Purchased by a local contractor for $1.282 million in March of 2012, plans to allow the construction of a new garage, a new entry stair and “minor façade alterations” to accommodate a new entrance for the secondary unit of the Craftsman-style home at 151-153 Liberty Street were subsequently approved, with a stated scope of work that entailed the preservation of the primary façade (including the retention of the historic windows and decorative brackets).

Early last year, a complaint was filed with the City citing a “possible exterior alteration” beyond the approved scope, at which point the project’s building permit for the property, which is a registered historic resource for San Francisco’s Liberty-Hill Historic District, was suspended.

And as 151 Liberty looks today, with its façade having been completely demolished and the aforementioned historic windows having been removed and discarded:

Next week, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission is slated to recommend that the contractor-owner be required to reconstruct and restore the original character-defining features of the home, “including, but not limited to, its overall mass and form, double-hung wood-sash windows, wood rafter tails, and wood trellis,” as well as other elements “identified in the designating ordinance for the landmark based on archival evidence including historic photos and documentation prior to the removal of the façade.”

In addition, a couple of neighbors have suggested that the Commission require a previously-approved rear addition incorporate wood-framed mullioned windows to match the front façade; that new wood siding be required to be historically appropriate; that the City consider sanctions against the project’s architect (“who should have been familiar with [the historical] requirements and ensured compliance with them”); and that a previously approved roof deck – with a hot tub, wet bar and grill – be forcibly removed from the plans.

And while their fingers are crossed, we’re not expecting any of the neighbors’ additional suggestions to be adopted.

54 thoughts on “Contractor Caught Demolishing a Historic Facade”
    1. The likely conditions to be applied in order to re-permit the project and restoration as outlined above:

      1. “As part of the Site Permit, the Project Sponsor shall provide material samples, including the examples of the materials for the proposed stair tread and rise, and handrails to ensure compatibility with the surrounding landmark district. These material samples shall demonstrate the range of color, texture and finish for the identified materials. Generally, the materials should feature a matte or painted finish, and be consistent with the building’s overall historic character.”

      2. “As part of the Site Permit, the Project Sponsor shall provide a detailed window schedule detailing the dimensions of the proposed new windows and providing elevations and sections.”

      3. “The project sponsor shall complete a site visit with Department preservation enforcement staff prior to occupancy in order to verify compliance with the approved project description and conditions of approval.”

    2. I think you got the answer. As long as the City decides to not ‘sign off’ on it, it makes the property difficult to use. If they overrun the construction permit(s) timeline and don’t get a proper sign off from the Inspector/commission they will most likely be hit with fine after fine that will be paid by the current owner or though escrow if they sell.

    1. Good question. Looks like all the original openings are there and it can all be put back together. The window guys can do some amazing affordable reproductions nowadays.

  1. “and restore the original character-defining features of the home”….would that include the drafty windows and uninsulated walls? Yes, rules and plans must be followed but sometimes what we preserve is not worth preserving!

    1. Yes those drafty windows, because it is so cold in Liberty Hill. No one said anything about not being able to insulate your home, come on.

      1. Mandating exposed rafter tails and archaic window construction effectively sets a low ceiling on the potential energy efficiency of the structure.

        1. Of course older windows are less energy efficient, but you are missing the point: “a stated scope of work that entailed the preservation of the primary façade, including retention of the historic windows and decorative brackets.”

          The builder stated in the permit application that they were going to retain the historic windows. They did not. If you want to replace them make a request to do so and deal with it, but saying you are going to do one thing with no intention of doing so is a big middle finger to those who actually follow the rules.

          1. I don’t disagree. I’m just asking why anybody wanted to preserve this one in the first place. From where springs its architectural merit?

    2. Properly glazed and well fit single-pane wood windows can be on par with modern vinyl windows in terms of insulation. Not to mention they look far better.

      1. Wooden Windows in Oakland reconstructed (or newly constructed) a much more elaborate wooden window on my block, so is is not irremediable at this point – and I think it is now double pane.

        1. Seriously? Efficiency is fine, but it’s not an absolute. If we were in Truckee, double paned windows might matter, but in SF you need heat about two weeks out of the entire year.

          1. You must be a lost Viking. 2 weeks? Srsly? 2-4 months is more like it depending on the year. SF is famous for not needing air conditioning…

    1. Really? This structure where the entire building is still standing with the roof on, reminds you of the front wall of a building from which the entire structure had been cut off? I’m not a building inspector, but I think the presence of an actual building might be a differentiating factor in whether a demolition has occurred.

      1. It’s not the structure, neighborhood or style that have a common thread, but the arrogance of the owner/developer. Do try to keep up.

      2. Hmm, I think your snark is set to overdrive. Don’t forget, you need to apply the post-Trump adjustment to make sure you’re not being an assh*le.

  2. Am I missing something? I see the window openings exactly where they were in the original photo. Look at the wider spaces framing the center window on the top floor. Strange pentagon at the roofline.

    I see a retaining wall for the garage structure. I see concrete in place to replace the stairs and porch. I see no work that suggests work beyond ‘minor facade alterations.’

