La Ronda Comes Down: 10/1/09

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carla's picture
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Kathleen Abplanalp sent a message to the members of Save La Ronda.

Subject: La Ronda demolished

"The Kestenbaum's workers began demolishing La Ronda at 8:00 a.m. this morning. Wasting no time, they ripped into the walls of the 80-year old National Register - eligible mansion with alarming speed and blithe regard for the impact of their actions. By week's end, the house will be gone. The deafening sound of cracking timbers and crumbling masonry could be heard above the din of news helicopters flying overhead."

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Church bells tolling in the distance at noon. Do they toll for La Ronda today? I think so.

I have over 1000 photos to upload.

Media, preservationists, local residents, LMPD, and oh yes, the gods of demolition.

People standing on the street, crying.

And oh yes, the highlight of the morning, a daughter of Arthur Kania's and his wife came to La Ronda.

The senior Mrs. Kania, probably shouldn't have been there as obviously it was too much for her to handle as she was yelling, no screaming at everyone. Her daughter was gentle with her as she led her to her Mercedes. Did she think still at this date, no one would care, people would forget?

"Print the truth" she screamed at two reporters, "Print the truth". Then something about her house? I don't know, it was sort of chaotic at some point - but she did this in front of many people on a public street.

The truth? The truth this morning is self evident, and like it or not, the legacy of La Ronda has now been set in stone.

Mrs. Kania yelled at people that she would sue them? For what? Standing on a public street paying homage to a grand lady as she is being murdered stone by stone by her own steel beams, wrenched from the structure and being used like a bat to beat La Ronda to dust?

And Joseph and Sharon Kestenbaum, they did not let grass grow under their feet. That building is being demolished at such a fast pace I will be surprised if anything stands after today.

Helicopters from media outlets circled above, a lone butterfly floated by. Where are the woodchucks today, I wonder? Seeking cover on the back lawn perhaps?

I wanted to literally vomit as I stood there bearing witness to mass destruction.

What a learning curve on what we have to do as a community, region, and country to preserve our past.

Today is a devestating day in Lower Merion.

Drive by La Ronda, if you can drive by, drive by. Everyone needs to see this and not through the lense of someone's camera.

Ugh.

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dmuth's picture
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Anyone have pictures of Arthur Kania and his wife? I think it's time for some photoshop action.

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"Well behaved women rarely make history" - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

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Let the ghosts of La Ronda permanently haunt Joe Kestenbaum!

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carla's picture
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True that. And why do people keep mentioning Pohlig Builders?

_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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piZap.com free online photo editor, fun photo effects

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Wynnewoodie contributes this photoshop:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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Posted on Thu, Oct. 1, 2009
Remembering life at La Ronda
By Bonnie L. Cook

Suzanne Atterbury remembers sending her playmates into La Ronda's hedgerow maze - "They would come out crying."

Dominic Conicelli remembers his father's being summoned at all hours to chauffeur the widow Foerderer - "his Madame," Dom's mother said - in a black Cadillac.

And everyone who lived or worked there remembers Christmas at La Ronda.

Cooking smells wafted down the corridors from a cast-iron stove as big as a buffalo. A hundred radiators clanked with the startup strain of heating the Bryn Mawr mansion's many rooms.....Despite outcry from preservationists, a Florida man's offer to buy and move it, and a last-minute rescue effort by the head of Lower Merion's commissioners, the demolition of La Ronda could be under way as you read this.

A sales agreement makes today the first day the new owner, Joseph D. Kestenbaum, can carry out his plan to tear down famed architect Addison Mizner's final, 51-room creation to make way for a new house with a curving driveway and a pool.

When word spread that the castle might fall, families who lived at La Ronda or waited on its occupants came forward with nostalgic glimpses of life there.

Ethel Davis, granddaughter of Percival Foerderer, the leather-tanning magnate who built La Ronda in 1929, recalls Christmases in the 1960s when she was in her teens. The Foerderers lived at La Ronda from 1929 until 1968.

"Grandman," as they called Percival Foerderer, had chauffeur John Conicelli drive the black Cadillac to 30th Street Station to pick up relatives arriving from Connecticut.

"He would say, 'Hurry up, we've got to get back home in time to catch Santa Claus,' but of course Santa Claus wouldn't be there, but the lights would be up," Davis said.

John Conicelli started at La Ronda in 1929 as a weed-puller. He stayed 42 years, becoming the Foederers' driver and personal assistant - and a child-friendly presence in the adult-centered house.

"When I was down there as a child, John would go out and pick flowers, and I followed him around," Davis said.

While John drove the Foerderers in the 1940s, his son, Dom, would water the potted plants on the patio "until I got tired."

When he got older, Dom Conicelli cut the grass on the 250-acre estate, using a tractor mower. "I don't remember getting paid, but it kept me out of trouble," said Conicelli, 76 and retired.

The Conicellis didn't own a car, so father and son walked three miles each way from their home in Conshohocken up the hill on Route 23 to work at La Ronda....He finally left his job at La Ronda to enroll in college - but he didn't go after all. So Foerderer offered him a job in his Center City office at 50 cents an hour.

Instead, Conicelli joined a labor gang at Alan Wood Steel Co. at 85 cents per hour. "That was not too bright a decision," Dom said.

