After months of debate, Lower Merion Township is to hand over a permit this morning to demolish Bryn Mawr's ornate La Ronda mansion.
Although the township will require the historic villa to remain standing for one more month, salvage workers can pick it apart, fixture by fixture - to the dismay of the man who wants to buy and move the house.
The salvage work would preserve much of the ornate tilework, stained glass and other elements of the building, while separating them from the revered home for which they were designed.
"Once they start pulling out the architectural details, the external details, it's the demise of La Ronda," prospective buyer Benjamin Wohl said at a protest in La Ronda's driveway yesterday. "No one would buy it. It's a shell."
Township officials said yesterday that former La Ronda owner Arthur J. Kania's salvage rights on the property give him 30 days to carry away pieces of the 80-year-old house before its present owner can raze it to build a new mansion.
About 90 people, including Wohl and township officials, rallied outside La Ronda's rusting iron gates yesterday to lobby for the building's intact preservation.
"There is still hope," Lori Salganicoff, historic preservation coordinator for the Lower Merion Conservancy, told the crowd. "There is still time. The building still stands."
Barring a late breakthrough in negotiations to have the building moved, time appears short.
The 18,000-square-foot mansion, which was built in 1929 as the last commissioned work of the famed architect Addison Mizner, was bought for $6 million in March after Kania had owned it for decades.
The new owner, who has not been publicly identified, used a corporate name to file the purchase and plans to replace it with a new residence. A 90-day stay on the demolition permit expires this morning.
Wohl would move La Ronda to a nearby lot, but said he has failed to get a deal done with the new owner and Kania both involved. The owner has not agreed to a deal to sell the house while Kania holds salvage rights, and Kania has declined to give up those rights even on a temporary basis, Wohl said.
Wohl, who flew in yesterday from his Florida home, told the crowd of preservationists that Kania doubted the present owners would let the house be moved in any case.
Kania could not be reached for comment.
In a letter to the township Aug. 26, Kania wrote that he plans to "contribute certain architectural elements to the Philadelphia Museum of Art" and other collections.
"While such reservation and recovery of the improvements would not preserve La Ronda per se," Kania wrote, "I wanted to be sure that the architectural artifacts would be most appropriately preserved for future generations."
A museum spokesman could not verify whether Kania had contacted the institution.
Lower Merion Commissioners President Bruce D. Reed, who brought picket signs to the rally at La Ronda, said he had been unable to persuade Kania to hand over salvage rights to clear the way to move the house.
"Kania appears to be the guy who has the one last, best chance to let this fly," Reed said.
Joseph C. Kuhls, attorney for La Ronda's current owner, could not be reached for comment.