It was yesterday morning that a plugged-in neighbor found himself looking up at the approved “remodeling” of 125 Crown Terrace underway and thinking, “that can’t be stable.” And it wasn’t.

51 thoughts on “A Game Of Remodeling Jenga: Before The Collapse”
  1. So interesting. This is supposed to be a 6000 sq foot house. The original house is small and junky and was going to be incorporated into the new house, which seems strange. I always wondered if this got through planning as a remodel rather than new construction. I was joking with a friend they maybe they would have a little accident which would take care of the old house problem. Seems like it did. Will they get to continue to build, face prosecution, was anyone hurt. I walk my dog by this place all the time.

  2. Lighten up, people. I’m sure they had a guy on the street below with a walkie-talkie giving them the signal to push once there were no people or cars. These guys are pros, after all.

  3. Coincidentally, I took a walk on Crown Terrace a few days after Thanksgiving and saw the building site. It was chaos, with workers scrambling below a very tenuously shored wall — this was above the original house –and teetered along a few boards almost like tightropes across the original structure. Another person who happened to be looking over the site at the same time turned to me and we both shook our heads and shuddered. The entire site was unsafe.
    As much as I’d like to backup the satisfying theory of the scheming developer, the evidence of my own eyes is that this entire job was a disaster waiting to happen.

  4. Someone said on the newscast last night that the owner was a building inspection official with the city. You have to wonder if there were some inspection rules that didn’t get enforced on this, as anyone can tell that a light earthquake tremor would have toppled everything in seconds.

  5. @around1905 — You’re saying you saw this chaos, turned to a person and shuddered about how unsafe and horrible this site was, and didn’t report the situation to the city?

  6. ^Not everyone has the time or energy to report problems, nor is everyone an expert on structural stability.
    And given that this builder is an insider such a report would likely have not resulted in any action.

  7. This may turn out to be the watershed moment for dealing with the whole demo/remodel issue. The pictures illustrate the entire problem and the need for a solution. This could be like a Sangiacamo moment. The backlash to that helped with the rent control (whether you like it or not, that is the history) and now this could do a similar thing. Murphy may have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Lucky he did not kill anyone for real.

  8. If you think that looks bad, check out the photo I took from nearly the same spot around 5pm last night.
    When you see how many supports were removed from the structure between when the picture above and mine were taken, it’s no surprise that it collapsed. To those who may ask why I only took a photo — there was a construction team of 4-6 on site that I assumed knew what they were doing.

  9. ^ Steve, in your photo it appears that the shoring boards were removed except for the stack in the front part of the picture. Is there a reason that this would be done, other than to let the house fall down the cliff? I think you may be right that the construction team on the site “knew what they were doing”.

  10. @Steve, you have surely provided the “money shot” required for this forensic investigation.
    Although it looked quite unsafe throughout the days prior to this as I walked by, your photo is utterly condemning.
    KPIX, KRON4, KTVU — hell, DBI — should be knocking on your URL any minute now.

  11. Steve’s photo shows that they removed most of the vertical cribbing and are using steel beams to support the house with the remaining cribbing down slope. But that means that you basically have the entire house on a hinge, with the weight exerting downward and sideways force on what is basically a stack of unsecured lumber. The owner is going to get away from this with a slap on the wrist, if that.

  12. What this really shows is the folly of SF’s anti-demolition policies. We cry that families are leaving the city, and yet it is impossible to demo substandard small houses that no longer meet the needs of today’s families. Instead, everyone has to go through the very expensive charade of a “remodel” when it would be cheaper, faster, and safer to demo old shacks and replace them with the already-approved plans that call for the expensive, unsafe and just plain silly “remodeling.”

  13. Sounds, thank goodness, like no one was hurt.
    Hopefully we will get a proper investigation into what went wrong. I hope there was an engineered shoring plan.
    Remodeling vs. demo issues aside, no house is worth getting hurt over. Stay safe, builders!

  14. Looks to me like the neighbor in the back must of gotten up in the middle of the night and sneezed out his back window toward this Rube Goldberg on stilts.
    LMAO when I saw this picture. I used to live a couple of blocks away from this street and this area is always getting hit with stray winds. This guy needs to have his state contractors license suspended…..now
    What an idiot.

  15. I think the comment made by a neighbor is correct. Murphy was building a 5K sq. foot house in a neighborhood of 2K sq. foot houses. There is the whole problem in a nutshell. And there is the affordability issue.
    Have at me commentators.

