Though they have been deconstructed into enormous puzzle pieces and are partly wrapped in tarps with the windows boarded up, the two stucco houses on the back lot at the city's Chollas Operations Center remain distinctively handsome.
"The city has been trying to find someone willing to acquire and restore the structures in accordance with the treatment plan but that has proved to be a challenge," city spokeswoman Katie Keach said in an email.
The houses were moved to the lot after an epic journey from Our Lady of Peace Academy more than two years ago, as a condition of settlement of a lawsuit the Catholic girls' school filed against the city and won.
The city paid the academy $500,000 and agreed to take the houses — spending more than $1.1 million of a $2.4 million contract with Torres Construction Inc. so far. Torres did not respond to multiple calls and emails over the last week.
The houses were at the heart of the controversy between the city and the academy, when the city denied permits sought by the academy to tear them down to build new classrooms. The academy handed the city the houses, which are eligible for historic designation but have not been officially declared historic.
Staff and students at the academy watched the long, slow preparations, according to Lauren Lek, the head of the school.
"I heard the city ran into hiccups with moving the houses because University Heights has so many bridges they couldn't cross," Lek said. "We all watched the fascinating process of moving the houses."
The academy was founded in 1882 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on the bluffs overlooking Mission Valley east of Texas Street.
Known as the Collier house (built in 1931) and the Copley house (1929), the two house are "Spanish-eclectic" style. The walls are stucco inside and out — with dark wood trim for doorways and a few spectacular ceilings, according to city documents.
Collier has a curved adobe tile staircase with a wrought-iron rail, and its bathroom is a pale turquoise and purple tile with black trim — at least that's how it looked before the move. The house is topped with three chimneys, including one that has a weather vane with a lion on top.
The Copley house is smaller and a bit older but is detailed with dark woods and adobe tile, and wrought-iron railings and gate. Preparation to move the houses involved separating them into box-like segments, with great care taken to protect the stucco.
For a time, they sat on vacant lots before their final move to the Chollas Operations Yard, a fenced compound full of city trucks and bulldozers, and other heavy construction equipment. While the yard is protected by a fence, the puzzle pieces of the house appear to be outside the fence, south of the yard.
Once they arrived at the Chollas yard near 54th and College Grove, the houses were set atop stabilized steel beams that rest in gravel, according to the architect's report. Both houses were advertised for sale in the U-T for three days in June 2015, and remain on the Real Estate Assets Departments website, Keach said.
The site includes detailed plan drawings of the homes. A buyer recently made an offer on the Collier house and has up to 210 days to look the house over and make a final agreement with the city, she said.