Rare Neutra Destroyed

‘Dragon of demolition’ plagues California homes designed by the master modernist
Fridays on the Homefront
The dragon of demolition recently took a bite out of the ravaged body of California mid-century modern when architect Richard Neutra’s Largent House was demolished in San Francisco. The controversy surrounding it remains very much alive. Photo: courtesy MLS San Francisco
Fridays on the Homefront
Another look at the now-demolished Largent House. Photo: courtesy MLS San Francisco
Fridays on the Homefront
Architect Richard Neutra.
Photo: Julius Shulman photography © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

The dragon of demolition took another greedy bite out of the ravaged body of California mid-century modern recently, this time in San Francisco. It then lurched southward, sniffing more ripe Richard Neutra prey.

A code enforcement hearing about 49 Hopkins Avenue is scheduled in San Francisco on February 6, but whatever justice might be meted out at City Hall, it won't bring back the rare Neutra that was felled at that site early last fall.

Questions for architecture fans are how might the hearing help tame the dragon and whether it will feed further on the master architect's work in 2018.

"Really interested to see what the penalty will be for the destruction of Largent," comments Dion Neutra, the Austrian-born architect's son and former business partner, referencing the demolished San Francisco home by the name of its original owners and terming its loss "a real travesty."

The Largent House (1936) was one of only five that Neutra designed in San Francisco, standing for 80 years at the Twin Peaks intersection of Hopkins and Burnett avenues. The white, two-story, redwood-and-concrete-block home was quickly razed in late September 2017, and a complaint was filed with the city in early October. Only some framing and the garage remained.

A violation notice was issued two days later and led to an October meeting, according to a city report, which states, "The [architect] will submit a new set of drawings to Planning showing full extent of the demo to conform with directions of the [notice.]"

Ultimately however, the owners, an LLC that bought the home last year for $1.7M, submitted an application in December to build a new three-story home on the site—a depressing echo of prior demolitions in the city. The San Francisco Chronicle documented several other examples of unauthorized demolitions in which the fines levied were far outstripped by the profit of building and selling a new home in the city.

"The signal that is sent time and again is that you can demolish even some of the most important historic, iconic buildings in the city with impunity," District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the newspaper. Peskin, whose district includes Hopkins Avenue, added, "It speaks to an attitude and a culture in our planning and building apartments that nothing is sacred."

City law allows it to penalize homeowners for illegal demolition by not allowing construction on the site for five years, but this is generally deemed, according to reports, to be unfair to neighbors forced to live with the vacant site of a demolition.