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La Ronda, Here today — gone? or moved? tomorrow

August 28, 2009
La Ronda, rear facade

La Ronda, rear facade

Preservationists get a bad rap for being obstructionist snobs who think they can tell other people what to do with their own property.  The stereotype includes that “throw yourself in front of the bulldozers” zealotry that actually has a fairly reasonable explanation.

You see, a lot of historic preservation is actually about waiting, fundraising, patching, caring, nurturing — quiet stuff that takes place over years and even decades.  But the stuff that gets attention is when a threat suddenly appears to some local landmark (of local or national importance, that part doesn’t really matter) because the preservationists — and other locals who have lived with the [now threatened] house or place or institution for all of their lifetime memory — assumed that if the place had lasted 100 years or more, it was going to be there for the foreseeable future.  Then a bulldozer appears on the horizon and comes the shocking realization that a landmark everyone assumed was valued by the community is not valued by the person who now owns it.  And so they (the preservationists and members of the community who may discover they are preservationists when they are moved to help save something they love), step in to try and protect the landmark.

This plays out every day all around the world.  Out with the old, in with the new.  And let me say this loud and clear — preservationists are not against the new.  In fact, I’m getting tired of the default use of “McMansion” to describe whatever goes in place of what was there.  New buildings that contribute something to our world are more than welcome.  It’s just that when you take down one of the “they just don’t/can’t build ’em like that anymore” places and replace it with uninspired conglomerations of wallboard and faux whatever — that’s when you begin to get into McMansion territory (the dirogatory “Mc” label defining all that is bland and mass produced in our modern world).

We’ve got one of these awful tales going on now, and whether or not the proposed new home is a “Mc” or not, I can’t say.  I haven’t seen the designs.  But I do know, for a fact, that the house coming down is a rare treasure, a 1929 Mediterranean-flavored mansion of the “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” variety.  It’s a castle, it’s a vision, it’s the last of its kind built by architect Addison Mizner, well-regarded for his Florida-sited playgrounds for the rich (many of them famous Philadelphia family names who obviously like to spend their winters sipping cocktails poolside away from Philadelphia’s icy chill).  (Think Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant in “The Philadelphia Story but add palm trees.)

For a wonderful visual overview a la Mizner, check this post at Erin Gates’ delightful Elements of Style blog.

And its loss (if the preservationists don’t succeed in preserving it) will be a tragedy, as a fan of the architect’s work has stepped forward with an offer to move the building (and buy a nearby empty lot to put the house on and move his family here from another state to live in it).  Unfortunately, as of this writing, the lawyer representing the owner has declined a first offer and not responded to a second (so say press reports).

The building has been stripped of much of the interior architectural detailing of value (fixtures, mantels, etc.) but even that doesn’t seem to matter to the hopeful new building owner who figures if he knows where it’s stored, he can buy it back and reinstall it all.

Doesn’t it seem obvious that this deal should go through?  Doesn’t it seem like a win/win for everyone?  Doesn’t it seem as though the owner has nothing to lose (but some time while the building is moved off the site) by selling the structure and delaying the start on building his own new house? 

The clock is ticking.

La Ronda’s stay of execution is running out. 

See what Adrian Scott Fine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has to say here.

And here’s press coverage about the issue, from Philadelphia and beyond.  

And if you’d like to be one of those people who are called preservationists, obstructionists, people who care about a beloved part of their neighborhood, people who can’t understand why the owner didn’t buy an empty lot in the first place, architect fans, lovers of quirky buildings, mediators, negotiators, people with hope…

you may want to attend a rally in support of the building’s rescue on August 31st at 4:00 pm

Stand up and be heard! Join local media and concerned citizens Monday evening August 31, 2009 at 4pm as we make a direct appeal to the owner of La Ronda to preserve this magnificent home. Come to La Ronda at 1030 Mount Pleasant Road in Bryn Mawr on the eve of the day that demolition may begin and stand united with others as we attach a name to the mysterious owner. Tell the owner that destroying La Ronda is totally unacceptable. Local media will be there to cover this event. Please sign up here (you can do so anonymously) to show your support and to commit to attending. Please tell your friends. We would love to have at least 100 people there to send the message that this community values La Ronda.

More info at Save La Ronda Now (also on Facebook!)   And, to be clear, the “sign up here” link above is a petition, and you may want to read it and sign if you think the owner should give the house a chance to be moved, even if you can’t be at the rally in person.

Floridians — will you be sending a busload of supporters?  (I’d love to see the front lawn of this place filled with those plastic pink flamingos.  Please bring some with you.  A great art installation to remember the place by, just in case….)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 10:34 am

    I absolutely hate stories like this. One has to wonder what goes through the current owner’s mind that preservation is not considered an option. Keep us posted, Sabra!

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      September 1, 2009 9:37 am

      I’m hoping the only reason he hasn’t responded about selling the building is because there are some complications connected with the previous owner’s salvage rights (there are guys stripping the building of light fixtures, mantels, etc. prior to demolition)

  2. August 31, 2009 8:40 pm

    Terrific blog. Good to hear from you.

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      September 1, 2009 9:39 am

      And yours is marvelous too! Must send you a link about an art installation I read about — a giant felt white whale — made me think of your Moby Dick project!

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