For some, the Pallesen apartment house was a fine example of early 20th century architecture, a 1910 building designed by famed San Jose firm Wolfe & McKenzie. For others, it became a symbol of community working together to preserve a building and create affordable housing.
For Carol Reding Sisney, it was grandma’s house.
Her grandparents, Jack and Agnes Reding, lived in the one of the building’s four units starting in 1941 and lasting until Agnes’ death in 1990. “They chose the place because it was close to St. Joseph’s Church and Notre Dame High School,” said Sisney, who was born in San Jose but grew up in Aptos. The longtime teacher said she has fond memories of visiting her grandmother at the building — which she eventually managed — and taking family photos in the alley next to the downstairs apartment.
“This became the hub for my family,” she said.
Sisney was among the dozens of people who watched Sunday morning as the 111-year-old building on the corner of First and Reed streets was raised up on box cribbing and towed by a semi truck on a 900-foot journey to its new home three blocks away. Prep work for the move had been taking place the past couple of weeks, but it got real before the sun rose over downtown San Jose as the two-story apartment house was pulled onto Reed Street.
The big crew from Kelly Brothers House Movers placed 40 wheels beneath the house — in five sets of eight each, able to turn and angle individually, using hydraulics like a low rider — and it started its slow journey a little after 8:30 a.m. It took less than 30 minutes to reach the destination on Fourth Street up against the Interstate 280 on-ramp, with the crowd following along every step of the way. People walking their dogs stopped to look at the spectacle, kids waved to the Pallesen as it went by from the curb in front of Notre Dame High and just about everyone had a phone camera trained on the strange event.
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It took nearly 90 minutes after the construction caravan arrived at Fourth Street to slowly back the house into its new lot, with the crew stopping every few minutes to change the angle on the wheels and inch the house into the space. Volunteers from Preservation Action Council of San Jose — which raised $300,000 for the move — sold “Save the Pallesen” t-shirts from a pop-up tent on the corner, and Janice Jensen, CEO of Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley, watched anxiously as the building carefully dodged trees and light poles.
It was the final leg of a journey that seemed at times like it would never happen. It was late 2019 when Habitat for Humanity, the City of San Jose, PAC-SJ and developer KT Urban first came up with an idea to save the building by moving it to the empty, surplus lot owned by the city, which would sell it to Habitat for just $1. There were cheers for the deal that was announced in February 2020, and then the pandemic hit. Plans were put on hold and another offer to move the building to a different location was made. That new plan fell through, though, and by December, it looked like the Pallesen would be demolished to make room for the Garden Gate Tower, a 27-story residential project.
With a push from San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez to keep everyone talking, PAC-SJ launched its fundraising campaign and KT Urban and new developer Scape agreed to keep the wrecking ball at bay for a few weeks.
Because it all came together so quickly at the end, Jensen said the building will remain on its box cribbing supports for months while entitlements are secured and a new foundation is poured. Then the renovations will begin with an eye toward bringing everything up to modern code and comfort standards while maintaining the building’s historical integrity. Jensen said the units will be sold individually at a price well below market rate to qualified families, who will be expected to put in “sweat equity” on the renovations, too.
“The miraculous part is how much support there was community-wise,” Jensen said. “Everybody pitched in and made this happen. In the end, it’s going to be gorgeous and we’ll provide affordable housing for four families. What’s not to celebrate about that?”
It was definitely a moment of celebration for Carol Reding Sisney. After learning last week that PAC-SJ was short of hitting its $300,000 goal to pay for the move, she and her husband Bret Sisney, donated the last $35,000.
“I wanted to be a part of San Jose history,” she said. “My grandparents were of meager means when they moved there, and now it’s come full circle that this will again be housing for low-income families.”