  16. OK JIm, I’ll bite – explain to me how a 5000 sq.ft. home in a neighborhood of 2000 sq. ft. homes “meet[s] the needs of today’s families”, unless they are part of the Quiverfull set?
    This was a going to be a high-end trophy project or a flip, and the anti-demolition laws are in place just to slow that kind of thing down. It probably would have been much cheaper, easier and safer to do a remodel to add 1000 sq.ft and spruce up the (agreed) crappy building, and it would have served many families just fine. And there are other houses he could have more easily upgraded to that size. But it appears the builder went the monster home route, and as a result opted for a “sham” remodel instead of the demo he wanted. Boo hoo – he was on the DBI commission so he knew what he was getting into when he bought the place. Too bad he hired a crappy contractor and now has this mess on his hands.

  17. This would be a gold mine of a story for a conscientious investigative reporter. What happened to all the good ones from not too long ago? The local papers just cover superficial news. A little unrelenting digging would be worth a Pulitzer.

  18. From the other thread the previous occupants of this property were tenants. It is also in the realm of possibility that disgruntled tenants with an axe to grind sabotaged or intentionally brought down the structure. I’m Sure they are not happy about being evicted.

  19. No, not disgruntled former tenants with an axe to grind. It was the Obama administration trying to distract folks from the failings of the ACA website.

  20. When the city tries to force people to preserve something like this, what exactly is being preserved if you add 4000 square feet below it? The preserved place is going to be gutted, have all new systems, new sheetrock, moldings, bathroonms, windows, insulation roofing, and siding. Rotted framing members will be replaced and others will be upgraded. What is being preserved? The volume of the original structure? The hours of labor done 100 years ago, most of which will be redone with today’s labor? There was nothing to preserve of this building that was worth even $100.

  21. The libertarian perspective on this thread, devoted to excusing the actions of the developer and contractor because libertarians dislike regulating usage of private property, reminds me of Dread Pirate Roberts. Another libertarian who found the law to be an annoyance. I am never surprised when libertarians leap to the defense of criminals (or even engage in criminality). A true libertarian perspective requires a rather peculiar worship of thuggery.

  22. @katdip: The point is that cities are living, changing organisms that change for many reasons, human preferences being one of those. I live in a 1920s 1600 Sq ft. 2 br flat, that was designed and built to be occupied by a mommy, a daddy, and two kids. I live here alone, and the majority of similarly sized flats in the hood are likewise occupied by a single person. Lifestyles change.
    I grew up in what was probably a 1600 sq. ft suburban house with a family of four. One bathroom; no family room; no play room; no master suite; no walk in closets; etc. etc. etc. We thought it was just fine; most families today don’t. Lifestyles change.
    As I sit in my office in a 1910 6-story office building I reflect that it was once a sand dune; then a one-story wooden building with a wooden sidewalk and dirt street; then a two story brick building; then after the earthquake, a six story non-ductile concrete building that will fall down in a good earthquake; then it will be replaced by what? Probably a 30-story building like most others around here. Cities change.
    Looking at the subject house, it was obviously a much smaller house than the surrounding buildings, notably the eight (?) story building immediately to the west, and from Googleearth streetview, appears to have been essentially below street level. I have no opinion as to what the “proper” building size/massing should be to fit into the neighborhood, but I can imagine little justification to have tried to save the building as “affordable” housing. That is simply a fantasy. And the wisdom of saving any particular building depends on a lot of factors, including prevailing property values.
    And in any case, that is just one societal value. Another value is keeping families in the city. And quite frankly many families believe they need more and different space than you and I might believe we need. Let me ask you, please explain to me how you have determined that this should be a 2,000 square foot home? And if that was your preference, why didn’t you buy it and preserve it?
    Yes, keeping low and moderate income families in the city is a value too, but trying to do this by controlling demos of substandard housing is about the least effective way to do that imaginable.

  23. No, I don’t consider myself a libertarian. However, I think the law should have a rational basis with measurable objectives whenever possible, and with minimal complexity and room for abuse. Are the regulations on demolition permits achieving their stated objectives? Do we even know? Do we even have a mechanism for knowing? Or is the only result complicated legal wrangling and clever reading to weave around the law’s edges. Even worse, are outcomes highly individual and based on raw political power and connections (aka corruption). A broken law can be worse than no law, and requires stepping back and considering other ways a goal can be accomplished — if it can be accomplished via government intervention at all (not always the case).

