A Spanish-style house in Narberth built to resemble the posh Florida villas of the early 1900s might join La Ronda and become the second Main Line mansion facing demolition this year.
Jason Duckworth of Arcadia Land Co. plans to buy the house at 501 N. Wynnewood Rd., raze it, and put up four homes on the wooded, 1.36-acre site.
Neighbors and preservationists, though, object to the plan filed March 27 in Borough Hall. They say the house, built in 1919 for the daughter of an Ardmore industrialist, should be restored.
"We'd love a public park, a less dense use, or restoration of the existing house," said Jim Lobb, head of 30 "concerned neighbors" opposing the plan.
The trajectory of "the Spanish House," as it is called, resembles that of La Ronda, a Spanish Revival villa built in 1929 at 1030 Mount Pleasant Rd. in Bryn Mawr.
Both have tile roofs, are anomalies in the Philadelphia suburbs with notable links to the past, and are endangered by development.
After hearing public testimony, Narberth's Building and Zoning Committee voted, 3-0, Wednesday to recommend Duckworth's plan for Borough Council approval on June 30.
The plan faces no zoning hurdles, borough manager Bill Martin said.
"I'm disappointed that Narberth doesn't have zoning codes to keep this tragedy from happening," Lobb said.
Duckworth said yesterday that his Wayne firm had followed Narberth's zoning code "to a T," taking "great pains" to craft a design that "fulfills the letter of the law and reflects the spirit of the community."
"We're talking about creating another little bit of Narberth. Narberth is about smaller houses and density and walkability. Narberth is about knowing your neighbor," said Duckworth, who lives in the borough.
"Narberth is walking to Ricklin's," a hardware store, he said. "The idea that this little corner of Narberth is supposed not to be like the rest of the zoning is complete hooey."
The Spanish House was designed by architect Louis Phillips Clarke of Palm Beach, Fla. He and his brother founded the Autocar Co. in Ardmore, which made cars and trucks from 1900 to 1953, Lower Merion Historical Society researcher Ted Goldsborough said.
The house was a wedding gift from Louis Clarke to his daughter, Winifred. Goldsborough said it stands out because there are so few like it on the Main Line.
Plans show that Duckworth envisions homes of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet on quarter-acre lots. Three would exit onto busy Wynnewood Road via a common driveway. A fourth would exit onto Sabine Avenue. Prices would range from $800,000 to $1 million.
La Ronda in Bryn Mawr is being purchased by a partnership that wants to raze the 17,000-square-foot castle and put up a 10,000-square-foot, single-family home.
Township officials approved the demolition June 3 with the proviso that work be halted for 90 days to see if another buyer could be found to save the structure. Township officials have formed a nonprofit to buy La Ronda, but it could be too little too late.
Mike Weilbacher, executive director of the Lower Merion Conservancy, a Main Line preservation group, said he had been talking with Duckworth about sparing the Spanish House but knew it might be too late. Duckworth said he was open to all ideas.
"One of the possible outcomes of this could be that Narberth might consider an ordinance protecting historic buildings," Weilbacher said. There is no such ordinance now.