Developer who tore down historic San Francisco house ordered to build an exact replica

In San Francisco, property speculators have made a game out of tearing down historically protected homes, then retroactively applying for demolition permits, and using the now-empty lots to build massive mansions that sell for millions.

Ross Johnstone says that he's not a speculator at all, and that the reason he knocked down modernist architect Richard Neutra's 1936 Twin Peaks Largent House at 49 Hopkins Ave. had nothing to do with the extra money he'd get from increasing the floor plan from 1,300 square feet to about 4,000 (he says he wanted to move his family into the larger house).

The San Francisco City Planning Commission didn't buy this argument, nor the argument that the house had lost its historic character in earlier remodels and was therefore not worthy of preservation. Instead, they've ordered Johnstone to build an exact replica of the house he tore down, "executed beautifully in a way that would be consistent with the home's original expression," and to post a plaque recounting the history of the house.

The case attracted attention because Neutra is considered one of the most important modern architects and because it highlighted the trend of speculators illegally razing modest homes with the intention of replacing them with mega-homes. The new houses can fetch upward of $5 million, double or triple the price of an average house in already expensive San Francisco.

Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said he hopes the commission's action in the 49 Hopkins case will send a message to speculators accustomed to ignoring city planning and building laws with few or no repercussions.

"We are tired of seeing this happening in the city and are drawing a line in the sand," said Richards. "You can have all the rules in the world, but if you don't enforce them, the rules are worthless."

SF to developer who tore down landmark house: Rebuild it exactly as it was [JK Dineen/SF Chronicle]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: Jackie Jouret)