The 10 Heaviest Buildings Ever Moved

Atlas didn't have a hydraulic jacking system, like these movers of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
John Althouse/AFP/Getty Images

According to Greek mythology, Atlas sided with the Titans in a war against the Greek god Zeus, and as punishment was doomed to hold the entire heavens aloft forever. He's often depicted in art as holding the world on his back. Atlas, it seems, knows a little bit about heavy burdens.

What would he say about structural moving -- the process of lifting an entire building at the foundation and moving it elsewhere? Well, he'd probably say that these movers are doing it the easy way, with the help of machines and technology. All the same, even Atlas would probably be impressed by the weight of some of the buildings on this list.

Structural moving is an increasingly common way to preserve historic buildings that might otherwise be razed to make way for development. It's also a way to place a building in a safer location if it's threatened by flooding.

While almost anything can be moved structurally, from old churches to nuclear reactors, the buildings on this list set themselves apart by their weight and, sometimes, by the difficulty of the move. Everything about these moves is big: the number of engineering hours, the budget and the equipment. It's enough to give even Atlas a headache -- after all, he never had to carry the world through a crowded downtown corridor. Read on to find out about one oversized building that traveled right through the heart of Minneapolis.

The Shubert Theater (2,908 Tons)
From Alhambra to ancient Rome, learn lots more about how architecture works in these videos.

The oldest existing theater in Minneapolis, Minn., has been many things since it opened in 1910. It was a vaudeville stage that attracted the likes of Mae West and the Marx Brothers, a burlesque theater, a movie theater and even an evangelistic auditorium. But it became something else in January 1999: a world-record holder.

The theater had been closed for several years when the city of Minneapolis decided it wanted to redevelop the block on which the Shubert was standing. Artspace, a nonprofit development agency, bought the building from the city and hatched plans to move it one block over.

Though the move was only one-quarter of a mile, it took five bulldozers 12 days to complete the trek. Helping out the bulldozers were 100 hydraulic jacks that lifted the building and 70 dollies that formed a temporary foundation for the journey through the city streets.

Artspace conducted research to determine how a redesigned Shubert could best serve Minneapolis, and gained fundraising from private supporters and the state legislature. The restored Shubert Center, which features a midsize performing arts theater as well as classrooms for arts education, opened in 2008 [source: LeFevre].

Read on to find out how a turn-of-the-century hotel beat the Shubert's record.

The Hotel Montgomery (4,816 Tons)

When the Hotel Montgomery opened in San Jose, Calif., in 1911, it was the epitome of luxury. By the 1990s, however, it was vacant, deteriorating and facing demolition. The space was needed to expand another upscale, modern hotel. But the newly elected mayor of San Jose told developers to find a way to save the Hotel Montgomery -- or there would be no expansion. It seemed like an impossible task, until a frustrated architect asked, "Why don't we move it?"

What started as a discouraged utterance turned out to be an inspiration, and in 2000, the 4,816 ton, four-story Hotel Montgomery moved 182 feet (55 meters) down the street. The move itself cost $3 million, with a total project budget of more than $8.5 million [source: Hospitality Net].

To some preservationists, moving the building wasn't ideal. An elegant ballroom had to be torn down to relocate the structure, and the first floor was gutted to install structural supports. But when it comes down to losing an entire building or modifying it, moving it can be a good compromise. Sometimes buildings are restored to their original condition in their new location, but in this case, the Montgomery underwent additional renovation to become a serviceable hotel again [source: Garboske]. The Montgomery is now a stylish boutique hotel, so visitors to San Jose can enjoy a modern hotel room in a historic building.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (4,830 Tons)
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse slowly made its way to safer ground.
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse slowly made its way to safer ground.
John Althouse/AFP/Getty Images

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina may not be a traditional structure the way some of the others on this list are, but how could we leave out what came to be known as the "Move of the Millennium?"

The North Carolina coastline had eroded 1,380 feet (421 meters) since the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built, leaving some people to fear that the tallest lighthouse in the nation would be lost to the encroaching Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse, which was 129 years old at the time of its move in 1999, posed a special challenge because it had no internal structural supports to hold it together during the move. Though the National Park Service approved a $12 million budget to move the structure, many citizens didn't think the job could be done. The project even faced a last-minute injunction to stop the move.

Apprehensive crowds showed up to watch as the lighthouse, mounted on a foundation of 400 tons of steel -- made up by hydraulic jacks and steel beams -- edged its way down a metal runway. The hydraulic rams took 45 seconds to a minute to push the lighthouse just 5 feet (1.5 meters), and the entire 2,900-foot (884-meter) move took 23 days. The team behind moving Cape Hatteras was rewarded with the Opal Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which is the industry equivalent of an Oscar [source: National Park Service].