  24. @ Jim: I agree with you completely. Good analogy of how housing and cities constantly evolve and change.
    As what katdip says, well it’s par for the course here, with plenty of people wanting to tell others how to live. They type before thinking. They insert their narrow opinion into every conceivable lifestyle and choice.
    And yes, perhaps katdip should just buy the place and preserve it as their CHOICE.

  25. You type before thinking constantly futurist and you never admit when you’re wrong. Even after senselessly prolonging arguments you clearly lost. Those 100+ trees along the sidewalks of Cesar Chavez you said did not exist can attest to that.

  26. Of course they exist. Who doesn’t see them?
    But they didn’t exist when I made the comment.
    Seriously, what’s the problem?

  27. I don’t want to “tell others how to live.” While a city is a living, evolving entity, it does not exist in a free-market vacuum – that evolution is guided by a set of laws and policies that reflect a set of societal values. No major city is a libertarian paradise where private property rights are paramount.
    I took issue with Jim’s characterization that the anti-demo laws led to this, and that they stifle “families”. No, the developers’ greed (or “free choice”) led to this. The anti-demo laws are in place to serve a genuine public interest in an evolving city – preserving a mix of housing styles, sizes and prices. They may not be particularly effective or the best way to meet that goal, but the developer knew those laws were in existence when he bought the place. Given that, if he wanted to avoid those laws (or if “families” want big houses), he could have exercised his free will to buy a bigger place elsewhere, pick a house that’s an easier remodel, or do a smaller remodel at this location, or move to Alamo. Personally I have no beef with people who want a 1000 sq. ft house for a family of 10 or a 5000 sq.ft house for a hermit. However, I do defend the City’s right to regulate development to balance public benefits with private property rights. For some reason Futurist thinks that is a narrow opinion…..

  28. Did anyone notice how the I-beam on the left side of the structure in the last photo taken was being supported by a scaffold and planks?
    Top left at the rear of the building. OMG how could the contractor leave this building in this state over night.
    Want to bet the owner and “prominent developer” fingers the sub contractor for this fiasco. You’ll see how his buds, the honchos at SFBD, will write their report and blame the sub. This reminds me of John Corzine…. “I didn’t have any oversight to the trading that occurred “on” that “day”.
    This guy will slip through the cracks just like this building slipped off the hill. Mark my words.

  29. Well, now you’ve changed your tune somewhat.
    Your earlier post clearly was trying to tell the developer what to do, suggesting there were “other” houses he could remodel. so much for free will.
    Then you use the charged word “monster” house, which is full of built-in opinion.
    Fact is, the current demo laws in place do not work. The Planning Dept. is to blame for playing the “demo” game with owners and developers, and the developer took advantage of this lazy set of regulations. Yes, the regulations should be re-defined and strengthened heavily, to avoid the current games of saving one wall and calling it a remodel.
    But “balancing public benefits” really means excessive control over private property: mainly how large of a house one is entitled to build, within the current codes and regulations.
    If the developer/owner wishes to build a 7000 sf home that is legally allowed on a lot, then they have that right. And there may, indeed, be a family that wishes to purchase it and can afford it.
    It’s still called family housing. You seem to have a problem with rich families and ALL kinds of income levels. I don’t.

  30. See the permit history- the owner files the day after the house fell down to correct the cost of the original permit by an additional $310,000.
    APPLICATION 201110066315 Horizontal and vertical addition,
    Cost $300,000.00

  31. Futurist – you certainly are opining by using the hyperbole of “excessive control.” Excessive to whom? Of course the owner was legally allowed to build that size house on that lot, and in my opinion that’s what got him in trouble. I was arguing against Jim’s contention that the trouble was caused by the demo laws. The laws were on the books for a reason. Any actor in the market has to take those laws into account. If I wanted a 5000 sq ft house I would look at that lot and say “eh, not worth the trouble because I have to either deal with the demo laws or bend over backwards to preserve a crappy house.” Other developers might look at that property and say “OK, I can work with that and do a smaller remodel and still make a nice house for my family (or for profit)” That’s the intent (though not well realized) of the anti-demo laws, to make some choices harder than others in certain cases to meet some public purpose.

