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Famed modernist home’s demolition sparks outrage

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Owner illegally destroyed home, then applied to build a new one

Photos courtesy of Redfin

Back in December, the San Francisco Planning Department received an application to build a new three-story house at 49 Hopkins Avenue in Twin Peaks. The catch: There’s already supposed to be a house at 49 Hopkins Avenue.

In 2010, Curbed SF profiled the circa 1935 home by architect Richard Neutra, dubbed the Largent House:

While Neutra houses are thick on the ground in the Los Angeles area, there are only five in San Francisco, with a few down the peninsula and in the East Bay. [...] This was radical stuff in the middle of the Great Depression. [...] Above his typical shifting planes is a large glass block space with later greenhouse additions.

The Neutra house did indeed look decades ahead of its time, although a little of that might be because, as a Planning Department report on historic preservation from 2015 noted, it had “undergone significant renovation.”

But not as significant as what happened to it last October, when the entire building vanished in a flurry of illegal demolition and left only a garage and rubble in its wake, as sites like SFist and SocketSite reported at the time.

49 Hopkins in 2013.

And it’s not the first time a homeowner decided to say full speed ahead on a demolition and damn the consequences, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend. The fines for illegal demolition—a few hundred thousand dollars at the most—aren’t much of a deterrent if it means building and selling a multi-million dollar home built on the resulting crater.

“It speaks to an attitude in our planning and building departments that nothing is sacred,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin, an advocate for affordable housing, complained to the Chronicle, saying that he plans on drafting a new law that would inflate penalties to match potential profits.

When the Largent House sold in 2014 for $1.4 million the ad called it a “one of a kind trophy home.” Then it sold in January of 2017 to an anonymous LLC for $1.7 million, and now it’s none of a kind.

The city didn’t fail to notice the destruction and has had complaints on file for months.

“They tore the entire house down to the ground, so no way to renovate,” a neighbor’s complaint from October 2 reads.

And yet the current owner still has the nerve to apply for a new project. The case is still under review. “The [architect] will submit a new set of drawings to the Planning showing full extent of demo,” according to an October inspection.

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, Austria-born Neutra “helped define modernism in Southern California and around the world” and staked out a signature style that “embraced technology, oddly enough, as a way to connect man with nature.”

The conservancy also notes that “Despite its international renown, Neutra’s work has sparked intense preservation battles.”

No kidding.