In 2017, property owner Ross Johnston caused quite the ruckus after (illegally) demolishing a historic Richard Neutra house, the architect's first in San Francisco, which was built in 1935. About a year later, Johnston again made headlines as San Francisco officials ordered him to rebuild an exact replica of the 30s-era home — but, now, there’s a fresh plan in the works. And it couldn’t be more different than the structure it is supposed to replace.
As SFist reported back in October of 2017, the one-bedroom one-bath abode at 49 Hopkins Avenue was completely leveled, leaving no trace of the 927-square-foot home by the famed architect. However, because it had been significantly altered over the years, which even included the addition of an indoor pool, it was not technically a protected "historic resource" by San Francisco.
Nevertheless, the rogue property owner did his demolition without a proper permit, having reportedly only been permitted for a third-story addition, and he is now in a legal tug-of-war with the city. He's pulled back on initial plans to rebuild an exact replica of the Neutra home. On Thursday, the Planning Commission will hear a new proposal for the rebuild, per Johnston and his lawyer, Ryan Patterson.
In lieu of the exact rebuild demanded by the city, Johnston’s proposing an all-new 2,600-square-foot home and a 1,200-square-foot in-law living space.
The plot-twist? It would look absolutely nothing like the rubbled International Style Largent home, as it was known by design geeks far and wide, which was one of only five SF homes Neutra had his hand in doing. (The logic Johnston's attorney is applying here is that the much-loved Twin Peaks neighborhood sight had been entirely renovated over those 80-plus years, thus justifying these new proposed modifications.)
However, the case has raised more than a few eyebrows, especially from those involved in prior battles over illegal demolitions in the seven-by-seven.
“At the end of the day, the developer would be given a financial reward for an unpermitted demolition,” one Jerry Dratler, a Richmond District local — who, too, has been caught up in past illegal demolitions — tells the Chronicle. Dratler suggests that if the city doesn't seek to punish a developer who leveled a historic home from a celebrated designer, then the demolition of an ordinary home might go even more easily unpunished.
This fresh proposal comes after weeks of the city’s planning commission met in a private meeting with city lawyers, talking about the lawsuit Johnston’s filed.
Johnson's suit claimed that San Francisco “illegally confiscated the property without just compensation and violated consciously protected rights of due process, freedom of speech, equal protection under the law, vested property rights, and [imposed] excessive fines.”
Should the city settle on and agree to Johnston’s new plan, the lawsuit will be dropped, and no further action would be taken by either party.