Is this the beginning of the end of La Ronda?
In a historic-preservation debate so intense that both the mansion's owner and the man who sold it months ago hired public-relations experts, one of the dispute's key players signaled yesterday that he believed the historic house was doomed.
After holding off for weeks, former La Ronda owner Arthur J. Kania sent in an architectural-salvage crew yesterday morning to haul away the remaining pieces of the 80-year-old house that are worth auctioning off or donating.
"We've done everything we could," said Kania's spokesman, Jay Devine.
Under a contract with the immense Bryn Mawr villa's owner, Joseph Kestenbaum, Kania could have been carrying away pieces of La Ronda since Sept. 1, which was 30 days before a demolition permit becomes usable.
But after the arrival of a Florida man who wanted to buy, move and preserve the Addison Mizner-designed home, Kania left its remaining unique fixtures in place. He offered them to would-be buyer Benjamin Wohl if a deal could be struck for Wohl to move the immense home off Kestenbaum's land.
After Kestenbaum on Tuesday, through his own spokesman, announced that Wohl "chose not to pursue the purchase," Kania decided that the deal was dead and that the house should be stripped of some remaining radiators, chandeliers, doors, plumbing, and other fixtures.
"We're not going to be able to preserve them if we don't start getting them out," Devine said, "and it looks like the sale process for the physical fixture of the house has ended, according to Mr. Kestenbaum's statement."
Wohl, by phone from Florida, expressed disappointment on hearing Kania had begun salvage work at La Ronda while he still had hope a deal to move the house could happen.
"If stuff is taken out and if it's being dismantled," Wohl said, "then at some point I'm not the guy to deal with it anymore. It's a wrecking job, and it's for a demolition guy."
Tuesday, Wohl had said he would fly to Pennsylvania today if he could sit down with Kestenbaum for a negotiating session, which former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman had agreed to mediate.
Kestenbaum responded in a statement that there was nothing to discuss, and Wohl said yesterday he was not flying up.
"I don't have an appointment," Wohl said. "There's no sense spending the money flying up there and sitting around."
Talks to have Wohl move the house - and thus save Kestenbaum the cost of demolishing it - hit an impasse mainly over the issue of salvage rights, parties said.
For the 30 days before demolition, Kania can "salvage any and all items" desired from La Ronda, according to a sales agreement. Before that kicked in, a New Jersey company went into La Ronda at Kestenbaum's behest and pulled out an array of fixtures, some of which Kania claims should have been left for him.
Kestenbaum's statement says he required Wohl to "negotiate away the salvage rights" by tomorrow as part of a deal for the house to be moved.
"They gave away Kania's stuff, allegedly, and they want me to get them a release for that," Wohl fumed. "Where I come from, that's called chutzpah."
Kania has been willing, but the New Jersey salvage company has not, Wohl said. The company did not return a call yesterday.
Kestenbaum's spokesman, Jeff Jubelirer, said Wohl had agreed to the requirements and was attempting a "publicity stunt" by offering further negotiations.
"He hasn't proven or shown that he can execute," Jubelirer said. "You can come up here and do your charade and get lots of press and make us look like the evil guy, but you've had time."