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Big names line up to protect modernist house

By KELLY NIX

Published: January 3, 2014

THERE ARE new efforts to prevent a Pebble Beach home designed by one of the world’s leading mid-century modern architects from being demolished, including backing from the former CEO of Knight Ridder and legal work from the attorney who has constantly thwarted Carmel’s effort to sell Flanders Mansion.

The rundown house at 1170 Signal Hill Road — designed in the 1950s by celebrated modernist architect Richard Neutra — made news in 2012 after its owner, Silicon Valley businesswoman Massy Mehdipour, proposed tearing it down so she could build a much larger, 11,933-square-foot, three-story home in its place. Her plans were met with resistance by local architects and historians.


Now, the Alliance of Monterey Area

Preservationists has launched a campaign to have the house designated as an historic resource either by the state or federal government, which would provide substantial protection for the 1958 home from being razed, under the California Environmental Quality Act. Members of AMAP and others believe the structure — often referred to as the Connell House for its first owners — exemplifies Neutra’s approach to design and is historically significant, even though it is only 55 years old.

“The Connell House is a pure example of the modernist design aesthetic,” according to the preservationist group, which is composed of architects, designers and other professionals.

Neutra, who was on the cover of Time Magazine in August 1949, designed hundreds of structures, many of them in California, before his death at age 78 in 1970. Most of  those houses still exist. Nevertheless, his sons, Raymond and Dion, are also calling for the Connell House to be preserved.

Dion Neutra, who mentions the Pebble Beach home in his 2012 book “The Neutras Then & Later,” called the building “irreplaceable,” and said, “It would be a great tragedy to lose the only authentic Richard Neutra design in all of Monterey County.”

He added: “It remains to be seen if via this [historic] nomination, we can really effect the salvation of this icon, the only un-messed-up example of our ’50s work in the area.”


Flanders attorney retained

The idea of demolishing the house is also bothering a high-profile neighbor. Tony Ridder, the former CEO of the Knight Ridder media company (which owned the Monterey County Herald from 1997 until 2006), has retained Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney who has for years fought to prevent Carmel-by-the-Sea from selling Flanders Mansion.

“I don’t know exactly yet what our plan is going to be because I’ve just gotten involved,” Brandt-Hawley told The Pine Cone Tuesday “But it’s a very important house and I am working on it.”

Although Ridder lives about a half-mile away from the Connell House, on the other side of the Cypress Point golf course, he said he’s always been interested in architecture and once lived in a home in Woodside designed by the late Joseph Esherick, whose work also includes the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He wants the Neutra house preserved.

“My interest is preserving important historically significant homes and buildings, period,” Ridder told The Pine Cone. “There are lots of other places [Mehdipour] can build a home without tearing down something that is historically important.”

Mehdipour could not be reached this week for comment.


Carmel involved

In a parallel effort, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Historic Resources Board sent a Dec. 17, 2013, letter to Monterey County officials reiterating the structure’s significance and requesting the county turn down Mehdipour’s application to demolish it.

“Neutra is internationally renowned and universally considered one of the Modern Masters of 20th architecture, a very exclusive group limited to the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Mies Van Der Rohe,” according to the letter written by Erik D. Dyar, an architect and the chair of Carmel’s HRB.

Dyar also said the house is a wonderful example for architects and designers, and noted the building’s “oeuvre for its exceptionally beautiful site overlooking Monterey Bay and Cypress Point Golf Club” and Neutra’s ability to “sensitively integrate the structure with the landscape.”

On behalf of the HRB, Dyar also urged the county to prevent demolition of the home “by neglect.” The front door and numerous windows of the house — which has been unoccupied for many years — were boarded up in the past few months. Mehdipour bought the house in 2004.

In July 2013, the Monterey County planning department notified Mehdipour — founder and CEO of Menlo Park-based high tech company, Skire Inc. — that an environmental impact report would be required before it could consider demolition of the house.

Senior Monterey County planner Delinda Robinson also told Mehdipour that “there is a fair argument that the demolition of the existing residence on your property could cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historical resource.”

Meanwhile, architectural historian Anthony Kirk of Santa Cruz and Neutra expert Barbara Lamprecht are working on the paperwork for the historic designation.

AMAP’s efforts can be tracked at www.amap1.org.