Now here’s an unusual case of NIMBYism: Evan Williams, co-founder of the social media outlet Twitter, has plans to construct a 7,700-square-foot property in a wealthy San Francisco suburb with enough solar panels and green roofs to qualify as a net zero energy building. His riled-up neighbors have more than 140 characters to say about that. In fact, more than 240 opposition letters have been sent to the city’s Planning Department. Why? Because Williams plans to tear down and replace his current home, a 1911 relic of the Arts and Crafts movement designed by American architect Louis Christian Mullgardt.
While preservationist agendas are usually streaked with moral purpose, sometimes the urge to preserve stems from a simple fear of change. This may be the case in Parnassus Heights, the affluent Bay Area neighborhood where the over 100-year-old Mullgardt home sits. Williams purchased the home in January 2011 and had it evaluated for a potential renovation, according to Cnet. The resulting report, issued by Carey & Co Inc. Architecture, concluded that the damage was done over 40 years ago, when the building underwent a renovation that “destroyed historic fabric and transformed two of the facades, including the primary façade, beyond recognition.”
Meanwhile, plans for Williams’ new home actually show an attempt by local firm Lundberg Design to construct a discreet replacement instead of a flashy statement for the Twitter multi-millionaire. Though the square footage of the house would increase, the architects intend to lower its height by a full 18 feet so as not to obstruct views of the San Francisco skyline.
Yet some neighbors have not warmed up to the idea. “This is such a unique property and it adds diversity of architectural interest to the neighborhood,” said one neighbor, Elizabeth Wang, to the San Francisco Examiner. One can easily sympathize with Wang, as the renovated Mullgardt home still reflects the streamlined sensibilities of pre-modern design.
But the general concern seems to be not for the architecture itself but for the precedent the building would set were it to be razed. Neighbors fear that the demolition will precipitate a sea change in the character of the neighborhood. For some, defending a building that is a “potential historic resource” has justified threatening behavior toward Williams, who is not the first Bay Area tech entrepreneur to face such hostility. While Williams could have picked a less contentious spot to build his eco-home, he also has the right to stand up to proponents of dogmatic preservation.