A Pebble Beach area homeowner who has been trying to tear down a house designed by master architect Richard Neutra for almost two decades suffered another setback this week after preservationists were granted appeals from the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

Austrian American architect Richard Joseph Neutra (1892-1970) is shown in a 1935 photo with one of the houses he designed. The Connell House in Pebble Beach is one of his many works still standing. (Los Angeles Times via Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0)

Supervisors on Tuesday heard from homeowner Massy Mehdipour and from three people who were appealing the county planning commission’s January approval of a plan to replace the historic “Connell House” off of 17 Mile Drive, which is a 4,124 square-foot single family home on Signal Hill Road, overlooking Fanshell Beach.

The plan, which drew scrutiny from the California Coastal Commission, proposed building a structure that would be about 11,933 square feet, including a 2,000 square-foot basement.

The Board voted 5-0 to grant the three appeals from a local lawyer, a local preservationist group and an architecture preservationist group represented by Mr. Neutra’s son, Raymond Neutra, who spoke of the importance of his father’s work. In granting the appeals, the board instructed staff to come back with recommendations on two alternatives that would only allow replacement of a tear down with a similarly sized dwelling.

Homeowner’s ‘nightmare’

The house was purchased by Mehdipour in 2004 with the intent of tearing it down, she told supervisors during a roughly 15-minute presentation. She said she wasn’t told until her demolition plans were submitted in 2010 that the house had historic protection. The ensuing fight with the county had been disastrous, she said, including a direction to preserve the house while a lengthy environmental impact report was completed, a process known as “mothballing.”

“It cost me an enormous amount of money, time, aggravation and frustration to implement,” Mehdipour said during the presentation, calling the experience a “nightmare.”

Six public commenters, one in person and five on Zoom, spoke in favor of what they called Mehdipour’s right to build on the property and to urge supervisors to end the nearly 20-year stalemate by approving the design plan.

A front view of the Connell House in Pebble Beach is shown from Signal Hill Road in an undated image. The house has seen a litany of vandalism and code violations since its purchase in 2004 by current owner Massy Mehdipour, who wants to tear it down and redevelop the property. (Courtesy IconicHouses.org)

The property has seen a litany of vandalism and code violations, starting with the illegal removal of three Cypress trees in 2009, and continuing to include extensive vandalism over the years that seemed to target structural elements of the house as well as more superficial damage like broken windows. The history of vandalism led multiple board members to voice skepticism about how such repeated vandalism could occur without more proactivity from the property owner, who hired a full-time security guard to remain on the property for a full year.

The county’s Historic Resources Review Board voted to deem the house historically significant in 2011 after receiving demolition plans, but such designation requires consent by the homeowner, which Mehdipour has opposed.

The house, completed in 1958, was submitted for federal historic preservation in 2012 but was not recommended for historic designation to the state.

The environmental impact report identified several issues with the original proposal, including the removal of protected trees, development within 100 feet of environmentally sensitive habitat and within 750 feet of known archeological resources.

The matter was continued to the Board’s meeting on June 27.