Built in 1936 and known in architectural circles as the Largent House, the modernist home at 49 Hopkins Avenue hit the market listed for $1.475 million in 2013 and sold for $1.4 million that December. From the listing at the time:

“One of a kind trophy home in Twin Peaks with jaw dropping panoramic views & an indoor heated salt water swimming pool. Originally designed by famed architect Richard Neutra, this modern masterpiece is flooded with natural light & surrounded by natural beauty…One of the most unique & inspiring architectural spaces in SF provides a celebrity lifestyle residence with incredible nature hikes right outside your door. Once in a lifetime opportunity to own this exceptionally rare offering that has been lovingly cared for & is ready for your imagination.”

Plans to remove the home’s unoriginal sunroom and pool, remodel its first and second floors and add a partial third story – which would have increased the effective height of the home by only two feet as compared to the peak of the sunroom to be removed – were subsequently approved in 2015.

But rather than remodeling, the home was quietly sold as a “fully entitled project” to a developer hidden behind the 49Hopkins LLC for $1.7 million this past January.

And by way of KG Construction, the developer has just torn 49 Hopkins down to the ground.

To answer a tipster’s question, although 49 Hopkins was the first house in San Francisco designed by the renowned Neutra, it had been significantly altered over the years and hadn’t qualified as a protected historic resource.

That being said, the demolition was a bit beyond the scope of the aforementioned “remodel” which had been approved by the City and a notice of violation and formal complaint have been issued.

But beyond a potential fine, it would appear the only other penalty currently being pursued by the City is to require a new set of drawings for the project which would generally conform with the finished project as originally approved. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

70 thoughts on “First Richard Neutra Designed Home in SF Illegally Razed”
  1. sounds like a classic case of asking for forgiveness instead of permission. what a shame. i certainly hope a vanilla “contemporary” box doesn’t go up in its place.

        1. Has Socketsite done a post on this yet? Mandelman and Peskin’s “Housing Preservation and Expansion Reform Act” ?

          Seemingly they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Permit sponsors are going to need conditional use permits in order to add 10 percent to gross square footage. 10 percent.

          So, anyone who wants to build into the space behind their garages or build out an attic is going to be hosed. As if Planning isn’t dysfunctional enough as it is.

          I’m so sick of these kooks on city council.

        2. Has Socketsite done a post on this yet? Sens. Wieckowski and Wiener’s “accessory dwelling units” liberalization?

          Landlords are going to be able to build in-law units in back of or next to their homes and the State will force The City to waive any service fees usually charged to newly permitted in-law units. These impact fees help pay for local schools, sewer and storm water services.

          You’ll recall that Bob Wieckowski was the guy behind Senate Bill 1069, which passed last year and created the concept of an “accessory dwelling unit”, relaxing standards for parking requirements, utility connections, lot density, unit size relative to the existing home, and building permits. Apparently clicking your heels three times while yelling “YIMBY”, “YIMBY”, “YIMBY” didn’t resolve the housing crisis in a year, so now he and Wiener are back with SB 831 which would create an amnesty program for existing unpermitted units! Way to incentivize illegal granny units built without permits by greed landlords out to put more illegal hotels in residential neighborhoods for listing on AirBnB, Bob!

          I’m so sick of these kooks in the State Senate.

          1. Do you understand how problematic the creation of ADUs has been at this stage? Do you understand why?

            What would you do to assist in the creation of code compliant additional units?

          2. I’ll give my points to ‘Brahma’ on this one, since s/he (at least) didn’t identify a non-existent entity (hint: a combined city/county has not a council but a Board of Supervisors)

            But if we can get back to the actual topic at hand for a minute – this demolition: has no one a comment on the proposed remedy? The whole country is talking about it, I don’t know why we shouldn’t as well….

          3. The board of supervisors are the city council here in SF City and County. But yeah, I took it off topic. My fault.

          4. Notcom, thanks for posting that link, I did not catch that piece earlier in the week. It’d be wonderful to think that the greedhead ignorant flipper who illegally demolished this place will be punished for his actions and the home will be restored, but I think it’s unlikely that will actually happen.

            The LLC will probably sell the property (for a song, since according to The Post “the construction mandate would carry over for any owner afterward”) and then declare bankruptcy and the actual flipper will carry on to his next project unscathed. That’s one big reason that flippers use LLCs in the first place, to escape liability.

            I hope The City sues the heck out of KG Construction for the illegal demolition.

    1. Probably everyone on this site could name a dozen “remodels” that were really tear-downs. The City does not enforce and seemingly does not care. Keep one tiny element of the original structure, which oops, turns out to be structurally unsound so has to be removed too, and call it a remodel.

      1. How does this work/happen? I have see this in my neighborhood and there is one house by Deloris and 29th that only has one wall left.