Newark International Airport Building 51 (7,400 Tons)
The center portion of Building 51 moves to its new home.
The center portion of Building 51 moves to its new home.
Photo courtesy Expert House Movers

Usually airports serve as a way to move people around. But in 2000 and 2001, an airport terminal in Newark became the object that was moved -- and at a cost of $6 million, it was one expensive ride.

Building 51 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey was one of the United States' first passenger terminals. Aviation luminaries such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh traveled through it, and it was the nation's busiest airport until LaGuardia opened four years later in 1939 [source: Collins]. However, as airports modernized and grew to accommodate more passengers, Building 51 became office space and eventually faced extinction so that a runway could be expanded.

The Port Authority and the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office decided that the building was worth saving. It took five months to move the whole building, which had to be cut into three separate pieces. The two side parts each weighed about 1,200 tons, while the central portion came in at 5,000 tons. To move the main part three-quarters of a mile, 176 dollies moved at a speed of 100 feet (30.48 meters) an hour [source: Port Authority]. Now Building 51 is the public entrance for the airport's administration offices.

Fairmount Hotel (1,600 Tons)

San Antonio's Fairmount Hotel, built in 1906, was once a luxurious refuge for railroad passengers and was dubbed the "Jewel of San Antonio." By 1984, however, the three-story, Victorian-style hotel had fallen out of favor and settled into a state of disrepair. City developers eyed the historic red brick structure -- known for its ornate stone trim, picturesque windows and stately verandas -- for demolition because it stood in the path of a new shopping mall. In the end, history won.

In 1985, under the guidance of the San Antonio Conservation Society, the city opted to move the Fairmount Hotel five blocks from its original location. The ambitious project would place the iconic building just two blocks from another San Antonio landmark: the Alamo.

To begin the six-block move, the Fairmount Hotel was pulled off its foundation, inch by inch, and placed onto 36 dollies with pneumatic tires [source: Texas Crane]. A crane pulled the building forward 50 feet (15 meters) at a time through the city streets. At one point, the hotel made a precarious journey across the Market Street bridge that spans the city's Riverwalk. The bridge was reinforced for the occasion, but even so, the mover put three bottles of beer on a ledge underneath the bridge. The bottles served as a canary in a coal mine, so to speak. If they broke, it would be the first warning sign that the bridge was beginning to sag. As word of the move spread and captured the popular interest, the Las Vegas odds were 7-to-3 that the hotel would make it to the other side.

Fortunately, all three things made it successfully through the move -- the hotel, the bridge and the beer -- and five days after its big move began, the Fairmount was poised to remain an integral part of the city's historic landscape [source: Fisher].

On the next page, discover why the Detroit Lions have a theater to thank for their stadium's prime location.

The Gem Theater (2,700 Tons)
If you're still with us despite that pun -- and curious about how hydraulic jacks work and what else they're used for -- you can learn more in these videos.

The next time the Detroit Lions have the home-field advantage, take a closer look at the team's playing field: If not for a record-breaking building move, you'd be staring at a historic theater instead of blue jerseys and green turf.

In 1999, International Chimney Corp. undertook a massive relocation when it toted the 2,700-ton Gem Theater to its present location four blocks from the Detroit Lion's Ford Field [source: Grandoni]. The downtown trek was complicated by the fact that the Gem Theater was permanently attached to another building, the Century Club. And, unlike the Gem Theater, which had been recently restored, the multi-story Century Club was missing much of its internal fortification. It had undergone haphazard renovations that had removed most of its interior framing and left it unstable; to secure it for the move, International Chimney crews outfitted the Century Club with steel framing. They then installed steel beams under the Gem Theater and Century Club, lifted both structures at the same time, and placed them on 71 dollies that were each about the size of a Ford Focus.

During the 1,850-foot (563-meter) move through Detroit's city streets, the crews had to navigate the buildings around a corner but kept them level by using a series of hydraulic systems. These systems were set up in three zones that could be raised or lowered to keep the buildings level [source: International Chimney Corp]. Although it was an ambitious project, the Gem Theater and Century Club relocation was a successful one, and it earned a Guinness World Record as the heaviest building ever moved on wheels.

Next up, learn how an English town returned the favor of one lighthouse's 170 years of life-saving service.

The Belle Tout Lighthouse (850 Tons)
At the far right, you can just see the Belle Tout jutting up from the perilously sharp cliffs in East Sussex.
At the far right, you can just see the Belle Tout jutting up from the perilously sharp cliffs in East Sussex.

The Belle Tout lighthouse isn't one of the world's largest structures, but moving an 850-ton building listing on the precipice of a 300-foot cliff is no small feat -- and still deserves a spot on our list.

The Belle Tout lighthouse was built in 1829 atop the Beachy Head cliff in East Sussex, England. At the time, the beacon-equipped building was a safe distance from the edge, but years of wind and seawater took their toll on the cliff. By the time Belle Tout was relocated in 1999, it was only a few precarious feet from land's end.

