MARBLEHEAD — It took just an hour and a half for an excavator to tear down Wayne Johnson's house at 74 Bubier Road yesterday morning, ending a 16-year legal fight with his neighbors.
Crews spent the rest of the morning loading the rubble into several large dump trucks.
By 9 a.m. yesterday, all that could be seen from the street was the chimney and a portion of the back porch. Mangled wood and metal duct work were strewn about the property.
Neighbors have long claimed the house, built in 1996 on a quarter of an acre, was too close to their property and on an undersized lot that violated local zoning regulations. The size of the three-bedroom house was also an issue, according to court documents, infringing on the "light and air" of the property next door and cutting off a portion of John and Ruth Schey's water views on the hilly, dead-end street not far from Seaside Park.
In the end, Johnson lost the court battle, and, instead of moving the structure, he hired a company to demolish it.
He has said previously that he has spent $2 million on construction and legal costs over the years. The house was assessed at $831,300.
Neither Johnson nor his neighbors, the Scheys, or their attorney could be reached before deadline yesterday for comment.
Demolition began at 7 a.m. when crews from contractor S&T Frotton of Tewksbury began taking down sections of the house one at a time. The excavator crushed sections of the house so they could be loaded into long dump trucks. A worker sprayed water on the debris to keep down dust.
Employee Lou Moran, a blue hardhat perched on his head, stood in the road to keep onlookers and a handful of reporters and photographers from getting too close.
"I think it's sad I had to tear a house down he really liked," Moran said of Johnson.
Onlookers trickled up the street to see the spectacle.
"I think it's a shame it went this far," said Tom Hamilton of Nahant.
The legal wrangling started in the mid-1990s as Johnson sought permission to split his house lot and build a new house where his garage once stood. The Scheys objected as soon as they saw plans for the house, but Johnson obtained a building permit from the town in 1995. The neighbors sued, touching off a marathon legal battle.
Johnson proceeded with construction anyway, and in May 2000 he lost the first court battle. In the more than a decade that followed, Johnson filed — and lost — a series of appeals. He also appealed unsuccessfully to Town Meeting to make a zoning change that would have saved the house.
Last year, Land Court Judge Keith Long ordered Johnson to remove the house, saying a deal with a demolition crew had to be in place by Dec. 16.
As for the final destination for the debris, Moran said that depends on which landfill has the capacity for certain types of material, and that it would probably wind up at facilities "all over, from Maine all the way down."
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.