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Westmoreland bluff-top home being pulled back from precipice

by: RITA A. LEONARD - Michael Musumeci, owner of Space Down Under LLC construction, with the century-old home he is moving away from the cliff on the lot, and with the display board describing the project. A lovely century-old home with a magnificent view of Oaks Bottom and downtown Portland was undercut last year by a spring landslide on the bluff bordering the wildlife refuge. The original owner of the home at 1433 S.E. Reedway shored up and repaired damage to the rear of the structure, then sold the 1910 foursquare to a new owner this past March. Since then, extensive work has been done to move the four-bedroom home a bit further away on the lot from the crumbling bluff, and to address seismic and restoration concerns.

The firm hired to do the work is the local “Space Down Under, LLC”, and they have been working all summer to create a new foundation, shift the home back from the cliff, and increase backyard space on the quarter-acre lot.

Michael Musumeci, owner of the business, tells THE BEE that he specializes in historic structural restoration – from house lifting and foundation replacement, to earthquake retrofitting.

The Reedway Street home comprises a multi-stage project that is undergoing time-lapse photography to illustrate details of the process. The interior of the home is described as having lots of hardwoods, natural light, and high ceilings. The view over the Oaks bottom Wildlife Refuge affords many opportunities to observe osprey, eagles, and other woodland creatures.

Some traffic on S.E. 15th has been rerouted around the site to make room for large earthmoving equipment and building materials. A street-corner display board describes the scope of the project: “We'll move the house 12 feet toward the street and 8 feet to the south, and put the house on a new foundation,” it reads. “The job requires moving a lot of dirt and the house itself, and creates a lot of commotion in the neighborhood. Thanks for your patience as our competent contractors take on this impressive task.”

Musumeci learned techniques for shoring up homes while working for his father in San Francisco’s Alameda district. As a boy, he worked with a wooden mallet, shims, and screw jacks to level Victorian homes that were sinking into soft soil. “My dad helped start me on my house-lifting career,” says the burly but personable craftsman. “I love saving old homes. That industry is small, but it’s characterized by incredibly talented engineers with a buccaneer attitude.”

Musumeci's background is in mathematics, sculpture and fine arts. “My idols are architect Antoni Gaudi, Archimedes, and Buckminster Fuller,” he grins. “I enjoy working with other craftsmen to create new equipment to address unusual challenges in handling historic old homes. Whenever you have to develop your own tools to do what you want to do, you’re probably doing what you should be doing with your life.”

He continues, “I have a huge collection of antique tools at home, especially wood planes. I love the bridges in Portland, and I’m obsessed with suspension bridges. By using interior rigging and trigonometry, I stabilize old buildings by mentally turning them into suspension bridges. Then my crew raises and moves them using industrial-load, low-friction Hevi-Haul ‘track roller skates’.”

The bluff behind the Reedway Street home has been shored up with pin pilings and wattles to reduce chance of slippage. “After leveling and stabilizing the home, we raised the building on I-beams and support structures and demolished the old foundation,” he says. “Next, we move the building, create a new foundation with beam pockets, and pour new concrete with steel reinforcements.

“After lowering the home onto its new foundation, we complete the waterproofing and final details. This job is one of five we’re working on this year, and this one should be completed by October.”