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Photos: The Mackenzie House is on the move

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The historic Wayne State-owned house is being relocated to make way for a $65 million performance complex

On Monday, April 1, the David Mackenzie house began its slow journey to its new location. While the house is moving less than a single city block, it’s expected to arrive at its destination on Wednesday, April 3.

The move was necessary to preserve it. Wayne State University, which owns the historic house, is building the new $65 million Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex at the site. The integrated performing arts complex will incorporate the existing Hilberry Theater and is slated for completion in 2022.

The move is being overseen by Buffalo, N.Y.-based International Chimney Corp., which also moved Detroit’s Gem Theater in 1997.

There wasn’t a lot of movement on the first day. It took a couple hours to prepare the house, and then it began to lurch south on Cass Avenue several inches at a time. By about 4 p.m., it had moved maybe 20 feet.

The Mackenzie House, being prepped for its move

Not surprisingly, the mechanics of moving a 600-ton house are complicated. According to the Detroit News, “The house is being moved on four layers of beams sitting on hydraulic-powered dollies. … A power pack pumps hydraulic fluid through lines into 16 to 18 jacks to lift the structure. The jacks are placed in specific locations accounting for heavier parts of the building.”

The whole apparatus sits on 12 sets of wheels.

The Queen Anne-style David Mackenzie house was originally built as a school in 1896. Most recently, it housed Preservation Detroit, a preservation advocacy nonprofit. The organization saved the house from demolition in the 1970s, but did not have its lease renewed prior to the move.

Onlookers watch as the move begins
A surveyor, Jaime Pabst of Spalding DeDecker, keeps track of the progress
The challenges of moving a 600-ton structure
The Mackenzie House’s signature turret
A little movement!
Many hours later, slightly more movement