80-year-old villa's future in doubt

May 13, 2009 8:51:12 PM PDT
Odds are the 14,000 square foot Spanish, gothic villa built 80 years ago, known as La Ronda, will be razed soon. La Ronda was built for leather tanning mogul Percival Foerderer. It was opulent, with 51 rooms, a steeplechase, formal gardens, and a great hall.

It was attended by 27 servants and cost $3-million to build back then.

"This is a one of a kind mansion, built with a steel frame with incredible durability and, really, incredible character," Lori Salganicoff with Lower Merion Conservancy said.

The new owner, who remains anonymous, got the grand Castilian country villa for a bargain basement 2 and a half million and he plans to tear down the villa, replacing it with a 10,000 square foot single family home with air conditioning.

The neighbors would prefer a new neighbor who would restore La Ronda to her old glory.

"I think it's a great loss to the neighborhood for two reasons. One is its architectural significance and also its historical significance," Bryan Mawr resident Mitchell Gilbert said.

"There are so many McMansions around here where they just knock down and everything looks the same, so it's nice to have something look aesthetically different," Tara Berger of Bryn Mawr said.

Local preservationists are desperate to save La Ronda from the wrecking ball.

"We would like to find a way to work with the owner to preserve it. Whether the owner preserves it or they sell it to someone who does," Salganicoff said.

On Wednesday night, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners delayed granting a demolition permit until the fall giving preservationists time to possibly raise the millions needed to buy La Ronda or find a new buyer who would preserve it.

The lawyer for the limited partnership that represents the mysterious owner says if the price is right, they'll flip it.

"This property was bought with the intent as a single family dwelling, but we're not excluding any possibilities," Joe Kuhls said

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