US & Canada

Owner who demolished famed San Francisco house must build replica

A streetview picture of the house intact, as it looked in December 2014 Image copyright Googe Streetview
Image caption The house, shown on Google Streetview in 2014, was designed by modernist Richard Neutra

A buyer who illegally demolished a famed house in San Francisco has been ordered to rebuild an exact replica - and install a plaque outside explaining what happened.

Largent House, in the city's Twin Peaks neighbourhood, was built in 1936 by eminent modernist designer Richard Neutra.

Its owner, Ross Johnston, bought the property last year for $1.7m (£1.3m) and had permission to renovate it.

That did not include knocking it down.

Cheryl Traverce, a neighbour, told local TV station KPIX 5 that she filed a complaint after coming home to find the house demolished.

"I went to New York for about a week and a half and came back - the house was gone, totally gone," she said.

Image copyright Google Streetview
Image caption A Google Streetview image in November 2017 shows how the house became a building site

Mr Johnston told the San Francisco Planning Commission he had bought the property "as a family home that would enable my family of six to move back to San Francisco", and had been "stuck in limbo for over a year". His lawyer also argued that the historic house had already been altered by former owners.

Nonetheless, the commission ruled last week that a replica must be built - and not the larger home the owner had planned in its place.

If the property is sold, the new buyer will also be obliged to honour the ruling.

Ms Traverce called the decision "a victory for the neighbours and the little people".

More San Francisco stories...

Before it was demolished, Largent House was a two-storey white building with an indoor swimming pool - and one of just five homes Neutra designed in San Francisco.

SF Curbed profiled it in 2010, writing: "We know nothing about Mr./Mrs./Ms. Largent, but this was radical stuff in the middle of the Great Depression."

Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said he hoped the story would prove a cautionary tale.

"If a developer has even a thought of demolishing a house illegally, I'd like them to go up to 49 Hopkins and take a look at the plaque, because this is what's going to happen in the future," he said.

More on this story