    What I infer is that a poorly-informed neighborhood crank hasn’t seen a 100+ year old wooden house be properly re-built and re-framed to be safe and conform to seismic standards etc. lodged a complaint. So now the process will take longer for the neighborhood, the developer, and the eventual owner.

    ‘Caught Demolishing’ – Typical histrionics. Mel Murphy pulls his house down his Crown Terrace house in the middle of the night? That’s illegal demolition. This looks to me like someone playing by the rules.

    High housing costs are preserved in the city by complaints like this.

    1. I don’t see a porch; perhaps its rebuilding was part of the original project – impossible to tell w/o seeing the design documents – but a few “crank”s – as you describe them – might feel this is significant.

      The house already cost almost $1.3M before any work was done, and insofar as work (like adding a wet bar and hot tub) seemed design to make it even more expen$ive, the “keeps high housing costs” argument seems pretty weak.

      1. What would you have done with a 100 year old wooden house below which major excavation was to be performed? Should they not have provided a new shear wall reinforcement? What would a structural engineer say?

        1. sheath from the inside. place hold downs and with sistered studs, run your electrical/plumbing, then plywood on the inside face so as to not touch the historic facade

        2. Personally, I would have kept the historical stuff, not just because it’s required, but because it’s valuable to buyers. But that’s just me…

    2. Elderly man struggles with coronary plaque buildup for years. Finally decides to go in to have an open-heart operation. Surgeon has the man open on the operating table and is installing stents.


      Government intervenes, holds a commission meeting to ensure the doctor will finish the operation in a government approved manner. Use approved sutures. Clean instruments. Wash his hands. Make the patient look like he did before. Even though the doctor already has a license to perform operations and the government already has the opportunity to inspect his work at each step.

      Thanks ma’am. Great work letting us know about the man being cut open.


      My vote would be for the historic preservation committee to have a Community Action day in lieu of this meeting. They could walk down Market Street and clean up faeces instead. Wasn’t there like, historically, a time when we weren’t beset with human waste?

      Such a community action day might keep paint sheens in perspective.

      1. That’s a terrific analogy. Except in this case your surgeon decided to do an unauthorized heart transplant rather than the procedure which was proposed and approved.

        And the government wouldn’t have intervened and suspended the surgeon’s permit to operate if the drunk person’s ramblings were uninformed rather than true.

        1. I like how you showed us the approved plans and then the parts of the work that aren’t in conformance.

          Oh wait, you never did that. You’re just exaggerating the subjective description you read at planning from “work beyond that which is approved” to “Caught demolishing!”

          I can see how it would be confusing given what you read in the newspapers.

          1. Our apologies if you need a picture book rather than prose, but we outlined what was approved versus implemented, and Planning’s response (which would have been “no violation,” if the proposed plans as approved had been followed), in words above.

            And speaking of words, to quote the City’s report (versus complaint): “Planning Staff conducted a site visit and confirmed that the façade of the building had been demolished…”

          2. If you spend any time actually building structures instead of writing indignant posts about them, you’ll find that ‘pictures’ and ‘plans’ are indeed an integral part of the process, but that’s just me talking, (as long as you don’t delete/edit my comments.) Having walked several projects through the preservation process I can assure you that if planning were concerned about specific details, those would be called out on the plans. What we can’t determine is if they builder was going to replace any pertinent details because, JFC, they stopped the job in the middle of the rainy season with the house taken apart.

            The notion that the builder could have preserved the decrepit façade while digging out all of that steep hillside for a garage space is the kind of detail only a junior planner or completely inexperienced web writer would accept.

          3. The builder didn’t just stop willy-nilly, the building permit was suspended for cause following a site visit and work that didn’t match the approved plans.

            And once again, while the approved scope of work entailed “the preservation of the primary façade, including retention of the historic windows and decorative brackets, and recladding the exterior with smooth finish stucco,” the façade of the building, which was to be preserved, not rebuilt, has “been demolished” and the historic windows have “been removed and discarded.”

            Had the work to date matched the approved drawings/plans, or had even been close, the permit would not have been suspended.

          4. If you take a decorative element off of a house and it’s rotted, (and you’re an above-board contractor) you don’t nail it back on and hope it lasts for a couple of years. You buy/build/fabricate a replacement. Same with rotted windows. And of course, given how the process works, you can’t tell what conditions are like behind a wall, until you take that wall apart. And you can’t take the wall apart until you have a permit. Does the builder have a plan to replace this stuff? I don’t know, but he kept the crazy pentagonal window shape and the spacing of the other windows, so I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

            Above all, the contractor’s #1 job is to keep people safe, including his workers, and the people passing by in the street below. So to NOT plywood shear-nail that old framing at the front to keep the structure safe would be to fail at this basic essential task.

            Again, some experience outside of interweb ad-revenue might illuminate this challenge. You can delete that part if you want.

          5. If you’re an above-board contractor following the rules, new plans need to be submitted and approved when unexpected conditions result in a major change to the approach, especially when dealing with a historic property (which is a rather basic fact which even inexperienced interweb junior newbies like us are aware).

