On July 28, Larry and Nola Houle will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary as well as the 13th anniversary of the day they moved their home, the historic James Cram residence, to its present location on the northeast corner of Highland Avenue and Church Street.
Moving the three-story house (without the basement) was an enormous undertaking done twice in order to save the home from deterioration and demolition by commercial development.
In 1976, Nola and her late husband Emil Hutchins purchased the home, then at its original site on the northeast corner of Base Line and Palm Avenue, while it was in a state of disrepair and scheduled for demolition. Working with their sons they moved the home to the corner of Base Line and Boulder Avenue and then began the work of restoring the 1906 Victorian home.
Years later, in 2007, the Houles, after receiving numerous offers on their property, recently re-zoned for commercial use, sold the property to a developer and moved the home to Highland and Church where it still sits.
The James Cram Home
The home was designed and built by Redlands architect and builder David Donald in 1906 for James Eaton Cram. James was the second of six sons of Lewis Cram Sr. who settled in Highland in 1853. James, like his father, was a successful orange grower. He also managed multiple orange packinghouses in Highland, served on the State Assembly and served as manager of Patton State Hospital from 1916 to 1921.
James commissioned David & Davis Donald to build the home in 1906. The Donald’s designed and built several notable structures in Redlands, many of which still stand and are now designated Redlands Heritage homes. These include the Smiley Library, the Burgess Mansion and the Presbyterian Church.
In addition to this, a house built from the same plan as the James Cram Home was built on Highland Avenue in Redlands.
The house was built of rough-cut redwood and lath and plaster in the Victorian style popular during the early 1900s.
James Cram raised his family in the home until 1928, when he sold it to a family member.
While living there, James raised oranges and bamboo. According to Nola, the bamboo was farmed and used to make furniture as part of a work therapy program for Patton patients.
Later, the San Diego Catholic Arch Diocese purchased the residence to be a convent for the sisters teaching at a local Catholic school.
Larry remembers visiting the nuns’ home as an alter boy during that time.
After the diocese sold the home it became a boarding home and it fell into disrepair.
The first move
In 1976, Nola read in a local newspaper that the house was scheduled for demolition unless someone willing to purchase it for a nominal sum and move it. Nola said she fell in love with the house on her first visit.
“When I first got through the door into the entry hall I was just fascinated by the wood in this house,” Nola said. “It was in bad shape but it had never been painted. I loved the oak and the stained-glass windows.”
The dark oak frames and ornamental accents are present throughout the home as are the stained-glass windows, and several rooms have tin tiled ceilings.
“I’m just crazy about this house. I just love it,” said Nola, who has lived in the house in three different locations. “Both times they were going to bulldoze it under. It’s a historic home and it needed to be saved.”
When Nola and her family first purchased and moved into the house it was positioned behind the Baker’s and facing Base Line. She said during quite nights they could hear drive-thru orders being taken over the speaker.
The house needed to be moved immediately so her late husband went to work obtaining necessary permits. When he could not get permits to drive the house through the streets he took out a parade permit.
“The parade permit was a bit of a fib, but, in the end, it became like a parade,” Nola said.
On the day of the move, the teachers at St. Adelaide Academy and Thompson Elementary let their children sit at the curb to watch the house be carried down Base Line.
The house contained most of its original windows, many are leaded glass, and much of its historic features such as footed porcelain bath tubs, a Murphy bed, butler bells, pocket doors and more, which were saved and moved with the home.
The original river rock basement and three “magnificent” brick chimneys could not be moved and were demolished. Nola and her sons dismantled the chimneys themselves, brick by brick. The bricks were reused to line the driveway of the new location.
Once moved, the house once again took residence in an orange orchard.
On July 28, 1990, Nola and Larry were married, and as the years advanced their Base Line and Boulder Avenue land was re-zoned for commercial use. It became more and more desirable to developers and what was once a quiet country intersection transformed into a busy, traffic-ladened city crossroads as the three other corners were developed.
As the offers for their property continued to rise, the Houles began looking for a new property where the house could be relocated. Based on the size as well as the roadway and route requirements demanded by their intentions to transport the home they chose the northeast corner of Highland and Church.
The property also once held an orange grove and contained a mountain that would need to be excavated if it was to be the new home of the James Cram house.
In preparation for the move, more than 20,000 square yards of excess soil was removed to create a flat foundation and a 2,000 square foot basement was excavated and foundations were poured for the house and garage.
To determine the exact location to set the house a county geologist had to locate a portion of the San Andreas Fault, which runs through the property.
Three 60-foot trenches were dug in the search for the fault. Once found, the final location for the house was set at least 50 feet from the fault.
Every action was its own process, study and fee, Larry said.
The Houles chose their wedding anniversary as the moving day.
The move began at 3:30 a.m. and the house, traveling at about 3 miles per hour, reached its destination at about 5:30 a.m. Eight police cars were hired to control traffic and street closures.
“Once the house got here it was pretty busted up,” Larry said. “We spent a full year, with two guys hired to help, to put it back together again. We repapered, repainted, filled cracks. The work was endless.”
During this process, Nola and Larry lived in a motorhome, first at the old site during demolition then at the new site during leveling and restoration.
In addition to the house, the Houles also relocated a large and rare Canary Palm tree.
Thanks to the Houles efforts to save, restore and update the house it is now a blend of historic provenance with modern comforts and utility.
To reduce utility costs much of the property’s lawns have been replaced by wood chips and solar panels were installed atop of several backyard patio shades.