In the 1970s, one family in Washington state decided to bring the magic of Snow White home—and we don't mean on VHS. (That didn't come out until 1994, anyway.) They built a replica of the cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Olalla, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And now, you can take over Snow White’s housekeeping duties—the house is for sale, as we spotted on the listing site TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.
The house looks straight out of a Disneyland attraction, with a winding staircase seemingly built into a tree, hand-built doors of different sizes with giant iron hinges, stone details and exposed beams, a wood stove, and a rounded interior that “wraps around you like a big hug,” according to the listing. (Good luck hanging shelves, though.) Honestly, the shiny walls look a little plastic, but it’s all part of the Disneyfied appeal.
Unlike the Seven Dwarfs’ pad, though, this comes with a hot tub and high-speed internet, not to mention a washer and dryer to save any future Snow Whites the effort of hanging laundry. And there’s no need for everyone to sleep side-by-side in twin beds. The two-story “cottage” has four bedrooms and five baths.
The 2800-square-foot house comes on a five-acre gated property. Outside, there’s a sweet tree house with a fireplace inside, a wooden bridge over a creek, and a garden with fruit trees.
It’s $775,000, zero dwarfs included. You can see the listing here.
For nearly three weeks in the spring of 2008, residents and passersby near Convent Avenue and 141st Street in Harlem craned their necks to take in a peculiar sight. Positioned atop a 38-foot structure of crib piles, shimmies, and steel beams was a two-story yellow house originally built for Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and future Broadway musical sensation.
On site since 1889, the house—which Hamilton called the Grange after his Scottish grandfather, the onetime Laird of Grange—had been the subject of debate for nearly a century. Boxed in by an apartment building on its right side and a church on its left, it was being suffocated by real estate development and in desperate need of an extensive renovation. To do that, it would have to be relocated. But the loggia (a porch-like structure) of the church jutted in front, making a direct move forward impossible.
In order to restore the house to its original condition, the National Park Service would have to effectively perform a housing transplant, moving it around 500 feet to a park site. They considered cutting it in half, or lopping off pieces that they could later put back together. But a proposal from a family-owned firm that specializes in moving houses offered a different approach: They’d raise the house up on jacks, slide it over onto the street, equip it with wheels, then “drive” it around a corner and down a 6 percent grade.
It would be delicate work, but it wasn't as though the Grange hadn't been on the move before.
Wolfe House and Building Movers
For all of the historical significance attached to the Grange, Hamilton didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. Built in what was then countryside by architect John McComb Jr., who also designed City Hall, the home was finished in 1802 and owed a lot of its design to Hamilton himself. Roomy enough for his seven children and 1000-book library, he considered it his retreat from politics and the danger of yellow fever in the city. Away on business, he often left instructions for his wife, Eliza, for specific garden arrangements.
Just two years after the Grange was completed, Hamilton walked out the door for his fateful duel with Aaron Burr and never returned. His widow sold it in 1833.
By 1889, the Grange was blocking the expanding street grid of Manhattan. (West 143rd Street would have been built through it.) Land developers who had possession of the property donated it to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which set about preserving the building by moving it 250 feet to Convent Avenue. “It was done the old-fashioned way,” Stephen Spaulding, Director of the Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center at the National Park Service, tells Mental Floss. “They put it on railroad jacks, used wooden wheels, and pulled it with horses.”
Though it was safe from destruction in its new location, the Grange would shortly find itself buttressed by developments on either side. An apartment building built in 1910 flanked the right side; the church to the left built a porch that partially obscured the view from the street. It was a suffocating position that made needed renovations difficult. The National Park Service, which took responsibility for the Grange when it became a National Memorial in 1962 on the condition it could be relocated, went through a series of options. “There were a number of locations discussed,” Spaulding says. Grant’s Tomb, a National Memorial on Riverside Drive and 122nd Street in New York, was one possibility.
