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Ladies have a front row seat to the first leg of the moving of the Masonic Temple in Concord, Calif., Thursday, May 23, 2013. Some took clippings of geraniums that grow near where the front door once was. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

CONCORD -- It took only hours to move decades of history across the street, but it took years of wrangling to prevent Concord's Masonic Temple from demolition and to assure its future.

"I am so excited," said Concord Historical Society past president Lloyd Crenna as the 225-ton building began its crawl across Clayton Road in downtown Concord. "We have worked so hard to make this happen and I am proud, very proud of what we have accomplished."

"It's been a nearly 10-year process," said historical society president Carol Longshore. "Until we got this land, the board wasn't positive it would happen."

Barbara Gabrysiak said, "It's unbelievable. It's a huge undertaking. I wasn't that confident when my husband (Chuck Gabrysiak, project manager for the society) said it would really happen. But it's happening."

More than 50 people, including children, neighbors, engineers, city officials and members of the historical society showed up before 6 a.m. Saturday to witness the 86-year-old temple's 1,200-foot journey to its new home.

Philip Atkinson of PJ Atkinson Construction in Walnut Creek oversaw the removal of interior antique chandeliers, and the red tile false-front roof for safekeeping, as well as the shoring of the front and back of the building to keep it stable during the move.

"This truck right here," Atkinson said pointing to a truck near the lifted building, "has 12 hydraulic pulleys on it and they lift the building up simultaneously ..."

Once the building was raised off its foundation, steel beams and hydraulic jacks were put underneath. Dollies and a tractor-trailer were used to pull and push the 20-room building across the street.

"These guys are the pros," Atkinson said as the Montgomery Contractor crew moved under and around the barely moving building seeming to know instinctively where to add or decrease pressure in the hydraulic jacks to assure the building remained level.

Out of eight bids, the Concord Historical Society chose Montgomery Contractors, founded in Oakland/San Francisco in 1875 by owner Steve Montgomery's great-great-grandfather, Walter Suell.

"I am fifth-generation," said Montgomery, who says he is partial to historical buildings. "We have a lot of experience on this crew."

He lists the Soldiers Monument in Pleasant Hill, the Los Vaqueros Marina Building, along with Fausel House in Placerville and a 1,000-ton monument in San Francisco among his hundreds of successful jobs.

The Masonic Temple was built by Concord master craftsman Laurence V. Perry in 1927 for a cost of about $31,550. Montgomery said the 85-foot-long by 50-foot-wide temple weighing almost 300 tons (including the moving equipment) rates in the top 10 percent of difficulty of historic buildings the company has moved in one piece.

Montgomery is proud of the job because his crew saved a piece of history. He said moving the building "is preserving the past for the future. Once it's gone, it's gone."

And gone it nearly was.

"In the mid-1990s, the Masonic Order sold the building, and from that time on it was seriously underutilized and was ultimately slated for demolition," wrote John Carlston in the May 2013 issue of "The Concord Historian."

The Concord Historical Society purchased the two-story, Moorish and Spanish-style building from the now-defunct Concord Redevelopment Agency in 2010 for $1, and agreed to relocate the building no later than May 25, 2013, to the Galindo property or an alternate site approved by the city.

But the legal and financial struggles to preserve Concord's last standing lodge began in 2006 when city officials planned to allow DeNova Homes to tear it down to make way for 220 condominiums on the corner of Galindo Street and Concord Boulevard.

The city-owned property wasn't big enough for both the condos and the temple, and the city wanted the condos. So to preserve the temple, the historical society filed a lawsuit against DeNova Homes and the city in 2008 saying state law was violated because an environmental impact report had not been done.

The society asked that the building be made part of its planned historical resource center and meeting facility with the Galindo House and Gardens.

DeNova Homes eventually withdrew its project, but the city wanted control of the entire block where the Masonic Temple stood, and in 2010 struck a deal with the Concord Historical Society.

"It's three years from the date we did the deal," said Concord Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister, who along with former Councilman Guy Bjerke, worked with the society and city staff to hammer out the Masonic Temple Relocation and Galindo Property Master Plan.

The deal included the purchase and restoration as a museum of the Galindo House where the late Ruth Galindo, a founder of the Concord Historical Society and a direct descendant of Concord's founders, lived.

For the last three years the society, comprised entirely of volunteers, poured its time and money into the 1854 Victorian farmhouse, and last year opened it to the public.

The society believed it could fit the 9,600-square-foot temple building on the 1.82-acre Galindo property, but then realized it would cramp the house and grounds.

The clock was ticking as the agreement demanded removal of the temple by May 25.

Enter Terry and Jim Partington, owners of a contiguous 0.2-acre parcel of land located on Clayton Road, northwest of the Galindo property.

"Fortunately the property was for sale," said Realtor and historical society board member Brad Morimune.

The board agreed on a price, a letter was written, and Morimune hand-delivered it to Jim Partington.

"A lot of things had to fit into place," Morimune said.

The society paid $350,000 for the property, and the Partingtons donated $25,000 back to the organization. On March 8, the use permit to move the Masonic Temple was revised showing the newly configured land parcel.

"We feel a lot of excitement and pride," said Jim Partington watching the move. "We're enjoying seeing it all come together."

"There are a lot of memories here," said Atkinson as he looked on. "Dave Brubeck had his first piano recital here ... there were first high school dances here ... It was part of a lot of memories and it's going to be again."

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