But it paid off in the end. He started a car dealership. When his fledgling business foundered, Ethel Foerderer, Percival's widow, lent him $10,000 in 1963. Conicelli repaid the debt with interest 10 years later. By then, it was easier - the Conicelli Auto Group was on its way to becoming one of the best-known business names in the region.

John Conicelli, meanwhile, stayed on as an assistant to Ethel Foerderer after her husband died in 1969. The ailing widow had a nurse, but Dom Conicelli said, "I don't think she ever trusted anyone but my dad."

His father used to set La Ronda's burglar alarms each night. "Where's Dad?" a family member would ask. He remembers his mother's arch reply: "Tucking his Madame in."....Suzanne Gallagher's schoolmates nicknamed her "the kid in the castle." Her parents bought La Ronda in the early 1970s, and the family lived there until 1981.

"It was incredible. I loved the architecture," Suzanne Gallagher Atterbury said. "That's what inspired me to go to Harcum [College] and study interior design."

The 14 Gallagher children and stepchildren ate in the kitchen "in shifts," she said - except at Christmas. Then, the family dined at the 20-foot table in the formal dining room.

Their Christmas tree was a Douglas fir, as tall as the table was long. Men from Farley Bros. landscapers lugged it in from Lancaster County. Mammoth logs in the fireplace seemed to warm half the house. The fire "would stay lit for weeks," Atterbury remembered....

Posted on Thu, Oct. 1, 2009

Demolition begins at historic Main Line estate
By Bonnie L. Cook
Inquirer Staff Writer

A wrecking crew began demolishing La Ronda today as hopes of saving the historic Bryn Mawr mansion disappeared in clouds of white dust.

A back hoe with giant pincers ripped into the second floor of the Spanish-style house at 8:05 a.m., five minutes after work was permitted to begin.

The tumbling rubble sent up dusty clouds amid a cacophony of crunching wood and glazed roof tiles and the tinkling of shattered glass.

The pincers were used to both hammer away at the building and pick off giant chunks of roof and wall.

The work proceeded at a steady but slow pace and it did not appear the demolition would be finished today.

Motorists in expensive cars slowed down at the estate's gate to see the back hoe pick apart the building.

"I'm despondent," said Doug Mellor, who lives in an outbuilding on the estate.

A man in tan SUV paused and opened his window.

"I think it's sad," said the man, who declined to give his name. "Part of this is the fault of [Lower Merion] township. They should have made it a historic site."

Before the wrecking, workers in white hard hats sized up examined the building and put up a yellow plastic fence at the gate to the estate.

A helicopter hovered over head.

Early arrivals could see through the second floor of the building because the stained-glass clerestory had been removed.

The demolition punctuated months of public controversy over the fate of the 80-year-old architecturally significant manor.

Shortly after Joseph Kestenbaum bought the house in March, behind a pair of corporate identities, he filed plans with the township to tear it down and replace it with a new house.

He faced no requirement to preserve La Ronda as a historically important property because its previous owner, Arthur J. Kania, had not voluntarily placed it on the township's protected list

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Carla's verbal description remarkably captures the the visual, auditory, and visceral impacts of witnessing the destruction.

The scene was disturbing on many levels of human meaning and value, not just the crude wrecking "techniques" used to crush and bring down, literally, the elegant vaulted ceilings in La Ronda's great hall. As Carla described: "being murdered stone by stone by her own steel beams, wrenched from the structure and being used like a bat to beat La Ronda to dust."

The scene also recorded for posterity unconscionable waste. Huge, huge amounts of extraordinary architectural elements, both interior and exterior, remained--even after the savage salvaging. They were wantonly sacrificed by the owners' unwavering wish to adhere to their demolition "schedule."

If we allow amnesia to set in now that La Ronda has been destroyed--needlessly-- the onus shifts to us.

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10:53 a.m. the last tower of La Ronda toppled. It's all down now. What a waste, what a sin.
_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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If we allow amnesia to set in now that La Ronda has been destroyed--needlessly-- the onus shifts to us.

          Two weeks ago today.
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Last night, the Building and Planning Committee of the Board of Commissioners voted in favor of Township Historical Commission recommendations to upgrade two buildings to Class I status. A vote on a third, a residential property recommended for upgrade to Class 1, is pending further discussion with the owner.

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I did not watch the whole meeting - where are these houses/buildings? Which ones are they?
_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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The two buildings recommended by the Building and Planning Committee for upgrade to Class 1 status are (according to the preliminary agenda for Board of Commissioners meeting this coming Wednesday, 10.21.09):

CONSIDER FOR APPROVAL that an ordinance be prepared to upgrade 139 Booth Ln, By the Wood, Haverford, from a Class 2 resource to a Class 1 resource.

On September 24, 2009, the Historical Commission recommended approval.

CONSIDER FOR APPROVAL that an ordinance be prepared to upgrade 1414 W Montgomery Ave, Rathalla, Rosemont College, Rosemont, from a Class 2 resource to a Class 1 resource.

On September 24, 2009, the Historical Commission recommended approval.

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"Pending further discussion with the owner" implies that class upgrades are done with consent of the property owner. Is this so? And does a class 1 property owner receive any benefit from elevated status? Tax break, maybe?

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      10 weeks ago today
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A reminder--to help reduce the probability that major failure of historic preservation in Lower Merion will repeat itself.

This week is the 1 year anniversary of the demolition and irreversible loss of La Ronda.

 

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