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Historic Lake View building moving westward — literally — so Red Line tracks can be straightened

The entire Vautravers Building will be moved about about 30 feet west and four feet south by the end of Tuesday.

Moving crews move the historic Vautravers building at 947-949 N. Newport Avenue in Lakeview East, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
Built in 1894, the Vautravers building is being moved Monday and Tuesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Scoot over, Vautravers Building.

The 127-year-old Lake View structure on Monday started its very short trip to get out of the way of a Chicago Transit Authority track rebuilding project.

The move 30 feet west and four feet south — as part of the CTA’s Red and Purple modernization — should wrap up by Tuesday.

The move is necessary because when the Red Line tracks were built in the early 1900s, the owner of the three-story building refused to sell so the tracks were built around it. Red Line trains traveling between Belmont and Addison now must slow down around the bend that curves around the structure at 947 Newport Ave.

Stephanie Cavazos, a CTA spokeswoman, said as the move got underway Monday that crews were “going to scoot the building over” so the tracks can be straightened out — while keeping the 1,000-ton building intact.

The project aims to “help trains move faster, smoother and create a more comfortable ride for our customers,” she said. “We want to preserve as much of Chicago history as we can.”

Preservation Chicago pushed for the Vautravers Building to be landmarked as a part of the Newport Avenue District, a series of homes built between 1891 and 1928. Its landmark status protected the building from being demolished.

“Unfortunately, we don’t appreciate these buildings as we should,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “We should be using every tool possible to save these buildings as other cities do.”

Project manager Stephen Specht talks about the process of moving the historic Vautravers Building at 947 N. Newport Avenue in Lakeview.
Walsh-Flour project manager Stephen Specht anticipates all renovations to be finished by Thanksgiving.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Contractor Walsh-Flour Design-Build Team removed the original foundation and placed the building on layers of beams, according to Stephen Specht, project manager at Walsh-Flour. After it is moved, it will be renovated.

“The entire building gets tuckpointing, masonry repair and a new roof,” said Specht. “All the historic copper bays get fully restored with ... new copper cladding.”

Specht estimates the full restoration of the building will be done by Thanksgiving.

People watch as the historic Vautravers building at 947-949 N. Newport Avenue in Lakeview East is moved over, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
The Chicago Transit Authority bought the building for $1.75 million. The move costs about the same. CTA plans to sell the apartment to a developer afterward.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Lake View resident Christina Krasov heard about the building’s move from a neighbor and brought her two kids to watch on Monday.

“It’s a feat of engineering to be able to move it and keep it intact,” said Krasov, who lives two blocks away. “It’s a little unbelievable.”

Mike Cornwall holds up a camera as moving crews move the historic Vautravers building at 947-949 N. Newport Avenue in Lakeview East, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
Mike Cornwall, who lived in Lake View for 45 years, videotaped the Vautravers Building as if moved a couple of feet on Monday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Though the neighborhood was excited for this rare event, moving well-known buildings out of the way of construction is not unprecedented in Chicago, according to Miller.

Case in point: The Briggs House, a downtown hotel, was famously moved in 1857 while people were still inside.

“They had such a celebration that they filled The Briggs House with a party of 1,000 people, supposedly attending the event as the Briggs house was raised. So, we should all be inside, right?” Miller joked Monday.

While the entire endeavor to move the Vautravers Building is not cheap — $1.75 million to buy the building, another $1.7 million to move it — Miller hopes these types of accommodations for preserving historic buildings happen more often, instead of the easier and cheaper option of demolishing the structures.

“The more of these we move out of harm’s away, the better,” Miller said.

Support beam covers the side of the historic Vautravers building at 947-949 N. Newport Avenue in Lakeview East, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
The building was lifted with about 20 jacks. Once the building is moved and a new foundation poured, restorations to its facade will begin.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times