        Is there any long form articles talking about how this became common practice and why?

        1. I’d like to understand that, too. As an architect of remodels, I keep hearing from planners, the phrase “tantamount to demolition,” when a certain percentage of interior and/or exterior walls are removed. It seems that the “one wall standing” concept would qualify as tantamount to demolition.

  2. Does look like they missed the opportunity to cut down the neighbors tree across the street. That would have improved the view.

    1. (Snark): no worries…in this location, there is a view maybe a couple of dozen times a year between noon and two.

  3. I know this might sound crazy, but perhaps if contractors who tear down buildings without a proper permit faced losing their license this sort of thing might not happen so often.

    1. Or perhaps the real estate agents/brokers that front the LLC should take a hit as well? Pretty bold that someone that conducts business so regularly in SF would sit behind this work. A little discovery by the city atty should clear things up.

    2. Everyone involved should be held responsible. Unless the fine is equal to the sale price, this won’t stop anyone.

      1. I don’t agree that it has to be equal to the sales price, but clearly it needs to be significantly higher than it currently is. Specifically it needs to be high enough that no one would run the numbers and say “it still makes economical sense to tear it down without a permit.”

  4. May I propose a simple remedy: if you “mistakenly” – as Dan Savage calls them, “How’d THAT happen” moments – demolish some protected building (and it’s not clear that was the case here, although i’m not sure why it’s being brought up if this is just a simple permitting issue) you forfeit the property. Much as you forfeit property if you don’t pay (property) taxes.

    Let the 4th – and perhaps 8th – Amendment arguments begin.

    1. Of course, you can make any “modest proposal,” you like. There are legal and political reasons why such a penalty would never be implemented. There is no need to waste time debating/discussing something that will never happen.

      So, let’s all descend from our flights of fancy and deal with reality.

  5. I used to live around the corner and always liked glancing at it as I strained against the gradiant of the hill. It had a remarkable presence from the curb. Sad to see it go in this fashion.

  6. When will the public execution occur? I am guessing the board of supervisors will insist on a hanging in front of City Hall.

    1. As someone who has consistently followed the rules and bizarre edicts laid down by planning and DBI, and paid very dearly for the privilege of doing that, I have no problem saying that those who so brazenly disregard the rules need to be severely punished. Otherwise the rest of us won’t be so dumb as to follow the rules the next time around.

  7. It didn’t look like much to me, but if you are going to tear it down get a permit for that instead of a permit for a remodel.

  8. If it is going to look in the end like the approved plans suggested, why should I care if it’s built out of old wood and concrete or new wood and concrete to current code?

    1. So you think that is what is going to happen here?

      Can you give a couple of examples where a house has been leveled because of poor materials and then rebuild to the same architectural standards but with better materials?

      If that was to happen, you have made a good point.

  9. contact Docomomo_Norcal, perhaps a lawsuit and full rebuild is in the works…
    NTHP – National Trust for Historic Preservation
    SF Preservation Consortium
    SF Heritage

    1. Doubt it. The structure had already been remodeled years ago beyond recognition. It didn’t qualify for historic designation

  10. Regardless of historical significance, I think the greater issue involves city corruption. Someone’s hands were greased along the way and as someone else pointed out it’s the typical act for forgiveness (pay some slap on the wrist fine) rather than permission. Then again people in this town do whatever they want and feel like they are exempt from rules and regulations.

  11. As usual, SF Planning will slap corrupt developer’s hand and allow the project to proceed. No wonder there are so many SF repeat offenders.

  12. These contractors should all get medals. The only outrage here is that the chronically outraged class of Internet chatterboxes thinks this rotting, uninsulated, crooked piece of junk should have been preserved.

    1. Actually, my take is that it’s an issue of fairness. If people pull permits in good faith, and jump through all the hoops to do so, then they should be allowed to tear something down. Why give medals to cheaters, when there are plenty of contractors that try to play by the rules?

      1. Sure, the rules. I don’t seriously condone lawlessness, but my beef is with the rules. 99.5% of structures in San Francisco deserve nothing but total and utter destruction. Very few of them deserve any kind of preservation. Way, way fewer than people seem to think. I don’t know why people want to spend their lives in a city completely full of moldy, crooked shacks.

        1. You are missing the point, jwb. One can argue about whether the structure should have been preserved. The issue here is that these folks sought out permits for one thing and then set out to do something totally different.

          If they wanted to demo it, they should have sought permission to do that by following the rules that the rest of us have to live by. I happen to agree that those rules are sometimes absurd, but the solution to that cannot be outright contempt for them.

          1. Sure jwb, I bought my 100+ yr old house to tear it down so I could build a grey box in its place… btw, welcome, Market goes downtown, Van ness towards the bridge, Geary towards the sea.