  32. “As much as I’d like to backup the satisfying theory of the scheming developer, the evidence of my own eyes is that this entire job was a disaster waiting to happen.”
    I can’t see any way in which it’s not the developer who’s responsible.

  33. The falsework that was installed to support the old structure appears to have failed causing this unfortunate collapse.
    While the developer certainly bears ultimate responsibility for what happens on their job site, calls for a criminal investigation are wildly overblown. There was no damage to adjacent properties or any property not owned by the developer, no one was hurt and there was no fire. There is no evidence of malicious intent. There is therefore no conceivable basis for any criminal charges, nor any basis for civil litigation. Statements to the contrary are baseless and without merit.
    And finally, let’s hope that what replaces this mess is a big, beautiful architectural masterpiece that its new owners will enjoy for many decades. It will benefit both the city in terms of increased tax revenues, the builder in terms of profit and the workers on site in terms of their wages paid and the employment provided to them. Everybody wins.

  34. Katdip, I think you are correct about the intent of the laws, but I think you also realize they’ve not been very effective at satisfying that intent. It seems to me there are two answers to this….the first is to reform the demo laws to allow demo, and seek to provide affordable housing in other ways (contribution to a trust fund, etc). The second would be to clamp down on the existing rules and insist that planning and building can’t approve “renovations” that are to all intents and purposes complete rebuilds. This would probably succeed in driving down the speculative cost of existing properties, but probably not to a level at which they are in any sense “affordable”. My view is that we should focus on overall height and bulk controls (and where appropriate historic issues) and use other means to promote affordable housing. But in any case, the current situation doesn’t work and is a complete charade.

  35. “calls for a criminal investigation are wildly overblown”
    – Really? The developer was denied a demolition permit and then all of a sudden – whoops! – the building collapses and he’ll get that emergency demolition permit.
    Seems a little too convenient to me.

  36. Let’s put the two most salient details together:
    1. keepitup: “Did anyone notice how the I-beam on the left side of the structure in the last photo taken was being supported by a scaffold and planks?”
    Totally improper. All of the cribbing on the uphill side of the home has been removed (or it appears that way). Additional photos of the aftermath at SFgate also appear to bear that out. The downhill cribbing has been moved outward (compare the linked photo to the photo at the top of the post) also decreasing the strength and security of the supports. The whole point of the process is that you leave the cribbing in place to support the structure, build around it, and then remove the temporary suppors piece by piece afterwards.
    2. LD: “See the permit history- the owner files the day after the house fell down to correct the cost of the original permit by an additional $310,000.”
    In other words, “Well gosh, my house fell down a hill! Whatever! Good thing I was able to get a quote on the cost of finishing the demo, plus the cost of the added construction in only a day! Better go get that permit amended.”
    Is this clearly criminal behavior? No, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it, to keep things ambiguous. I have my own mind made up however, after everything I have read and seen. The final point that settles it for me? The fact that nowhere, in any of the articles I have read, is there any mention of damage to surrounding homes or property, even downhill. The downhill cribbing collapsed, the home slid down the pair of I-beams as if they were rails, and came to rest almost straight down, not even at the bottom edge of the property. Well done…

  37. “There was no damage to adjacent properties or any property not owned by the developer, no one was hurt and there was no fire. There is no evidence of malicious intent. There is therefore no conceivable basis for any criminal charges, nor any basis for civil litigation. Statements to the contrary are baseless and without merit.”
    Jimmy (Clueless (TM)) ,
    Just because an act didn’t cause any actual harm to other individuals or their property doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be a criminal act. Like reckless driving. And in terms of civil litigation, you could file a law suit against pretty much anyone for pretty much anything and who knows what the outcome would be.
    Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me the least if the guy gets off scott free. He has contacts and probably knew what he was doing.

  38. Let’s look for one key development on the issue of intent. Will the developer file an insurance claim? Clearly, if this were a true accident, he would do so. If he files no claim, that is a clear indicator that this was no accident (the carrier would investigate and deny a fraudulent claim, which the developer knows). Unfortunately, the decision to file, or not file, an insurance claim is not public, so we will likely never know, unless the police/D.A. get involved and investigate.

  39. I agree with Adam about his assessment. Does anyone need to remind the builder, City inspectors or structural engineer of this project that the basis for any sound structure is a sound foundation? The foundation in the picture is a joke.

  40. This is what you might colloquially call a “victimless crime,” if it were a crime at all, which it is not.

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