In 2009 I documented through photographs the last few months of architect Addison Mizner’s famed La Ronda in Bryn Mawr. The tale of La Ronda even made the Wall Street Journal back then.
Putting all the drama of the La Ronda and her demolition and the upheaval the demolition caused in Lower Merion Township and across the country aside, the saddest part of the tale of La Ronda is there was a man willing to have the mansion moved brick by brick, who was willing to buy it fairly. Only he was denied that by both the seller of the property and buyer of the property. Those people sold La Ronda to be torn down and tore down La Ronda because they could and that is kind of sad especially since they were players in the socioeconomic levels where they could actually afford to be more preservation minded.
I am not getting into some protracted discussion about property rights, what this demolition has done is leave a lasting impression on me regarding historic preservation in Pennsylvania.
Historic preservation in Pennsylvania remain a lofty ideal, but is seldom a true reality. So when you hear on rare occasions that you might not like what a developer is doing, but they are saving and preserving a historic structure on a property they bought? Well that my friends is huge and doesn’t happen very often. See ( Linden Hall post July 24 and Farmhouse Post on July 27 and Adaptive Reuse from April 2013 )
Truthfully, all these years later and salvagers are still selling bits of La Ronda. And people still write about La Ronda and what happened (reference Proper Philadelphia in 2012 )
I watched and documented the last sad few months of La Ronda, and to me it is a glaring reminder of what lip service preservation is. In 2009, Lower Merion Township Commissioners (including the current Board President Liz Rogan) did much beating of the collective breast and waxed long and poetically on how they were going to do things differently and how they were going to preserve historic assets.
Flash forward to 2014 and well, much like other places, it’s all been talk. Or political gob smacking…. take your pick. Now the William Penn Inn is under a 90 day stay of execution err demolition, which means it will inevitably come down. And that is the case even though people are saying it may have had something to do with the underground railroad (and see cool photos of the place here thanks to Main Line Media News.)
Also facing an uncertain future is the historic Odd Fellows Hall and property and United Methodist Church and property in Gladwyne. People have said for decades that there are Revolutionary War soldiers buried there. Famous Phillie Rich Asburn is buried there and heck some of my friends have all their family buried there. So Odd Fellows is in limbo. What is historic will survive if the developers who are the owners, Main Line Realty Partners, do the proper preservation. They can do the right thing if they want to. They have in the past and truthfully the partners in these projects have done beautiful work. Last I heard that Odd Fellows plan was tabled, but these same developers have now purchased another church, First Baptist in Ardmore. They also bought the United Methodist Church in Narberth Now the developers are calling themselves Main Line rebuild.
But like I said, adaptive reuse and historic preservation by developers are the exception rather than the rule.
I do not know a lot of the preservation groups throughout Chester County as I have not lived here that many years yet . I love the Chester County Historical Society and they have lots of neat stuff in their headquarters in downtown West Chester and they do fun things like walking tours.
Also worth noting is the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. Their 10th annual house tour is September 27th, 2014.
And if you like house tours you should also consider signing up for Chester County Day which benefits Chester County Hospital. They have preview lectures starting in September which are open to the public.
Anyway, remember the La Rondas…once they are gone, they are gone.
Thanks for stopping by today!
You may want to check in with this Facebook page: Save the Thomas Cheyney House and Barn The page administrator, Maddie, is a historic preservationist and working on some Revolutionary War era concerns in the Cheyney/West Chester area