  13. I saw another project like this in a different city. The city slapped a “Stop Work” notice on the site and didn’t lift it for two years, in no hurry to speed the process along. Then they made them build a new building that looked EXACTLY the same as the old one from the street. I’m sure they paid a fine, but it was nothing compared with the reconstruction of the original facade.

      1. “Councilman Marc Berman said he was ‘heated’ when he first heard about the demolition — so heated that would’ve signed off on a $1 million or a $2 million fine”

        Marc rocks…well, at least until he recanted.

    1. SF is one of the most mismanaged cities in the nation and one of the most corrupt. Think TTC, think TI and Lennar and its political connections. Rules are blatantly disregarded. There are up to 20 RV/SUVs parked along Lake Merced across from the Lake Merced apartments with people living in them. Illegal – but the police will only do something is there is a criminal act associated with the person living in the RV. Hence nothing gets done – the law is ignored with a wink and a nod.

    1. Wait, what? Are you saying a complete demo would reset the tax basis to market value, but keeping one wall of the garage allows the assessment to be last sale price plus Reno costs? Of course, it’s a moot point if they just flip it, since the value will reset to the new sale price.

      1. That’s not correct. The property is reassessed to the extent of the new construction. There is no “one wall” exception.

    2. I am continuously amazed by the large number of people that suffer from this delusion. Keeping one wall or ten feet of foundation or the entire foundation or even most of the original framing will NOT preserve your Prop 13 assessment base value. Maybe whatever city your project is in will give you some kind of permitting break when you try to label a 99% demo as a remodel but the tax code is a very different animal.

  14. “this rotting, uninsulated, crooked piece of junk”
    “99.5% of structures in San Francisco deserve nothing but total and utter destruction. Very few of them deserve any kind of preservation. Way, way fewer than people seem to think. I don’t know why people want to spend their lives in a city completely full of moldy, crooked shacks.”

    Please note that this was one of four houses in San Francisco designed by Richard Neutra, the most important 20th century residential architect in California, and perhaps second only to Frank Lloyd Wright as the most important national residential architect. Yes, there are a lot of crazies who can’t differentiate “old” from “historic” or “important” but this was a known, important, historic building.

  15. Call me crazy but i would much rather live in an old timber house than one of those sheetrock and steel tombs. This house was beautiful. All i know is that that outright brazen act of defiance and lawlessness deservers to cost them a lot of money AND TIME! I agree with the person who said they should have to rebuild the exterior to exactly recreate what they tore down illegally. I am so tired of the greed in this town. It is so unbecoming!

  16. “A distinction is usually made between historic (important, significant) and historical (pertaining to history): a historic decision; a historical perspective” – Collins English Dictionary

    As the dictionary says, it was an important building. An historic building.

  17. You are not crazy, you just don’t know what you are talking about.

    The old house would have been make of timber yes, but also Sheetrock, most likely asbestos containing sheet rock. The new house would also be constructed of timber and Sheetrock as every other house in SF, just without the the asbestos.

    Any steel used will be installed to provide lateral reinforcement in the event of an earthquake. The steel in the form of a moment frame is usually installed at the front due to large opening such as windows. FYI, Sheetrock is a brand, you should refer to it as drywall.

    There is a sentiment among the builder community that to survive in SF you have to bend the rules to get around the bureaucracy. Up to 5 years to permit and build a new construction project vs 18 months if it’s a remodel. A typical recession cycle is 7 years making a 5 year project very risky.

    Developers would be happy to retain or demolish, change or recreate any element of any building if they could get the permit in a reasonable amount of time. Since when is wanting to build houses greedy?

  18. It’s not “down to the ground”! There’s a little corner bit sticking up. I like how these guys roll… ballsy.

  19. Status update, especially for folks who thought that The City might actually make the developer “…build a new building that looked EXACTLY the same as the old one from the street” after the illegal demolition. From The Associated Press yesterday, SF reverses ruling on illegally demolished house:

    The city Planning Commission in December ordered Ross Johnston to rebuild the home and add a sidewalk plaque describing the home’s origins, demolition and replication. The board reversed itself Thursday after a lawsuit by Johnson, instead approving a larger two-unit structure.…commissioners abandoned the directive after the city attorney’s office said they were unlikely to win the $10 million lawsuit.

    Emphasis mine. So there you go folks, crime does pay, as long as you have the money to pay some lawyers, go right ahead and exceed your permitted changes to a to-be-flipped property.

  20. Interesting that SocketSite doesn’t report the follow up story.
    Should he pay the fine for demolishing without a permit, yes.
    The Planning Commission clearly exceeded their bounds, smart that the developer decided to sue and the city attorney recognized it. For too long, the Commission does whatever it wants and tramples over property rights.

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