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Saving an 1887 Vintage Home

The story behind moving the Luther Blair house illustrates one path for preventing the demolition of a vintage structure.

Saving an 1887 Vintage Home Saving an 1887 Vintage Home Saving an 1887 Vintage Home Saving an 1887 Vintage Home

When the young architect Luther Reed Blair made his way to Monrovia in the 1880s, he surely could not have envisioned the saga his personal residence would experience in the ensuing century. 

Blair, along with partner and contractor Uriah Zimmerman, combined their talents to erect some of the finest buildings in early Monrovia. The two men also undertook the construction of Blair’s two-story Victorian home, which was completed in 1887.

When Blair left Monrovia in 1895 to find work elsewhere due to a dearth of building in town, he sold the house to Andrew Ryder, who then sold the house in 1906 to Thomas Wardall. Wardall moved to another home in 1910 but kept ownership of the Blair house. In 1927, he moved the Blair house sixteen blocks from its original location at the corner of Olive and Ivy Avenues to 319 W. Duarte Road.  For over fifty of the nearly seventy years the house remained at that location, it was owned by the Lisle family.

The last Lisle family member moved into a retirement facility in 1992, and the house was put on the market.  Into the picture stepped Steve Baker. Steve, a stickler for authenticity and historical accuracy and a preservation advocate, turned to fellow Monrovian Jimi Hendrix (no, not the reincarnated electric guitarist of late 1960s fame) whose carpentry skills were custom-made for the job. Together they oversaw the return of the Blair house to Monrovia.

The two-day move provided numerous challenges to be addressed, one of which was that the roof had to be lifted off the house and moved separately.  The reason was simple. The house was too tall to be moved with the roof and would have necessitated moving utility lines along the entire route.

Starting at its location on Duarte Road, the house began a night move in April, 1993, traveling along Duarte Road east to Arroyo Highway and then onto Irwindale Road, where it crossed the 210 Freeway, and then onto Huntington Drive. Because the wheels used by the moving company turned out to be larger than planned for, traveling time was longer than expected, and the house move was halted on Huntington Drive after the first night and moved to a vacant lot as morning approached. 

The next evening the house continued its progression down Huntington to Ivy and its final destination, one block south of City Hall.  Facilitating the move were numerous police and CHP officers as well as workers from the power and cable companies.

While a new foundation had to be poured, it was kept low to allow for a cripple wall of wood to be placed between the foundation and the floor joists. This made it possible to have five steps up to the front porch, an original detail of the 1887 home. The house had one fireplace, and the chimney was rebuilt with brick and mortar, again an original feature.

The entire move, with Jimi doing much of the pre- and post-prep work himself, took over a year to complete.  The moving company’s expenses were just under $21,000 plus about $1,000 in permit fees. But thanks to Jimi’s expertise and Steve’s desire not to see another house fall to the wrecking ball, a fine Victorian home has survived to grace the streets of Monrovia once again.

A special thanks to Jimi Hendrix and Steve Baker for providing detailed information about the relocation process and pictures taken during the move.

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