Here's a good article from the involved parties' hometown, sheding some light on the real estate tycoon Rotenberg who commited this act:
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
April 20, 2002, Saturday, Metro Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 1A
LENGTH: 1417 words
HEADLINE: Razing of historic house raises California hackles;
Minnesotans built it; another tore it down
BYLINE: Jon Tevlin; Staff Writer
The Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., is the kind of
place where legacy lives. Its early residents included the Marx
Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Danny Kaye, who built elegant
homes near the emerald green golf course lined with palms and weeping
A prominent Minnesota lawyer, Samuel Maslon, and his wife, Luella,
joined them in 1962, when they built what many consider a gem of
Modernism using the designs of respected architect Richard Neutra. It
was an art-filled home that has been featured in books and magazines
and on historical tours. Called the Maslon House, it was, as Beth Mac
Lamprecht, author of a book on Neutra, said recently, "his most
mature, self-assured example of Modernism; a floating pavilion filled
with art, adjacent to this endless plane of green."
Today the Maslon House is rubble, and outraged architects are blaming
another Minnesota man, Minnetonka developer Richard Rotenberg.
Rotenberg bought the house Feb. 28 for $2.45 million, then, within
days of closing, demolished it.
Since the Los Angeles Times wrote about the demolition last week,
Rotenberg's actions have caused an outcry. Residents of Rancho Mirage,
including some Minnesotans, say they are heartsick for the Maslons.
Preservationists and prominent architects, many of whom gathered in
Los Angeles this week, say they plan to use the Maslon House
destruction as a "galvanizing force" to persuade cities to guard
historic houses better.
Jim Maslon, heir to Samuel and Luella Maslon's historic home, says
that Rotenberg deceived them into thinking he would preserve it and
that he wants an explanation.
But Rotenberg's not talking about his relationship with the Maslons or
what he plans to do with the property. Everyone agrees that Rotenberg
broke no laws. The house was not officially designated as a historical
landmark, and the city of Rancho Mirage issues demolition permits over
the counter. Activists say that could change.
In a letter to the Star Tribune, Jim Maslon, son of the now-deceased
founder of the Minneapolis law firm Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand,
wrote about "this terrible tragedy that befell our family home. . . .
We were totally deceived by Mr. Rotenberg, who never in any way
indicated that he would tear the house down," Maslon wrote. "If we had
known the truth, we never ever would have sold him the house."
In an interview, Maslon said the family purposely asked $2.5 million
for the house, even though its true market value was only $1.6
million. "We figured that if anyone would pay so much over the value,
it was only because they understood the investment potential and
historic nature of the home."
Maslon also said Rotenberg even told neighbors shortly before closing
that he would make only minor repairs.
Edith Nadler, a Minnesota resident who has a winter home next to the
Maslon site, is one. "But I really can't say anything, because this
man is moving in next door," she said. "I can tell you that people
here are hysterical."
The Neutra name
To the architecture community and preservationists, the Neutra name is
fabled. Neutra, who died in 1970, spent much of his time in the Los
Angeles area and began creating modern masterpieces in the late 1920s
that contrasted sharply with the Spanish haciendas of the time. His
Lovell Health House of 1929 was included in the first architecture
show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1949, Time magazine
put Neutra on its cover.
The Maslons were well known locally and in the tony enclaves
surrounding Palm Springs, where dozens of wealthy Minnesotans have
migrated during the winter. Yet few people locally knew that the
Maslons had accumulated a spectacular art collection that is being
auctioned at Sotheby's this month, estimated to be worth about $30
Leo Marmol of Marmol Radziner+Associates, an architecture firm that
specializes in Modernist renovations, recalls a visit in recent years
with Luella Maslon, who died last July.
"She was a lovely person," said Marmol. "I remember her sitting so
peacefully and talking so proudly about her relationship with the
house and the art. This building embodied the spirit and lives of the
people who lived there.
"It's not that the raw material can't be changed or adapted," added
Marmol. Most Neutra houses can be made more livable, while retaining
their original purpose and fit with the community, he said.
"This particular house was important in many ways," Marmol said.
"Unlike others, this house was in its true original condition, and
it's one of the last owner-occupied Neutra homes. This house was the
perfect human-made machine, placed into the highly designed spaces of
a golf course."
Marmol said the Maslons opened their house to artists and architects.
In recent years it was a favorite on historical tours of Southern
Rotenberg, in contrast, has kept a fairly low profile despite his
apparent wealth. Those who know him say he grew up in Golden Valley,
then moved to San Diego to attend law school, which he didn't finish.
He started his real estate career in Beverly Hills shortly thereafter.
Rotenberg, 45, moved back to Minnesota several years ago. He owns
developments in Minnetonka called Emerald Ridge and Emerald Woods,
neighborhoods of $600,000 homes near Interstate Hwys. 494 and 394
(where he was a member of the Architecture Control Committee) as well
as a commercial building near Ridgedale. He lives in a $1.7 million,
8,000-square-foot house in Emerald Ridge.
Local builders and architects who have worked with Rotenberg declined
to discuss his work in the Twin Cities.
Minnetonka City Council members say that dealings with Rotenberg over
building issues have been uneventful, but that he did stand out the
first time he introduced himself. "He stood up and said, 'Richard
Rotenberg, Beverly Hills, 90210,' " said Council Member Dick
Allendorf. "That kind of got my attention."
When buying the Maslon house, however, he played up his Minnesota
roots, say people who met him. In fact, he told the Maslons'
neighbors, George and Edith Nadler, that he was a friend of their son.
In fact, said George Nadler, their son is not a friend of Rotenberg.
Records show that Rotenberg does own a home on Rodeo Drive in Beverly
Hills. He also owns a black Lexus bearing vanity plates with his
initials, as well as a black Land Rover and black Mercedes-Benz S500.
He requested that his 2000 divorce file in Hennepin County be sealed.
Other records show he is engaged to be married this summer.
Preservationists in Southern California remain mystified by Rotenberg
and his motives, but they are sure about one thing: His behavior has
spurred them to action.
"The thing that really, really surprised everyone is that he could
demolish the house so quickly without review," said author Lamprecht.
"It was very gone, very fast."
Peter Moruzzi, chairman of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a
volunteer group dedicated to preserving Modernism, said his group and
others are already working to get cities to change their ordinances to
create a more comprehensive review process for any demolition request.
"We want to make sure this can't be done anymore in the dark of the
night without some sort of review or community input. The Maslon House
is becoming our cause celebre. It's really galvanized our community."
Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape
Architecture at the University of Minnesota, said actions such as the
Maslon House demolition are proliferating. "I'm especially concerned
about areas of the country where land values escalate and people want
to knock down something to build something bigger. I'm concerned about
it in the Macalester-Groveland area of St. Paul.
"There's always a dilemma when private property rights conflict with
the public good," said Fisher. "But it can be argued that some things
that are private property can become a public good that cannot be
destroyed by its owner, and I think the Neutra House is one.
"A person has the right to buy a Rembrandt painting and tear it up,"
said Fisher, "but when they do, society should say, 'Shame on you.' "