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Man Who Demolished Landmark San Francisco House Ordered To Build Replica

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The San Francisco Planning Commission made an unprecedented ruling against a developer this week, demanding that he rebuild a replica of a famous house he had illegally demolished.

The residence -- known as the Largent House -- was in San Francisco's Twin Peaks neighborhood. It was built in 1936 and designed by one of the most important modern architects, Richard Neutra. Among the unique features of the 1,300 square-foot house was an indoor swimming pool.

Neighbor Cheryl Traverce filed a complaint to the city after returning from a trip and discovering the home had been demolished

"I went to New York for about a week and half and came back, the house was gone, totally gone," she told KPIX 5. "I was shocked."

Traverce said the planning commission's ruling "is a victory for the neighbors and the little people."

The owner, Ross Johnston, bought the property last year. The planning department gave him a permit to renovate the house, but they did not give him the permission to demolish it.

The city believes he wanted to build a 4,000 square-foot mansion on that lot and flip it for a profit.

Earlier this week, the planning commissioners voted 5-0 to order Johnston to build the exact replica. They also want him to put up a sidewalk plaque that would let people know the original Neutra house was demolished.

Commissioner Dennis Richards says a lot of house flippers are trying to dupe the city.

"Demolishing a $1.2 million house and replacing it with a $5 million house only makes the affordability that much worse in the city," he said. "We're finding there's an epidemic of these kinds of things happening."

He hopes this ruling will send a strong message, "if a developer has even a thought of demolishing a house illegally, I'd like them to go up to 49 Hopkins and take a look at the plaque, because this is what's going to happen in the future."

Johnston's lawyer declined to comment on our story. The city says even if he tries to sell the property, whoever buys the lot will have to build the replica.

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