Enraged over Neutra Demo

Bitterness continues as Network Facebook followers fire salvo of pain and punishment
Fridays on the Homefront
The backlash over the fall '17 illegal demolition of architect Richard Neutra's Largent House in San Francisco is still being felt. A recent barrage of startling posts on the Eichler Network's Facebook page has kept the emotional 'discussion' of such demolitions (similar to the scene above) very much alive.
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Neutra's Largent House: gone. Photo: courtesy MLS San Francisco
Fridays on the Homefront
Neutra's Connell House in Pebble Beach in brighter days.
Fridays on the Homefront
Architect Richard Neutra. Photo: Julius Shulman photography © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

The unpermitted demolition last fall of the Largent House, a rare Richard Neutra design in San Francisco, continues to grate on the nerves of those who appreciate mid-century modern, as evidenced by a recent barrage of startling suggestions on the Eichler Network's Facebook page since we reported the loss in January.

These, however, are just the most recent salvos in a war over architectural preservation that is practically as old as construction itself.

"Here's my tongue-in-cheek response: the directors of the company are placed in protective custody until it's rebuilt," fumed Network Facebook reader Eero Nirk. "Wait a minute, maybe it's not so tongue in cheek after all…"

"Heavily fined and five-year license suspension," suggested Celeste Pisani. "Now, they just shake off minimal if not zero consequences as part of the building plan."

Another reader, David Stallworth, called for heavy fines, suspension from working in San Francisco "for at least a decade," and "shame them publicly (within legal statutes)."

"With property becoming so valuable and development so fierce, sometimes it seems the old adage, 'it's easier to plead ignorance and pay the penalty,' may be in play," noted Adriene Biondo, author, Eichler owner, and Los Angeles-based preservation activist whom we consulted on the topic.

This is a battle that has raged for nigh on a millennium, at least since an Egyptian sultan thought it a good idea to attempt demolition of the Pyramid of Menkaure at Giza. (He failed.)  At around the same time, the Normans built Berkhamsted Castle north of modern-day Greater London, and in 1833 it became possibly the first historic structure ever protected by statute. A quarter-century after that, the first statewide preservation group in the U.S. was formed to save Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Sometimes, unfortunately, laws and advocacy are not enough.

The most popular post in the Network's Facebook string was one by Howard Hopwood about a developer in 2015 who destroyed the historic Carlton Tavern in West London, days before it was to be protected by law. The Westminster City Council ordered it to be rebuilt, but that has yet to occur.

Neutra's son, business partner, and protector of his legacy, Dion Neutra, mourned the illegal razing of the Largent House, one of only five his father designed in San Francisco. He warned of several other endangered houses of his father's—including the Chuey House in the Hollywood Hills and the Connell House in Pebble Beach—and laments the loss in 2002 of the Maslon House in Rancho Mirage and three "biorealist" buildings the elder Neutra designed at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa that are slated for demolition.

Of course, Neutra is far from the only architect to be ravaged by what we dubbed "the dragon of demolition." Frank Lloyd Wright is an American hero, but that didn't stop destruction of the trailblazing Larkin Soap Co. building (1904) in Buffalo in 1950 or the awesome Tokyo Imperial Hotel (1923) in 1968. Nearly a third of the 400-plus structures designed by The Master have become what the New York Times once called "belles of the wrecking ball."