Neighbors to Twitter co-founder: Cease and desist

Change doesn't come easily in San Francisco, so it's no surprise that history buffs are fighting Evan Williams' plans to destroy an old house.

The house Twitter co-founder Evan Williams wants to tear down to make room for a new home for his family. Trulia.com

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and his wife were trying to find a nice San Francisco neighborhood for their young family to call home. A year and half ago, they found what they were looking for, a 6,300-square-foot lot occupied by an early 1900s home that they now want to demolish to make way for a new house.

Not so fast. This is San Francisco, after all, where even little changes are hard, especially in old neighborhoods like this one, which sits near the peak of a picture postcard hill just south of famous Golden Gate park. The planned tear-down has ignited a Page Six controversy, pitting the rights of new tech money against an old community -- albeit one already littered with new tech money -- trying to stop change on one of the city's most idyllic streets.

"We don't want nouveau riches McMansions sprouting up all over our ridges," one resident wrote to San Francisco's Planning Department.

And here, at least, is one local example of the side-effect of a tech boom that the city has fought hard to fuel. San Francisco worked hard in particular to convince Twitter to keep its headquarters in town in hopes that it would amp up the tech scene north of Silicon Valley. Williams, who is 40, was Twitter's CEO before stepping down in 2010 to support more tech startups .

While he's trying to fuel the new, his future neighbors are determined to keep the old.

The strife started after Williams and Lundberg Design, the design firm hired by Williams, contacted neighbors about the couple's plans. A couple of longtime residents quickly began circulating a handwritten flyer around the neighborhood, decrying the "APPALLING" plan to demolish a "widely coveted, unique and historic (to most) house."

"TEAR DOWN is NEEDLESS, WASTEFUL, POLLUTION, DISRESPECTFUL," the flyer said in all caps. It asked people to send in one letter per person if possible because "volume counts."

It was enough to get the history buffs in the San Francisco up in arms. Louis Christian Mullgardt, who designed the former DeYoung Museum building as well as many homes throughout the Bay Area after the 1906 earthquake, also happened to be the original designer of the property Williams bought. It appears to be Mullgardt's first residential design for the city.

Since then hundreds of letters have poured into the planning department, where Lundberg Design filed an environmental review application for the project in May. Nearly all of the letters are form letters -- duplicates that were signed by various neighbors, as well as others who live elsewhere in the city and beyond.

The letter argues that the home has historical significance and tearing it down would mean pollution and would be "potentially dangerous to surrounding homes as well as to children."

Williams was unavailable for comment.

A self-described farm boy from Nebraska, Williams probably expected a clash when he first decided to spend his new-found tech fortune on a new home. The 101-year-old residence underwent a historic review in April 2011 to give the family an idea of what it could do in terms of renovation. The company hired to do the review, Carey & Co Inc. Architecture, said the building has been remodeled and renovated to the point where it is no longer a historic building.

"While it was highly significant when it was constructed, alterations made to the building (around) 1970 destroyed historic fabric and transformed two of the facades, including the primary facade, beyond recognition," the report reads.

The project is at the beginning of the application process for environmental review, and, it may be a while. The city hasn't processed the application yet, due to a backlog of cases. Williams still has plenty of hoops to jump through in the public process, which includes permitting from the city's building department.

Williams isn't alone in his neighborhood woes. Other high tech moguls have run into opposition from neighbors, including late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was trying to demolish a Woodside property and rebuild as well, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who sued his Pacific Heights neighbors last year for their overgrown trees. Ellison's Pacific Heights residence was, coincidentally, designed by Lundberg Design.

Williams isn't looking to build a sprawling complex, according to some of preliminary sketches filed with the city's planning department, but it seems some San Francisco residents can't accept that a bustling tech scene comes with new neighbors who like to change things up.

Update, 12:50 p.m. PT: Updated with year historical review report was published.

 

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