April 6 2011 12:00 AM

Property: Former Lansing Board of Water and Light substation, Valley Court Park, East Lansing


Owner: City of East Lansing 

In the 19th century, it was common practice to move a building — sometimes more than once — from one place to another. It was ordinary to see a building sliced in parts and moved piece by piece to a new site. Although less common in the latter half of the 20th century, it’s still used today for saving buildings of historic significance.

East Lansing has a great history of moving buildings. The grand Woodbury House moved twice before its last relocation in 1984 to 415 M.A.C. Ave. Most recently, the former Lansing Board of Water and Light substation in East Lansing’s Valley Court Park was relocated to allow for new development on the corner of Hillcrest and Grand River avenues. The restoration of the historic substation’s exterior finished last year and the addition of a 10-foot by 15-foot stage is planned. The historic cupola-adorned red brick building anchors the park.

It’s an invaluable asset and also provides a great backdrop for nighttime movies, according to Tim Schmitt, East Lansing’s community development analyst.

Wonder if a building has been moved? Go take a look. Houses, particularly wood frame, sometimes bear the telltale vertical seam where the building was divided, indicating it was moved at one time.

Moving buildings isn’t just about preserving historically significant ones. It’s also about preserving embodied energy — the energy required to extract, process, manufacture, transport and install building materials. It is not only in the initial construction of a building but also in the renovation and maintenance.

A building isn’t just the sum of its parts, it is also human effort. Demolishing a building isn’t just throwing out the bricks or wood that the building is made of, it is throwing away the thousands of hours put into its construction and maintenance.

Newfoundlanders (pronounced “New Finlanders”) know this well. House-moving is a strong tradition in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, especially in the province of Newfoundland. Newfoundlanders are coastal people living along the shores of the island. Often when moving from one village to another they not only moved their possessions but also their home, picking up the entire house from its foundation and either floating it by water or dragging it across the frozen sea ice to its new location. This practice is featured in a scene of the Newfoundland-based drama, “The Shipping News,” a movie based on the novel of the same name by Annie Proulx.

“Eye candy of the Week" is our weekly look at some of the nicer properties in Lansing. It rotates each with Eyesore of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.