A Beast at Bay

Delay in sweeping legislation, landmarking of a Neutra give MCM preservationists hope
Fridays on the Homefront
Keeping the Dragon of Demolition at bay, Bay Area homes by Richard Neutra seem to be getting better protection these days. While San Francisco is facing a lawsuit over
its demand that a developer rebuild a hurriedly demolished Neutra house in San Francisco's Twin Peaks, in Orinda the Nelson House (above from 1951) recently got landmark status. Photo: Julius Shulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles - 2004.R.10)
Fridays on the Homefront
Neutra's Connell House (1958) of Pebble Beach. Photo: Arthur Connell (courtesy UCLA Neutra Archive)
Fridays on the Homefront
Architect Richard Neutra:
getting better protection.

That old mid-century modern nemesis, the Dragon of Demolition, was last seen slinking away licking wounds, giving California architectural preservationists a moment to breathe but leaving a promise to return soon.

As the scaly beast turned for cover, though, it left behind a number of beautiful creations in ruins or at least shaken to their very foundations.

The biggest gain of late on the state's preservation front is probably the shelving of controversial legislation that threatened to overrule historic overlay districts that protect many MCM homes and even a few masterpieces.

The author of SB 50, former county supervisor and now State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), has vowed to keep pressing for his bill, a version of which died last year and evolved into the current proposal that was amended considerably to appease critics of its sweeping reach.

Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee made the call May 16 to stretch SB 50 into a "two-year bill," making it ineligible for a vote on the Senate floor until January.

The delay gives preservation advocates a few months to digest the seemingly 11th hour revisions made to SB 50 this month, which at least partly addressed their issues. Still, cities would gain the power to make zoning changes, allowing greater density along transit lines and dwellings of up to four units where existing zones allow only single-family.

That wound alone, fortunately, is not all that is keeping the beast Demolition temporarily at bay, especially in the Bay.

One of its most recent victims seems to be getting better protection from cities these days. San Francisco is facing a lawsuit over its demand that a developer rebuild a hurriedly demolished Richard Neutra house in Twin Peaks, and Orinda gave landmark status to the Nelson House, another by the modernist master from Vienna.

"This was something I wanted to do, and especially given the destruction of one of the few Neutras in Northern California in San Francisco," owner S.B. Master told the Orinda City Council about the Nelson House (1951) on May 21, when the council gave 5-0 approval to the designation. "The idea of landmarking it, and having there be a record of what it is and why it matters for the future, seemed to me is important."