Old House, New Digs

By Beacon Staff

A 1900s arts and crafts home and its carriage house are nestled alongside a creek in the farmland off LaSalle. They used to be in a neighborhood on the northeast side of Kalispell, the carriage house leaning onto an adjacent chicken coop.

Pete Gross bought and moved the home and carriage house, his fourth such project.

“The first one kind of got me going,” Gross says. “I just thought it was a cool building and it shouldn’t go to waste.”

Scott Treeweek owns Montana House Moving and Construction. He says people frequently want an old home off their lot because the value of the land far outstrips the value of the building.

“They’re on the lakes,” Treeweek explains, “or on the highway and they’re zoned commercial.”

About a year and a half ago Gross got a call from the owner of the Kalispell property where the house sat. The land is zoned commercial, and the owner intended to tear it down.

Gross tells the story of when they got the carriage house ready to move: “An elderly lady who was walking by recalled as a young girl going to church services that were up in the hay mow [loft].”

Today a peek up into the hayloft offers a glimpse of wooden posts and beams in a high arched ceiling. Below the loft are raftered walls and windows where the buggy and horses took shelter. Gross says any savings he incurs are in the material and energy. With a remodel, and bringing everything up to code and modernity, he may not end up saving any money.

It’s an investment for Gross, but it’s also his passion.

“I’m doing it because philosophically I feel like doing it,” Gross says. “Not throwing things away is important to me.”

Treeweek says he’s moving six or seven houses a year, and they’re starting to get bigger: 1,800 to 2,000 square feet. He originally moved houses with his father’s business, Treeweek Construction. He split off to specialize in moving and foundations about five years ago.

Joel Vessie, an owner and broker with Guardian Home Loans in Kalispell, has seen circumstances under which moving existing homes can work out really well.

“You’ve got to have a place to put it,” he said, “and then you’ve got to find [a house], which is not that easy.”

In that case, he says, you’re looking at paying tens of thousands of dollars for a home instead of hundreds of thousands to build.

“What I’m seeing, is most people who hire a contractor to build their home are paying $100 per square foot,” Vessie said. “It’s costing anymore as much to build as it is to buy at a builders sale.”

His applicants are looking at $200,000 for a modest house, plus around $30,000 for a well and septic, all of which is on top of the rising cost of land.

“These houses are worth saving,” Treeweek says, because the workmanship in the old houses would cost a fortune to reproduce and the history is irreplaceable.

Gross points out the fir trim along the original windows, and the fir floors and stairs. The arts and crafts movement of the early 21st century, he said, was all about being in tune with nature and using what was already there.

“It was probably logged here and milled here,” he said. “And that is arts and crafts.”

That’s what Gross strives for when he picks up these houses.

“This culture that we live in, this society, is a throwaway society,” Gross said. “When you do that, you lose the history.”