Crews Demolish McKennan Park House

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The most-talked-about house in South Dakota is now a pile of debris.

Crews demolished the controversial house in McKennan Park on Thursday. It took just about four hours. The demolition caps a three-year legal dispute between its owners, the Sapienza family, and their neighbors, the McDowell family.

The case moved through circuit court to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Previously, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a circuit court’s ruling the house violated several historic codes. After that, the Sapienzas presented plans to modify the home to the Sioux Falls Board of Historic Preservation. The board rejected those plans. Finally, a judge ordered the Sapienzas to either tear it down or move it. The family filed a permit to tear it down earlier in the week. 

It took countless hours to build the large yellow house across from McKennan Park. It took three years for the case to go through court room after court room. At 8 a.m. Thursday morning, it took just a few seconds for a machine to tear through it like paper. Crowds of people showed up early, and gathered across the street in McKennan Park. Some people even brought lawn chairs to sit and watch or record the demolition. 

Here’s background on the case. Barbara and Pierce McDowell sued their next door neighbors, Joseph “Josh” Sapienza and Sarah Jones Sapienza for violating historic codes. They claimed their neighbors were building their house too large and too close to their house. Ultimately this prevented the McDowells from legally using their fireplace. 

“My clients did nothing wrong. Their house just sat there. This hasn’t been pretty for them by any means,” Steve Johnson, attorney for the McDowell family, said.

When this all began, Johnson says they filed an injunction to stop construction. 

“The home has to come down. It’s unfortunate, but, you know, we gave them notice three years ago not to proceed, and they decided to do it anyway,” Johnson said. 

The Sapienzas’ attorney, Dick Travis, has never commented on the case to KELOLAND News. He also did not return a call KELOLAND News made on Thursday to request a comment on the demolition.   

In court, he argued his clients followed the rules when they were building it. Travis also said the Board of Historic Preservation approved their plans, the City of Sioux Falls gave them the building permits, and they passed multiple building inspections. 

The South Dakota Supreme Court determined the City wasn’t negligent in permitting construction of this home. Owner Sarah Jones Sapienza, who stood outside and watched crews tear down her home, sees it differently. 

Sarah: “The City made a mistake, the historic board made a mistake. I did not make a mistake.”
Brady Mallory: “Could I ask you about that and get your side out?”
Sarah: “No.”

She declined an interview. 

It’s important to note the actual house was bigger and differed from the original plans the Board of Historic Preservation approved. The McDowells’ attorney argued this proved the Sapienzas misrepresented their plans. According to court paper work, their attorney says they did inform the board about the changes. The house’s original designer criticized the finished product, and called it a, “suburban sh*t stack.” 

The house has garnered a lot of interest. KELOLAND News posted videos of the demolition to social media Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, more than 20,000 viewers had watched. One of the most asked questions is about what the owners will do next. Neighbors tell us they’ve heard they will rebuild on the same lot. However, since they Sapienzas nor their attorney have never given us an interview, that isn’t confirmed. KELOLAND News can confirm, however, they donated parts of their house to Habitat for Humanity. An employee there says they received doors, windows, and cabinetry from the house. 

Johnson says this outcome could impact similar cases all over the state. He also said the house’s demolition came down to the law.

“If somebody violates the law, do they just pay a fine and then the house sits here for the next hundred years and other homeowners have to suffer through it, or other people say they got by with it then I don’t have to comply either?”


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