A man who illegally demolished a San Francisco house designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra was ordered this week to rebuild it exactly as it was.
The city Planning Commission also ordered Ross Johnston to add a sidewalk plaque telling the entire saga of the house's origins in the 1930s, its demolition and replication.
Johnston purchased the 1936 residence, known as the Largent House, in 2017 for $1.7 million.
Johnston had planned to remodel the 1,300-square-foot home in the Twin Peaks neighborhood and submitted his plans for the two-story house to the city, which mostly kept the first floor intact. His permit was approved.
However, as neighbor Cheryl Traverce discovered, Johnston had a much more elaborate modification in mind.
“I went to New York for about a week-and-a-half and [when I] came back the house was gone, totally gone,” Traverce told KPIX 5. “I was shocked.”
Johnston later applied for a retroactive demolition permit and asked to build a new three-story house that would expand the size from 1,300 to nearly 4,000 square feet.
Johnston said he wanted to move his family of six into the larger home.
Traverce filed a complaint to the city over the demolition out of concern for what a larger remodel would do to the neighborhood.
“Demolishing a $1.2 million house and replacing it with a $5 million house only makes the affordability that much worse in the city,” Commissioner Dennis Richards said to KPIX said. “We’re finding there’s an epidemic of these kinds of things happening.”
The city believed Johnston wanted to build a 4,000-square-foot mansion and flip it for a profit in the red hot San Francisco real estate market.
His attorney Justin Zucker argued against the rebuild, citing that the house's historic value had been erased over time because of a 1968 fire and a series of remodels in the 1980s and 1990s.
It's not known whether Johnston will follow through with the planning commission’s ruling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.