Township Delays Fate of Main Line Estate
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | May 15, 2009
A 1929 estate in Bryn Mawr, Pa., threatened with demolition has won a temporary reprieve. On May 13 the estate's new owner withdrew his objections to classifying the house a Class I historic resource—a designation which permits local officials to deny demolition permits.
The 51-room mansion known as La Ronda sold for $2.5 million to a buyer who applied for a demolition permit in March. According to attorney Joseph Kuhls, the owner wants to build a 10,000-square-foot mansion to replace the existing 14,000-square-foot residence.
At a meeting this week, the local board of commissioners said it would vote on La Ronda's future June 3. Commissioners could impose a demolition delay of 90 days. They cannot do more because the house is currently classified a "Class II" historic resource.
"There is a possibility that this building could be sold to a preservation-minded buyer," says Lori Salganicoff of the Lower Merion Conservancy. "We are searching for that buyer."
Architect Addison Mizner, famous for his iconic Palm Beach houses, designed La Ronda for leather magnate Percival Foerderer. Mizner's Mediterranean Revival villa, gate house, and garage have survived intact—rare examples of his work in the northeast—but the original 250-acre estate has shrunk to only 3.2 acres.
According to an environmental-impact study of La Ronda, the property is significant enough to "warrant an examination of alternatives" to demolition, said Paoli-based Wise Preservation Planning in a report dated Apr. 1, 2009.
Last week, the township's historical commission recommended that the board of commissioners deny demolition.
In the meantime, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia plans to appeal to the owner, who has not yet been named: "The Preservation Alliance intends to communicate directly with [his] representatives [to explain] that it is ready, willing, and able to have constructive discussions regarding viable and beneficial options for the preservation of La Ronda," said Randy Cotton, the alliance's associate director, in an e-mail. "We hope the owner will respond positively to this offer."
At the May 13 meeting, many groups testified in favor of saving La Ronda, including representatives from the Lower Merion Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has spoken with township attorney and officials to discuss legal options and advocacy strategies.
"[La Ronda's situation] goes to the heart of the teardown problem," says Adrian Fine, director of the center for state and local policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Newcomers, often speculative developers, don't respect or think about the community at large and instead just about their own property."
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