Mobile Phones
July 17, 2014 9:53 AM   Subscribe

In 1929, the Indiana Bell Telephone Company decided to build a new office building. Rather than demolishing the old building, on the advice of Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., they moved it.

An extra 200'+ of slack was spliced into the telephone cables and the plumbing and gas lines were fitted with flexible hoses to allow the building to remain in full service. All of the 500+ long-distance telephone circuits remained in full service during the move. The elevators remained in use throughout the move, only they did not descend past the first floor. A curved sidewalk of steel and concrete was built between Meridian and New York Streets, following the outline of the building's arc of rotation. A bridge from the curved walk to the front door was moved along with the building, providing uninterrupted access.

Eighteen workers using 100-ton jacks moved the building in 3/8-inch increments. The move began on October 14, 1930 and was completed on November 12. A special concrete mat was poured below the basement level and covered with large timbers and 600 tons of rail. The building moved on more than 400 rollers, and its occupants were not conscious of any motion during the move. It remains one of the largest buildings ever moved.”
posted by zamboni (18 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty damn awesome.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

And so it goes...
veeeeery slowly.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:04 AM on July 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Humans are capable of anything.
congress is not.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 10:21 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by benito.strauss at 10:22 AM on July 17, 2014

This is amazing. And all the more so on reading that first link and realizing that not only did they move the building sideways, they also rotated it.

I like Figure 15: "arrangements for public to view operations".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:19 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait wait wait.... they moved the thing while it was occupied?!? Not just moved it while it was still in operation, but moved it with people actually working inside at the time it was moving/rotating? Good lord.
posted by easily confused at 11:26 AM on July 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Call me also amazed when I saw they rotated the freakin' thing. At first I thought, "Oh, well, moving it forward or backward can't be THAT complicated if they have the right supports in place. Then I looked at the photos, 'Oh, yep, there it goes, moonwalking to the back of the....WHA? IT'S TURNING!?"
posted by Atreides at 11:37 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, that's fantastic engineering.

I work in an engineering group, and I gotta say, nobody would dream of doing that now, except in the rare instance of moving something historic and irreplaceable. Bravo to those guys, for thinking it up, and making it work!
posted by suelac at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is pretty amazing. Looks like it got torn down later anyway, though.
posted by ckape at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

This has always been one of my favorite Indy stories. As I understand it, all through the move the building continued to function as the central switching office for the phone system!

If this had all happened a few years later, the decision would probably have been to take the old building down and put up something new. It got cheaper to do that, so unless there's a lot of historic interest in a big old builidng, it won't get moved.
posted by in278s at 12:32 PM on July 17, 2014

What a country!
posted by thelonius at 2:16 PM on July 17, 2014

... and then they demolished it.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:15 PM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Moving the Fairmount Hotel, San Antonio [YT].

Wait wait wait.... they moved the thing while it was occupied?!?

Yup. In Chicago, where the downtown streets were raised to deal with the problem that the city was basically built on an onion marsh at the mouth of the river, numerous buildings were raised to meet the new street level, particularly the Tremont House Hotel, which was raised six feet while occupied by guests, most of whom were unaware of the raising taking place.

.. and then they demolished it.

Three decades on, to be sure. For this day and age, that's hard to imagine. "Why, it would be obsolete by 2045! We should just build new."
posted by dhartung at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the process of building a new federal courthouse here in downtown SLC, they moved a building across the block and rotated it 180 (video with timelapse). That they did this in 2009 was amazing. I can't imagine doing the Indiana Phone building 100 years ago...
posted by msbutah at 8:57 PM on July 17, 2014

The "no fucking way!" part of this story, in case anyone skimmed and missed it, is of course that they moved a big bricks-and-mortar telephone company building without interrupting operations. Employees kept going to work in the building every day during the move, and members of the public kept going in and out of the building to pay their bills or whatever. The electricity, the phones, the water, the toilets, and the elevators (minus the basement stop) continued to work the whole time they were sailing about like the Crimson Permanent Assurance.
posted by pracowity at 2:33 AM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

For those keeping score at home, how's this for a family?
Kurt Vonnegut Sr. - Moves buildings like it ain't no thang
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Parlayed a rather unsuccessful military experience and several failed businesses into a literary career of some renown.
Bernard Vonnegut - Chemist who invented silver iodide cloud seeding, thereby enabling plants to grow during times of drought.

Them's some good genes, right there.
posted by Optamystic at 5:28 AM on July 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

. . . the whole time they were sailing about like the Crimson Permanent Assurance.

posted by The Bellman at 6:28 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Reliance Building in Chicago (now known as the "Hotel Burnham") has a similar "no way they'd do that today" construction story:
In 1890 the owner of the bank building on the site was eager to build a modern skyscraper, but his tenants’ leases were not up yet and they refused to leave! So he took a decidedly novel approach and opted to have the second, third, and fourth floors actually hoisted up on jackscrews and then proceeded to demolish the first floor.
After the first floor was constructed, and before the project to finish the rest of the building could begin, the original architect for the building died of pneumonia, causing the rest of the building to be designed by another architect. (The first floor and upper floors are noticeably different in their style and design and color.)

A more detailed version of the same story is available in the Chicago Architecture Foundation's book about the building (Google Books excerpt).
posted by orthicon halo at 8:28 AM on July 18, 2014

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