After months of secrecy and public debate, demolition of the historic La Ronda mansion in Bryn Mawr is expected to start today.

The spokesman for the castlelike villa's owner, Joseph Kestenbaum, said yesterday that salvage work by previous owner Arthur J. Kania during the last month had left the house "a shell" ready to be razed.

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"Everything of value has been removed by Mr. Kania," spokesman Jeff Jubelirer said, "and now the home will be taken down."

The demolition can start at 8 a.m. under Lower Merion Township ordinances, though Jubelirer could not say when workers would begin pulling the mansion apart or how they would go about the task.

The demolition would punctuate months of public controversy over the fate of the 80-year-old manor.

Shortly after 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 Kania had not voluntarily placed it on the township's protected list.

The demolition permit was issued a month ago, but in the $6 million transaction, Kania kept the right to spend 30 days salvaging artifacts before demolition could start.

His work came after weeks of Kestenbaum's own removal of fixtures from the house, and ended with the removal yesterday of carved stone frames whose stained-glass windows had already been hauled away.

While this played out, a public debate raged so intensely that Kania outed Kestenbaum as the secret new owner of the house, and both men hired public-relations representatives.

Preservationists built a "Save La Ronda" Web site and staged a protest in its driveway. Amid the outcry, a South Florida man offered to buy and move the home, but no deal was reached.

Township Commissioners President Bruce D. Reed said yesterday he still hoped to negotiate an agreement to save the house by arranging a dialogue in which the would-be house movers could convince Kestenbaum's homebuilders that La Ronda could be moved in 90 days.

Yesterday, Jubelirer dismissed such talk as a "publicity stunt" to demean Kestenbaum and raise false hopes the house would be spared via an eleventh-hour agreement.

"It's not hopeful," Jubelirer said. "It's done."

Contact staff writer Derrick Nunnally at 610-313-8212 or