By the early 1990s, the NPS had one site in mind: St. Nicholas Park, which sat just 500 feet from the Grange and featured a hillside clearing perfect for the historic property. But locals were against the move; they complained removing the house from its location next to the church would contribute to blight in the area by leaving a vacant lot.
Complicating the matter was the notion of the federal government (via the Park Service) colluding with New York state and city bureaucracy to facilitate the project. “That was a long process,” Spaulding says, citing endless federal and state regulations that had to be cleared in order to cut a path for the disruptive move. Once that was settled, the NPS had to field bids from firms that offered different approaches for uprooting the building, which stood on a double basement foundation.
“We basically had three options,” Spaulding says. “We could remove the church porch and then reconstruct it afterward. We could disassemble and move major sections. Or we could raise it up by jacking it.”
The first two options carried major caveats. The church's stone porch was fragile and the potential for damage was high; moving the house piecemeal could have proven hazardous to the structural integrity of the Grange. Aiming to mitigate that risk, the contractor for the move, Integrated Construction Enterprises, brought in Wolfe House & Building Movers, an East Coast firm that specializes in moving multi-ton buildings in a methodical manner.
Mike Brovont, an estimator with Wolfe House, tells Mental Floss that the firm is just “one of a handful” that can handle projects of this scope. “There are a few hundred guys who can jack up a house and put it on a foundation,” he says. “But this one had some unusual needs.”
The church’s stone porch was problem one. “And we couldn’t go in from the back because of trees,” Brovont says. Wolfe’s plan was to come at the problem vertically, raising the house off its foundation 38 feet in the air to clear the obstruction of the porch. “This way, we could keep it intact.”
Over a period of three weeks in May and June 2008, Wolfe employees performed a structural levitation act. The Grange—which weighs roughly 300 tons—was raised in stages. First, the Grange's porch needed to be removed, since it couldn’t be counted on to remain intact. Next, workers drilled holes through the exposed foundation in order to install steel beams that would facilitate the lift. For areas underneath making little contact with the beams, shims and blocks were hammered in to create a flush connection.
Once the house was framed underneath with the beams, hydraulic jacks were placed beneath those to begin pushing the house upward. When it reached the 82 feet needed to clear the porch, crib piles—think warehouse pallets resembling several enormous Jenga towers—were placed underneath for support while another crib structure was built in front on the street. Hevi-Haul rollers pushed by hydraulic rams allowed the first set of steel beams to be rolled onto the adjacent frame, putting the house on a new structure and away from the neighboring buildings.
“At that point, we reversed the jacks until the house was back down on the cribbing piles, then on dollies,” Brovont says. The nine dollies, which could be controlled remotely, effectively turned the house into a mobile home with 72 wheels. It was time to go for a short, highly precarious ride.
Wolfe House and Building Movers
On, June 7, 2008—moving day—dozens of residents, reporters, and protesters gathered to see a rare event: a historic landmark locomoting down the street. The house would have to endure both a turn and a 6 percent grade down the street, which had been cleared and prepared in advance. Internal bracing kept the house from experiencing undue stress; a mile of chain added cross-braced support to the beams. Heavy forklift equipment followed behind to provide braking power in case the house wanted to edge backward.
“At its fastest, it was probably at the speed of a slow walk,” Brovont says. “We hooked the dollies together with hydraulic fluid hoses and stopped a lot to check and make sure everything was holding. It was on a level plane kind of like a tricycle." With nine dollies, the home could be turned in any direction.
A temporary road was built to make the turn level. In about three hours, the Grange had arrived in St. Nicholas Park, idling for a bit while construction workers finished its new foundation. The house was then rolled onto steel beams, “parking” itself permanently. (The Convent Avenue site now sports a garden and a Hamilton statue.)
“The work I thought would be most precarious ended up being the simplest,” Spaulding says of the rolling home. “I was very impressed with [Wolfe’s] skills.”
The move was the penultimate stage in what would eventually be a $14.5 million project. For the next several years, the NPS supervised an extensive restoration of the Grange that allowed its original character to shine through. “It used to be so dark and dismal,” Spaulding says. “Now you can see all four sides of the exterior and really get a sense of how glorious it must have been sitting on the crown of Manhattan.”
