In this day and age, having a boatload of cash and trying to do what you think is the right thing isn’t always easy, particularly when it risks evoking the ire of the local NIMBY brigade. Just ask Alec Baldwin.
The latest homeowner to cause a stir on this front is Evan Williams, the 40-year-old entrepreneur and co-founder of an obscure micro-blogging website called Twitter. (Maybe you've heard of it?) In January 2011, Williams and his wife, Sara, purchased a lovely, Craftsman-inspired contemporary home in San Francisco’s leafy, well-heeled Parnassus Heights nabe for $2.9 million. The 5,000-square-foot residence was built in 1911 and designed by architect Louis Christian Mullgardt. Given its age and architectural significance, the Edgewood Avenue home is apparently considered by the city as a “potential historic resource.”
But as it turns out, Williams had no intention of actually living in the home when he purchased the hillside lot back in 2011. Instead, he wants to raze the existing structure and replace it with a larger (7,700 square feet) net-zero energy abode complete with solar panels, a green roof and the like (one would hope some serious deconstruction is part of the masterplan). The proposed new home also will be built away from the street and lowered by 18 feet in order to preserve line of sight views to the San Francisco skyline (not a small deal in S.F.)
And what do you know? The neighbors aren’t having any of it.
Before City Planning Department officials even had the chance to review the application submitted by Williams and architect Olle Lundberg, concerned neighbors bombarded the office with more than 240 letters opposing the demolition/construction job. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the letters overwhelmingly “express fear that a trend will emerge in which older homes are town down in favor of newer luxury homes.” Philip Ferrato at Curbed SF estimates the number of form letters submitted to the Planning Department by a group known as “Friends of Edgewood Avenue” to be even higher — over 300 — and took a gander at a few including one that’s hand-written postscript reads: “We don't want nouveau riches McMansions sprouting up all over our ridges.”
Another Parnassus Heights resident, Elizabeth Wang, writes that “this is such a unique property and it adds diversity of architectural interest to the neighborhood. It would be criminal to demolish it.” And while a neighbor named Anthony opposes the demolition of the home, he writes that “the neighbors against this have made it clear when passing out these petitions that they plan to be unhospitable and threatening.”
From Friends of Edgewood Avenue:
A complete teardown of such a home would be a precedent for our extended neighborhood and would set the stage for numerous future demolitions that will alter the character of our beloved S.F. neighborhoods.
Edgewood Avenue is a brick-lined street that features a large number of Arts and Craft homes from the early 1900s. 226 Edgewood Avenue clearly contributes in a significant way to the beauty of this unique street and its history.
Totally understandable, but here’s the thing: The historic status of Williams’ home at 226 Edgewood Ave. may have been impacted by a series of extensive renovations in the 1970s. As Ferrato notes, the home has been “stripped of its dignity and details over the decades, subdivided into apartments and then rebuilt by architect Thomas Eden in what's best described as faux-Frank Lloyd Wright with trapezoidal windows.” So there's that.
"They’ve dreamed of being in this neighborhood,” says Lundberg of his clients. “They’re in this for the long term. I think they’re psychologically ready.” It would be an understatment to say that the neighbors are not.
Demolishing an older home, historic or not, and replacing it with a sustainable one doesn't always garner a homeowner with a get out of jail free card. But from the sounds of it, the battle here isn't exactly over the demolishment of 226 Edgewood Ave. itself — it's more about preventing further raze and build projects from disrupting the staid neighborhood in the future. Anyone familiar with the controversy care to chime in?
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