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Another vintage house is delivered to Benicia – PART 3

by Steve McKee on January 6, 2008

I almost got to watch Phil Joy’s second house come in to his boatyard, pushed in on a barge, pretty much just like last year’s house-move that you may recall was a pretty big deal, except this time it happened without it being such a big deal.

There were a lot of similarities to last year: a cool looking nineteenth century house that was destined to be demolished at its original site in Napa was instead acquired by house-mover and Benicia boatyard owner Phil Joy and then moved by barge a few days before Christmas to find a new life on the shores of Benicia. Except this year it arrived during broad daylight. Perhaps on the afternoon of December 21st you happened to look out on the Straits to see a Victorian house sailing by? What a nifty visual that must have been. Melody and I had visited the house in Napa at its native site on busy Soscol Avenue the week before and I was determined to watch its arrival in Benicia. But Phil brought it in a day early and I missed his phone call.

But I did show up at the boatyard just after it arrived in order to experience some of the “buzz.” (After all, this was more Benicia history happening! Right in front of our eyes! Unless you happened to be off Christmas shopping, or at work, or looking the other way.) The sun was getting low when I arrived at the boatyard at the end of West C Street. There offshore just past an old rusted crane was the house, a modest 1880 Italianate style Victorian with simple rectangular lines and a bay window to give it some distinction. It was quite bit smaller than the three-story Queen Anne already in the boatyard.

Something like three or four guys were standing around looking at the house when I pulled up. That pretty much confirmed for me how this really was a low-key affair compared to the hoopla of last year. I called my honey to encourage her to hustle down as we were going to lose our daylight, it being the shortest day of the year and all.

So in the end, for me anyway, the big day amounted to Phil, his wife Celeste and a few others of us standing near the shore looking out at the new arrival as the sun began to lower itself over the Port Costa hills, clutching a beer in our already cold hands, making wise cracks and pondering the glorious future for the boatyard.

It had been a much more involved day for Phil and Celeste, of course. Phil had intended to take two days this time in order to avoid the maddening big push of last year with its struggle against a big ebb tide and eventual nighttime arrival. It was pretty cool the way last year’s house came in decked out in Christmas lights while twenty or more people ogled the sight from the shoreline. But good planning this year regarding the tides and the unexpected help of a friend with another tugboat made the going easier than expected. It just made more sense to bring her all the way home that same day.

To hear the stories, there were a couple of requisite close calls with stationary objects along the Napa River, apparently par for the course. It seems these houses have a way of catching the wind like a big sail. They got going so quickly early in the day that Celeste missed getting on the boat. It had then been her idea to deliver a bag of sandwiches to the guys en route by dropping the bag from a bridge overpass as the flotilla passed underneath, but then aborted the plan at the last second, afraid of missing the target.

“That was you waving from that bridge?” asked Phil’s sidekick Paul causing everybody to chuckle. So the sandwiches were instead passed out to the lot of us standing around.

Phil pointed out the likely spot in the boatyard that will be the permanent home for the latest vintage house in his collection. He and I are still working out how to place the parking lot and, depending on things, maybe even a third Vic can be brought in to give final shape to the little village of saved structures that Phil is creating in downtown Benicia. Finding such houses is never a problem for Phil, who is often presented with opportunities to acquire unwanted old houses that are in the way of somebody’s new development project. “If you have room for only one more after this, you must choose wisely,” I told him, trying to sound wise and learned.

The sun was gone over the hill. It was just about time to go.

“I based my whole day on this tide chart,” said Phil, holding up a small printout of an S-shaped sine curve. He looked at it for a second and then flipped it the other way up. “Damn! That sure explains a lot!” Everybody laughed. Such a joker, that Phil.

After awhile it was indeed time to go. Someone grabbed the bag of recycles and we moved off to our cars. Some of us headed to a dinner out on First Street. For the house-mover it was off to a big nap.


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