After a successful fundraising effort, during which tickets were sold to view the big move, the building was painstakingly excavated, outfitted with supports and raised with hydraulic jacks before being slid onto computer-controlled tracks. It took days to move the lighthouse 164 feet (50 meters) to a position farther from the cliff's edge. At one point, the move slowed to a rate of a mere two feet over a span of three hours. Eventually, it did reach its new foundation -- a stone base that was carried to the site one wheelbarrow at a time so as not to compromise the cliff -- and gave its owners a new (and safe) view [source: Wright].

The next building on our list may be a relative lightweight, but it earned its place due to the distance it traveled.

Agecroft Hall (180 Tons)

Moving an entire building is a challenge, but dismantling a massive manor piece by piece and shipping it across an ocean takes the relocation process to a whole new level. That's exactly what happened to Agecroft Hall, an example of Elizabethan Tudor architecture built in the late 1400s in Lancashire, England, along the Irwell River. By the late 1920s, however, much of the stately home had been boxed up and was bound for Richmond, Va.

Why the sudden change of scenery? Although Agecroft Hall enjoyed a long period of prosperity, it eventually entered a state of disrepair before being sold at auction in 1925. A wealthy Virginian named Thomas Williams, Jr. bought the home and had it carefully disassembled. Workers salvaged much of the original building, including a massive panel of lead-glass windows, and shipped the materials to Williams' home state, where it was duplicated -- with a few changes to its configuration -- overlooking the James River [source: Decouteau].

Although records don't indicate how much Agecroft Hall weighed, we can still get a good estimate by comparing the manor to a modern structure. Most wood-framed homes weigh an estimated 60 pounds (27 kilograms) per square foot. Therefore, the 6,000-square-foot (557-square-meter) home would have weighed about 360,000 pounds (163,000 kilograms) [source: Johnson].

Abu Simbel (31,000 Tons)
The Abu Simbel move was undertaken from 1964 to 1966 and funded by donations from 52 countries.
The Abu Simbel move was undertaken from 1964 to 1966 and funded by donations from 52 countries.
Keystone/Getty Images

It's not unusual for experts and laypersons alike to marvel at how stone pyramids and temples were built in ancient Egypt. But have you ever considered what it would take to relocate one to an entirely new position? That's exactly the issue the Egyptian government faced in the early 1960s when a dam was built on the River Nile, causing the water level in Lake Nasser to rise -- and eventually overtake -- the site on which the Abu Simbel temple stood.

The construction of the Abu Simbel temple was ordered between 1270 and 1213 B.C. during the reign of Ramses II. As one might expect of an ancient Egyptian ruler, a series of larger-than-life images of the pharaoh were carved into the stone temple. While the stonework made for a royalty-pleasing aesthetic at the time, and created a popular tourist attraction in the centuries to come, preserving the intricate carving made the building's relocation a challenge. In order to migrate the temple to its new home, hundreds of workers cut and numbered 1,036 blocks -- weighing an average of 30 tons each -- and transported them to a higher elevation nearly 700 feet (213 meters) away. The numbered blocks were then used to reassemble the temple, creating one of the largest building moves ever [source: Krause].

But even the Abu Simbel can't beat the structural moving record made by a building in China – even though Abu Simbel is more than twice as heavy.

Fu Gang Building (15,140 Tons)

When it comes to big moves, it's only a matter of time before a record is broken -- and this time, the honor goes to one particularly mammoth building in the Guangxi Province of China. The Fu Gang building is the current record holder in the book of Guinness World Records for the heaviest structure moved intact.

The multi-story building weighs 15,140 tons, or 33.3 million pounds, and began heading to its new location on Nov. 10, 2004. Although it was only moved a total of 118 feet (36 meters), the entire process took 11 days to complete [source: Guinness World Records].

Few of the Fu Gang relocation details have been made public, but there are still plenty of reasons for its move to make our list. For starters, there's our sheer appreciation of the coordination and planning it must have required to move a building that weighed that much. How long will it take to break the Fu Gang's record? The big moves on this list show that it's only a matter of time and determination.

To learn about more feats of structural moving, take a look at the links on the next page.


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  • Decoteau, Randall. "Agecroft Hall and Gardens: Richmond's Remarkable Tudor Estate." (Jan. 23, 2012) New England Antiques Journal.
  • Fisher, Lewis. "Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage." Texas Tech University Press. Nov. 15, 1996. (Jan. 24, 2012)
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  • National Park Service. "Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse." (Jan. 23, 2012)
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  • Texas Crane. "A Guiness Record." (Jan. 24, 2012)
  • Wright, Elizabeth. "Belle Tout: The Little Lighthouse that Moved." Time Travel Britain. (Jan. 24, 2012)