8 Historical Buildings That Have Been Relocated
Some buildings are designed to last forever—we’re looking at you, Great Pyramid of Giza. Those that aren’t can sometimes be saved through drastic engineering measures and a transatlantic relocation. Here’s a look at eight buildings around the world that have been lifted off their foundations (either in one piece or thousands) and rebuilt in a safer space, ensuring that their legacy lives on.
1. THE TEMPLE OF DENDUR // NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Commissioned by the first Roman emperor Caesar Augustus and completed in 10 BCE, the Temple of Dendur—originally in Egypt—was at risk of being flooded by the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the subsequent formation of Lake Nasser in the 1960s.
UNESCO established the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia in 1960, and countries worked quickly to save as many artifacts as possible before the lake submerged 2000 square miles of ancient lands. Egypt gave the Temple of Dendur to the United States in 1965 for its participation in the rescue effort, and President Lyndon Johnson awarded it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The small stone temple was dismantled in Egypt, and the 642 pieces were shipped to the U.S. on the SS Concordia Star. Upon arrival in New York, flatbed trucks carried the pieces from the dock to the museum on Fifth Avenue. When the blocks were unpacked, "not all were numbered and some were found to be numbered incorrectly. Section drawings exist—but they are in French," The New York Times reported [PDF]. Still, a team of stonecutters, carvers, masons, and museum curators were able to reassemble the temple in the custom-built Sackler Wing.
2. LONDON BRIDGE // LAKE HAVASU CITY, ARIZONA
In the mid-20th century, London Bridge was quite literally falling down: The weight of modern cars was pushing the Georgian-era bridge into the River Thames. To make room for a new bridge, the granite structure was put up for auction in 1968.
The winning bidder was Robert McCulloch, the mastermind behind the resort community of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He believed the bridge’s reinstallation in the planned development would attract tourists—and he was willing to pay $2.46 million for the British landmark. The bridge was disassembled, each piece of stone masonry was numbered, and the whole thing was sent off on a ship that traversed the Panama Canal on its way to California. From the Port of Long Beach, the bridge’s pieces were trucked to Arizona, where they were rebuilt according to the original plans.
3. COOK’S COTTAGE // MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
The great British explorer and naval captain James Cook has a long list of achievements, like being the first European mariner to cross the Antarctic circle and circumnavigating New Zealand, Tonga, and Easter Island. The Yorkshire-born navigator spent time between his adventures at home, reportedly in a small cottage in Great Ayton built by his family. When that house went up for sale in 1933, industrialist Sir Russell Grimwade purchased it for £800 and donated it to the state of Victoria, Australia, in recognition of Cook’s exploration of the continent and to celebrate the centennial of Melbourne.
After the house was taken apart and packed into nearly 300 crates and barrels, it was shipped to Australia aboard the Port Dunedin, along with some of the ivy that once grew up its walls. It was rebuilt in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens, where it stands today. Since then, scholars have determined that there’s no concrete evidence that Cook ever stayed in the house, though members of his family certainly did.
4. BELLE TOUT LIGHTHOUSE // BEACHY HEAD, UK
The original Belle Tout Lighthouse in Beachy Head, England, was deliberately set back 100 feet from the edge of the cliff when it was built in 1832. If the light disappeared from view, approaching ships at sea would know they were in the danger zone. But through the turn of the 20th century, cliff erosion made the lighthouse less effective, and it was decommissioned in 1902. New owners bought it for a private home (and it also served as target practice by Canadian troops stationed on the coast during World War II). The edge of the cliff crept closer and closer.
In 1999, the owners of the lighthouse had to move it back 56 feet. Engineers dug beneath the 900-ton structure to lift it—in one piece—onto four concrete beams, then slid it back on the beams to its current position. It is now a bed-and-breakfast. If erosion continues at the same pace, the lighthouse will have to be moved again in about 30 years.
5. HAMILTON GRANGE // NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Alexander Hamilton reportedly owned only one house in his life, and that was Hamilton Grange in New York City. Located in what was then Manhattan’s uptown countryside (which is now Harlem), the large, airy house sat on 32 acres of land with views of both the Hudson and Harlem rivers. Hamilton’s widow Elizabeth sold the home in 1833, and the city grew up around it.
The house was relocated for the first time in 1889, when the owner, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, moved it 250 feet north to be closer to the church—and to prevent it from being demolished by the construction of 143rd Street, which would have run right through it. The National Park Service (NPS) acquired the Grange in 1962 and, in 2008, decided to move it again. Having deteriorated quite a bit over the decades in that location, the house was in desperate need of a renovation. But since new buildings had sprouted up around it, a full renovation at that site would have been impossible. The NPS settled on moving it a few blocks away to St. Nicholas Park—once part of the original plot of land owned by Hamilton—where it would no longer be crammed between other structures and could be fully restored. The 200-ton house was jacked up, attached by the foundation to steel beams for support, then carefully raised 38 feet up in the air on hydraulic lifts to bypass a porch on another building [PDF]. The Grange was then rolled onto a massive system of dollies on the street that essentially drove the house to its new site.
6. NEWARK LIBERTY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT BUILDING 51 // NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
Newark Liberty International Airport might be one of the worst-ranked airports in the U.S., but that wasn’t always the case. Built in 1935, Building 51 was one of the most luxurious, state-of-the-art passenger terminals in the world—in fact, Amelia Earhart participated in its dedication ceremony. (She kept one of her own planes at the airport, as did Charles Lindbergh.)
But when new terminals were opened from the 1950s through the ’80s, Building 51 was converted into office space. It eventually faced demolition as part of a runway expansion project. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport, received permission from the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office to relocate the Art Deco structure. First, the building was sliced into three pieces with concrete-cutting machinery. Then each section was individually hoisted by hydraulic lifts and placed on dollies supported by 1407 truck tires to be rolled about three-quarters of a mile to its new location. It has since been renamed Building One and today holds administrative offices, though some of the building is open to the public, including the Art Deco lobby and an exhibition on the history of the structure.
7. THE ABU SIMBEL TEMPLES // ABU SIMBEL, EGYPT
Like the Temple of Dendur, the Abu Simbel temples were put at risk by the Aswan High Dam. Built into the sandstone cliffs along the Nile under the rule of Ramses II in the 13th century B.C.E., there are two temples—a main one with four 66-foot-tall statues of the king surrounding its entrance, and a smaller one dedicated to the goddess Hathor. To avoid having the temples submerged beneath Lake Nasser’s rising waters, preservationists disassembled and moved them to higher ground. Engineers dug down from the top of the cliffs, dismantled the structures by carving them into 20-ton blocks, and moved them piece by piece to the new site, a 200-foot-high artificial hill built atop their original location. Like the Temple of Dendur, this undertaking was part of UNESCO’s International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia.
8. ST. BERNARD DE CLAIRVAUX CHURCH // MIAMI, FLORIDA
In the 1920s, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst sent teams across Europe to buy artwork to stock his new castle in San Simeon, California. One of his acquisitions was a 12th-century Spanish cloister, which he had workers dismantle, pack into 11,000 crates, and send on a ship across the ocean to New York.
There, the crates were impounded: Customs agents feared the hay used to pad the crates might be contaminated with hoof-and-mouth disease, and the whole shipment was left in one of Hearst’s warehouses. Eventually the hay was burned, and the pieces of the cloister were declared safe for transportation—but by this time, the stock market had crashed and Hearst had lost all his money. The pieces of the cloister were placed on the auction block in 1952, one year after Hearst’s death, and acquired by two Florida men who rebuilt it in Miami as a tourist attraction. The cloister failed to lure visitors, however, and the owners ended up donating it to a local parish.