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Gladwyne home, under renovation, leveled by apparent gas explosion

The house, on the 600 block of Dodds Lane in Gladwyne, was reduced to rubble Sunday night.

Debris in in the trees around the leveled home on Dodds Lane in Gladwyne November 4, 2018. The explosion was so loud it could be heard for miles.
Debris in in the trees around the leveled home on Dodds Lane in Gladwyne November 4, 2018. The explosion was so loud it could be heard for miles.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

An empty Gladwyne mansion exploded from a gas leak Sunday night, authorities said, reducing the grand house to debris and kindling.

The explosion, heard and felt by thousands in Lower Merion and beyond around 8 p.m., leveled a house that was under renovation on the 600 block of Dodds Lane.

No injuries were reported, said Afia Ohene-Frempong, a spokeswoman for Peco.

Police declined to identify the owner of the massive property. According to Montgomery County real estate records, Joseph Grasso,  57, and Donna Grasso, 52, sold the mansion to the GF 2014 limited partnership in 2016 for just under $4 million.  The members of that partnership could not immediately be determined.

Joseph Grasso, active in the real estate and restaurants trades, could not be reached for comment.  At one time, he owned the Saxbys coffee chain.  Among his other projects was the now-closed Union Trust restaurant, a posh steakhouse on Chestnut Street in Center City.

In 2012, court records show, Grasso filed for bankruptcy protection. The docket alone in the case takes up 245 pages.

Peco workers were on their way to the house around 8:20 p.m., said Ohene-Frempong, who added that a Peco account was registered with the now-destroyed home.

By 9 p.m., neighbors and news vans had descended on the quiet Gladwyne neighborhood in Lower Merion Township, full of grand homes with large lawns, many of which are set back from the road. Helicopters hovered overhead. Authorities instructed onlookers not to approach the scene, so folks gathered down the street, which was pitch black except for the flashing lights of firetrucks.

"I was just reading a book, then bang," said Peter Cooke, 80, who lives across the street. Cooke said the explosion shook his home. He had never heard something that loud, but when he looked outside, he couldn't see fire.

"We thought a meteor had gone off or something," said his son, Michael Cooke, 30.

Within moments, the Cookes heard the din of neighbors coming out of their homes to see what was going on. Then, authorities descended, they said.

Half a mile away, Steve Liebowitz, 60, and his son Chase, 12, were finishing up dinner when they heard what Steve Liebowitz described as "like a cannon shot." "I thought it was a gunshot," said Chase. The elder Liebowitz said the boom sounded as if it were right in his backyard and he worried their outdoor grill may have exploded. But they did not rush outside.

"We were actually afraid," said Steve Liebowitz. "In today's world, you don't know what kind of explosion happened or whether it was a gunshot."