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Owner of illegally destroyed Neutra house wants to build new home on site

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The Planning Commission previously ordered an exact replica be created

A rendering of a boxy white three-level contemporary home.
Rendering of Largent House replacement.
Renderings courtesy of SF Planning

A homeowner who illegally demolished the historic Largent House in Twin Peaks—and then sued the city over a punitive Planning Commission order to rebuild it—has now proposed a new structure for the site, one which, in spirit, resembles the demolished Richard Neutra-designed house but still clearly defies the city directive to reconstruct the now-lost original.

The Largent House at 49 Hopkins Avenue was one of only five by Austrian-born Neutra in San Francisco.

Ross Johnston, owner of 49 Hopkins, was originally scheduled to present his new design to the Planning Commission on Thursday, but commissioners rescheduled the hearing for next week’s meeting.

According to a staff report, Johnston wants to legalize the demolition of the famed 3,280-square-foot, single-family residence and build “a new construction of a three-story, 31-foot tall, 4,180 square foot structure with a 2,625 foot single-family residence, a 1,200-square-foot accessory dwelling unit.”

The city planners who prepared the report for the commission sound generally optimistic about the new design, noting that although the new construction stems from an unlawful demolition, “the replacement structure will provide an increased number of bedrooms, suitable for a family, and an accessory dwelling unit with two bedrooms, within a residence that is sensitively designed and compatible with the design, size and massing of the neighborhood.”

The Planning Department deems the new project as “necessary, desirable, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and not to be detrimental to persons or adjacent properties in the vicinity.”

A rendering of the boxy white backside of a three-story home.

The big problem is that the replacement house, per the renderings provided, doesn’t particularly resemble the one that Johnston destroyed in 2017.

While the new design does clearly evoke some of the essence of the 1935 Largent House, it’s visibly much more contemporary.

In 2018, the Planning Commission ordered Johnston to make restitution for his illegal demolition by rebuilding the destroyed home just as it had previously existed, along with a sidewalk plaque telling the story of the original house.

Johnston balked at the mandate and sued the city earlier this year.

The Planning Department report also notes that “the department received six letters in opposition to the project and none in support. The opposition to the Project is centered on support of the commission’s original decision on the project [and] the loss of the original structure through unlawful demolition.”

Ross Johnston bought the home in early 2017 for $1.7 million.

In September of that year, an anonymous complaint to the Department of Building Inspection warned, “They are tearing down/rebuilding the entire top floor of the structure and it appears they’re doing it without a permit.”

By December, another complaint lamented, “The property at this address has completely been demolished without a valid demo permit. All that remains is a garage door with frame surrounded by wood barrier.”