The truck carrying the 100-year-old house inched along Excelsior’s narrow, twisty residential streets Friday morning, pausing for removal of low-hanging branches, power lines and “No Parking” signs to open its way.
On almost every block, the truck paused for obstacles — a telephone pole, sharp corner, a tree — that appeared impassible for the 32-foot-wide house. But for four hours the truck managed to squeeze around each, safely delivering the house to its new home at 7 George St., less than a half-mile from its previous location.
Because of a heated local dispute, however, the house’s journey was longer and even more arduous than that. The 1,800-square-foot Craftsman-style cottage was destined for the wrecking ball before an Eden Prairie businessman stepped up to save it.
Dan Brattland, a tech entrepreneur, wanted not only to preserve the home but also help mend relationships among Excelsior residents who have feuded for years over their older houses.
“The reason I’m doing this is to help lessen the division in the town and say, ‘Hey, we can come up with solutions that can benefit both sides,’ ” he said.
About a year ago the brown-and-white house overlooking Lake Minnetonka was being rented by Peter Kizilos-Clift, who applied to have it listed as a historic landmark without notifying its owners. His request was greenlighted by state and local officials. But the home’s owners, Carrie and Gregory Larson, were furious.
The couple had purchased the property for $1.1 million intending to raze the house and build their “forever home.” Once a structure is designated as historic, a teardown is all but impossible.
The Larsons told their Excelsior neighbors the same thing could happen to them. Residents packed city meetings and complained, loudly. The City Council voted to let the Larsons use their property the way they wanted.
Carrie Larson offered to donate the building to the city as long as it was removed from the property. “All of a sudden, that’s when the epiphany hit me,” Brattland said.
Brattland and the Larsons are longtime friends and neighbors in Eden Prairie. Two years ago Brattland bought an 1893 lakeside mansion in Excelsior that he plans to renovate and move into with his family. He subdivided the property into two lots, planning to put the empty one up for sale.
As Brattland studied the history of his house, built by a wealthy mayor, he gained new appreciation for Excelsior’s older houses. “For the first time in my life, I started really understanding the value of preservation,” he said.
The Larsons agreed to give Brattland the house. Having never moved a house before, he spent months getting city approval, setting up the move and making sure the house would fit on its new lot without blocking neighbors’ views.
City Council members were all for it. “I think it’s terrific,” Mayor Todd Carlson said at a council meeting in May. “I think it really exemplifies a community trying to come together.”
Brattland estimates that moving and restoring the house will cost half a million dollars, but he hopes to sell the property for more than that. He’ll likely make a profit, he said, though less than what he could make selling the empty lot. Few buyers want to take on the responsibility of living in a historic house.
“Being somewhat of a capitalist all my life, this was the first real estate project I’ve done that wasn’t based on financial considerations being the higher priority,” Brattland said.
In the end, the move went as smoothly as Bill Otting, who owns Lakeville-based Otting House Movers with his brothers, had predicted. Moving a big house — he estimated this one at 45,000 pounds — was nothing new to them.
“I get a lot of calls in Excelsior to save houses,” he said. Unfortunately, he added, obstacles on the routes out of town make it impossible to haul houses out of Excelsior, while moving an old house in town requires an empty lot — a scarce commodity there.
Carrie Larson, the house’s former owner, called it a happy ending: “It’s just kind of wonderful how it all worked out.”
It’s a happy ending as well for Kizilos-Clift, said Pamela Koenig, who lives with him in St. Paul. Without his historical application, she said, Brattland probably wouldn’t have had the idea.
“Dan Brattland is definitely a hero figure in this story, but in my opinion Peter is also an unsung hero here,” Koenig said.
Even Brattland was amazed.
“I still can’t believe I pulled it off,” he said. “Sometimes I think, did I really do this?”