The Richard Neutra-designed Largent House in San Francisco was illegally demolished.
Richard Neutra, an iconic architect with a cult-like following, designed this house on Hopkins Avenue in Twin Peaks, CA, in 1935 for the Largent family. Photo courtesy of Redfin.

The before and after photos of this story are a punch to the gut for even a casual fan of Mid Century Modern architecture. But this story of a 1935 home designed by Richard Neutra that was demolished to make way for a 4,000-square-foot home has a bittersweet ending.

Almost a year after Neutra’s Largent House in Twin Peaks, CA, was demolished, the San Francisco planning commission has issued its verdict on what it deemed to be an infraction. Ross Johnston, the property owner behind the demolition, had been given permission to build by the planning commission on the condition that he leave the first floor of the iconic architect’s house untouched. Now, a year later, the planning commission has ruled that Johnston must rebuild the house exactly as it stood rather than the significantly larger family home he had been planning to build.

While this sounds like justice served to many modernists, this ruling isn’t without its critics. Questions have arisen about the complications of building a home that was designed before environmental and safety codes were as strict as they are today. Others, like architect and architecture historian Jonathan Pearlman, think this move is not in the spirit of the original architect.

“His approach to design was extremely client-focused, producing his unique and masterful homes that reflect both his own vision married to the direct needs and desires of his client and to the natural environment of the site,” said Pearlman, a friend of the Neutra family. “To rebuild this house, designed specifically for the Largents over 80 years ago, to represent a current political issue hardly seems like something Neutra would endorse.”

A pile of rubble is all that remains of a 1935 Richard Neutra house whose first floor was supposed to remain intact.
The hole on Hopkins Avenue showcases how little of the original Largent House remains. The San Francisco planning commission had previously approved the new build plans with the contingency that the first floor of the house remain mostly intact. Photo courtesy of SF Chronicle.

On the other hand, the family of the famed California architect, who built 5 homes in the Twin Peaks area including the Largent House, is touched by the commission’s decision.

“I wish we had a planning commission here in L.A. that had the guts to do what the planning commission in San Francisco did,” said Dion Neutra, the 92-year-old son and former partner of Richard Neutra. “I take my hat off to them.”

Johnston is currently appealing the decision, claiming the additional demolition took place for safety reasons as well as questioning the legality of the commission’s decision.

As the saga continues, get up to date on all the details of this story here.