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Owner of demolished Neutra house sues city

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Twin Peaks homeowner alleges violation of constitutional rights in city’s rebuild order

The one still-intact portion of the Largent House.
Image via Google Maps

The owner of a demolished Richard Neutra home in Twin Peaks, ordered by the city to rebuild the damaged structure, is now suing San Francisco in both state and federal court, claiming a violation of his constitutional rights.

Ross Johnston, owner of the Largent House on Hopkins Street, received word from the Planning Commission in December that he must rebuild an exact replica of the circa-1935 home as it previously stood before its illegal October demolition.

Johnston had been trying to renovate the site into a new, 3,665-square-foot home. The Planning Commission voted 5-0 against his plans.

The homeowner subsequently appealed the decision, with his attorney Andrew Zacks declaring it, “invalid, bizarre, and illegal.”

This week’s lawsuit repeats many of the same arguments in both Johnston’s original case and his appeal, alleging that the historic value of the house at 49 Hopkins was damaged beyond repair by previous work:

The property was originally constructed as a one-bedroom, 927 square foot single- family home in 1935, by well-known architect Richard Neutra. Since its original construction, however, the property had been drastically altered such that very little of the original 1935 construction or design remained.

Extensive, city-sanctioned alterations occurred primarily between 1959 and 2004, included but not limited to an addition of a second story and conversion of a portion of the first story into a garage.

The Largent House before demolition.
Image via Google

Via email, Johnston (who referred to himself as the “owner’s representative,” though he himself owns the home through an LLC) called the rebuild order “abusive, retroactive government overreach.”

Johnston bought the home in early 2017 for $1.7 million. He’s now seeking $10 million and the restoration of his renovation permits.

In December, Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards characterized the commission’s decision as a necessary step to defending the integrity of the law.

“You can have all the rules in the world, but if you don’t enforce them the rules are worthless,” said Richards.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has been vocal about illegal demolitions in the past, called the decision “very impressive.”

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.”

Though Neutra designed many California houses, he only built five in SF.