and kitchen clean up.
The day finally arrived when Jordan had his "cradle of iron" ready. One old guy scurried over to the market on the corner and returned with a few big bars of Ivory Soap. I asked him if he was about to take a bath, and we all laughed when he gestured to the pool under the house, and replied, "Oh, is it Saturday?" Actually, they rubbed a deep film of soap on the iron rails so the house would slide along smoothly with no jerking that might do damage to the walls or windows.
They put a couple cables around the entire house, hooked a cable from the winch on the back of their truck to the cables around the house. I was inside making another pot of coffee, and I noticed things moving outside my windows. No. The house was moving, with me in it! The guys all thought my reaction was hilarious.
Once the house was over the footing, they removed much of the iron, just leaving enough to keep it up out of our way as we built the cement block foundation underneath. Six hundred cement blocks! And I carried and moved every one of them from the pile in the front yard to wherever Tom needed them as he built them three courses high. When we were done with that part of the process, the house movers returned and lowered the house down onto it.
Tommy loved helping his dad. Notice the Twin Towers over the kid's shoulder in that last frame. The blocks all had to be filled with cement after they were set. This took a lot of time and hard work.
After the house was settled on the foundation, there remained the chore of flilling in the hole in what was now the back yard.
There was the huge job of landscaping, and turning a construction site into our yard and garden.
I insisted that we install a fireplace in the living room during the interior renovations, and we hung our Christmas Stockings above it, but mine hung there only for one holiday season, as we divorced that year during the spring. For many years I grieved that relationship, and mourned the loss of the home we worked so hard to build together, but today, as I look back on it, I am so proud of the son we created and the house that we rescued from Jamaica Bay.
Tom sold the house to the O'Reillys, a large local family. They continued the renovations, and expansion of the structure to suit their needs, even installing many solar panels on what has become a giant roof, compared to the little garret rooms that we once slept in.