The Hamilton musical obviously led to a bump in tourism for the Grange, which is open to the public in its new, static location. For Spaulding, seeing it in motion was a memorable ride. “The geek in me, the 8-year-old in me, really loves that stuff.”
We here at Mental Floss are known for lusting after Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs. We’d kill to buy a Wright house in Michigan or Minnesota, on a private island, by a waterfall, or anywhere else for that matter. Even if it wasn’t personally designed by the celebrated architect, really.
But we have wondered why so many houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—arguably the most famous American architect in history—are up for sale, sometimes for cheap. (One of his houses in Michigan went on the market for less than $500,000 in 2016.) As it turns out, his houses are really quite hard to sell, as we learned fromThe New York Times. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. YOU GET A LOT OF GAWKERS.
If you’re the owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright house or the broker trying to sell it, you’ve got to sift through a lot of different visitors, not all of whom are serious about buying. For instance, a bevy of conference attendees at the annual meeting of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in New York City this year are expected to trek out to Wright’s Tirranna, a house in Connecticut currently on the market for $7.2 million, to take a look around. (It’s the one with the waterfall.) Not a lot of those aficionados are going to have millions to spend on a historic house—although some super-enthusiastic Wright fans might.
While the broker selling Tirranna is fine with welcoming the sightseers, not all are so patient. When selling the Cooke House in Virginia Beach in 2016, the realtor only gave tours to prospective buyers that could prove they had the funds available to buy the house, which ended up selling for $2.2 million.
2. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO PAY TOP DOLLAR FOR AN OLD-FASHIONED HOUSE.
Wright’s creations were thoughtfully designed for their occupants’ comfort, but in some respects, his work can feel dated to people looking to spend big bucks on a house. Real estate professionals, according to the Times, have “to develop a convincing argument for why someone should pay a premium to live in a house with small bedrooms and a snug kitchen, cinder-block walls, cement floors, narrow doorways, a carport instead of a garage and, quite likely, no air-conditioning.” Currently fashionable features like open kitchens and numerous bathrooms don’t exist in mid-century homes like Wright’s.
3. THEY’RE OFTEN IN FAR-FLUNG PLACES.
Wright’s studio in Wisconsin designed houses that were built all over the country. Given how cities have grown since the 1950s, fewer people are looking to live on giant estates in hamlets like Galesburg, Michigan (population: 2000)—site of the $500,000 Wright house—or Willoughby Hills, Ohio (population: 9500). While people might be ready to pay top dollar for an L.A. landmark, even the most dedicated architecture buffs might not be willing or able to relocate to the rural Midwest just for a great house.
4. OWNING A WRIGHT HOUSE MEANS DEALING WITH WRIGHT FANS.
Strangers don’t typically feel like they have a stake in your suburban tract home, but Wright has some pretty dedicated fans. And they have things to say about the way you’re handling your house. “It’s like dealing with a group of theater critics,” one Wright home owner who’s looking to sell told the Times. “You’ve got to put on a good performance to generate accolades, and if you don’t, you’re going to hear from them.”
5. YOU PROBABLY DON’T WANT TO SELL TO JUST ANYONE.
When you live in a piece of architectural history, you become a sort of steward of that history. So when it comes time to move on, you don’t want to hand it off to someone who won’t take care of it. Clients hoping to sell their Wright houses can be particularly vigilant about vetting prospective buyers. “It was no different than if he had a daughter, and the buyer wanted to take her hand in marriage,” one broker said of the client whose Wright home she sold in 2016.
Despite the challenges of living in, and eventually selling, a house by an architect as famous as Wright, for many people, the costs—financial and otherwise—are worth it. As one owner put it, “Would you believe it if somebody told you that someday you’d own a Rembrandt?” The only difference here is that Wright’s designs are art you can live in. Seems like a lot of pressure to keep the kitchen clean, honestly.