The owner of a ruined Richard Neutra house in Twin Peaks, who was hired by the city to rebuild the damaged building, is now suing San Francisco in both state and state courts for violations of its constitutional rights.
Ross Johnston, owner of Largent House on Hopkins Street, received word from the Planning Commission in December that he had to rebuild an exact replica of the 1935 house as it stood before the illegal demolition in October.
Johnston had tried to convert the site into a new, 3,665-square-foot house. The planning committee voted 5-0 against his plans.
The homeowner then appealed the decision and his attorney Andrew Zacks declared it “invalid, bizarre and illegal”.
This week’s lawsuit repeats many of the same arguments in both Johnston’s original case and on appeal, claiming that previous work has damaged beyond repair the historical value of the 49 Hopkins home:
The property was originally built in 1935 by the well-known architect Richard Neutra as a single-family home with one bedroom and an area of 927 square meters. However, since its original construction, the property had been changed drastically, leaving very little of the original construction or design from 1935.
Major city-approved changes occurred primarily between 1959 and 2004, including but not limited to the addition of a second floor and the conversion of part of the first floor into a garage.
The big house before demolition. Image via google
In an email, Johnston (who referred to himself as “the owner’s agent” despite owning the house through an LLC) described the rebuilding order as an “abusive, retroactive transgression”.
Johnston bought the house in early 2017 for $ 1.7 million. He is now seeking $ 10 million and restoring his renovation permits.
In December, Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards described the commission’s decision as a necessary step in 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 spoken about illegal demolitions in the past, described the decision as “very impressive”.
According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Austrian-born Neutra “helped define modernity in Southern California and around the world” and forged a signature style that “oddly embraced technology as a means of connecting humans with nature.”
Although Neutra designed many California houses, he only built five in SF.