          6. On the Google image, in July, 2015 the excavation for the garage was in full swing, while the facade was still intact.

          7. That image was obviously doctored by Google to increase their interweb ad-revenue. For according to the expertise of bachman_erlich_overdrive, “the notion that the builder could have preserved the decrepit façade while digging out all of that steep hillside for a garage space is the kind of detail only a junior planner or completely inexperienced web writer would accept.”

            And while we weren’t going to mention it before, as he served his time, the contractor with which bachman_erlich_overdrive is so vehemently aligning and giving the benefit of the doubt for acting above-board, contrary to the facts presented, was sentenced to four months in prison for filing a false tax return related to his construction business shortly after purchasing this home.

          8. “…new plans need to be submitted and approved when unexpected conditions result in a major change to the approach…”

            My experience is that the city is reasonable when plans are modified for unexpected conditions. Its not like they’re going to tell the builder to restore, reinforce, and refit the original rotted wood at great expense. The builder should not fear plan updates unless they’re trying to sneak in something beyond the scope of just accommodating the unforeseen conditions.

          9. Probably nothing in this preservation review will change the built outcome, it will just take longer to complete the job. Now we can have a team of experts from the city review the materials this person selects. We’ll never know if they would have been chosen anyway. From the admittedly limited information shown in the half-complete image, it looks like the owner is taking the right steps.

            My experience is that building inspectors do not require multiple intermediate permit revision sets of plans. Every project of this scale encounters conditions in the field that differ from the plans. It is at the discretion of the building inspector, who normally asks that all of the changes vs. the original plans be submitted and reviewed as a single revised set prior to signing off on the project as complete. This is one reason you will see a permit or revision with a single dollar work value late in a project cycle. If the building department (or god forbid the historic preservation committee) had to review each set of plans every time some damaged framing was discovered, nothing would ever be built in the city. The neighbor complaint is overruling the discretion of the building inspector in this case, I presume. Most building inspectors want projects to proceed and be completed.

            Dollars to donuts this relates back to some person who was angry about losing a street parking place to a new garage driveway.

            I have no connection to this project but I have been frustrated by the permit/historic review process in the past. Have a great weekend.

    1. I disagree – IMO the house has (or had) a nice and unique look that compliments the surroundings, part of what makes SF an interesting place…

  3. why isn’t the “local contractor” owner named? it’s public info and they knew damn well what they were doing.

  4. I don’t believe private residences should be considered for historic preservation based only on its design features. Even though I prefer to keep the original design as is myself, I don’t believe in forcing individuals to bear the burden of maintaining and restoring an old home just because a commission deemed it necessary. If the current owner decides to change it they should be given the right to make it their own home to planning, life and safety compliance.

    Historic preservation should never be considered only by its design, if the home was used as a base for the civil rights movement or, some other tangible evidence showing the property was used during an important part of the city’s history then we can look into getting it preserved. Commercial/office buildings are a different beast and I have a different opinion for historically preserving those, but as for private homes, let them do what they want as long as it follows basic standard codes.

    I see private homes like classic cars. If someone wants to buy a ’67 Mustang fastback and soak it in salt then, that’s their right to do so. They spent their hard earned money and they should do what they want. I would be very sad, but that’s their money. If the car had any real merit, like winning a big race then someone with means would have spent lots of money to buy and preserve it.

    1. But by the same token if somebody invests their hard earnrd money to purchase a small restaurant that is their only livelihood, they should not be bound by historic preservation because that is all their money and their only way to provide for themselves and… or an accountant purchases a little old office building to run his business from… or a plummer buys a little building in the Mission for his plumbing business.. it’s a slippery slope, and if there is going to be historical preservation, I believe that all historic properties should be considered.

      I also think that preserving buildings for their historical architecture is more important than some event that took place in a building, but we are all entitled to our own opinions. In the incidence listed in the article above, there is a law, and the owner did not care to follow it.

    2. The problem with your analogy is that the developer knew when he bought the place that is was subject to historic preservation. So he wasn’t “forced” into it, he made a business decision to deal with such a designation when he purchased it, that is to say he chose to be subject to it. There are thousands of crappy nondescript houses in the city that are not subject to such restrictions.

    3. Makes sense that you’d choose a nickname derived from George Costanza, but the thrust of your comment really sounds more like his father Frank.

  5. The developer knew full well what he was doing. This article talks about the stripping of the facade only. He also demolished 75% of the top story and all the interior walls. The city reminded him many times about historic issues, lead paint and asbestos issues. Since having his permit revoked there has been a crew working every day without permits. Apparently SF planning doesn’t have the recourse to stop these shady developers.

  6. Talk about a blast from the past, this property history is like a greatest hits from the last bubble: WaMu, National City, Wachovia, World Savings, and Lehman Brothers. Let’s hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate before the rehab is complete.

  7. it’s the wild west, children. Do what you want. By the time the “government” figures it out you can cash out and be far far away. SF’s just another place where big money rules and the only difference is that we have gays and peoples of color to make us feel “not evil” but we are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *