Sunday, October 4, 2009

Farewell to La Ronda

La Ronda
1030 Mount Pleasant Rd
Bryn Mawr, PA

My mother worked for an architect in Philadelphia before she married my father. I was born in Bryn Mawr Hospital and grew up along the Main Line where we would often spend Sunday afternoons driving around looking at houses — not because my parents were interested in real estate — but because my mother loved looking at houses.

I inherited that love from her and wanted to be an architect when I grew up. The etch-a-sketch was my favorite toy and I'd twist those knobs to make floor plans and elevations. I subscribed to Architectural Digest when I was 13 years old. My architectural thinking developed but career plans were altered early by guitars and songs and the stream of life.

In 1984, as I was finishing a year at Ringling School of Art & Design and preparing to transfer to New College, I made a sketch for my mother of the Mediterranean Revival house where I lived on Acacia Drive in the Sapphire Shores neighborhood of Sarasota, Florida where Mediterranean Revival style houses with barrel tile roofs and maid's quarters were de rigeur. That sketch blossomed into a much larger project on the history of Sarasota through its residential architecture that you can read about in an article called Styles of the Century.

Today, I am embroiled as Executive Director of Drawing America and, although I've been at work on the initiative since last December, in six months I have created Big Draw models for two museums, a private school and am single-handedly producing the first neighborhood Big Draw in the United States, Big Draw 12 South: This Is Where I Live! The neighborhood and school models I've designed both involve engaging community in drawing houses and buildings in local neighborhoods.

So there I was last Thursday, just finishing up my last mad sketch of a neighborhood building for the Big Draw promotional exhibit when I heard the news of La Ronda, the 1929 final commission of Addison Mizner.

I was listening to a Ray Bradbury story called "The Smile" while working on my drawings last week. It was about a not too distant future in which all cultural beauty is reviled and destroyed as community entertainment. The entertainment in the story was the Mona Lisa.

Along the Main Line, however, the community was desperate to save La Ronda. Because of one man's money, ignorance and selfish willfulness, an exquisite realization of an architectural dream met the wrecking ball. Grown men cried. Only eighty years old, the value of La Ronda, and it's loss, cannot be estimated in terms of money.

Some buildings I drew in the Nashville 12 South neighborhood will go the way of all things in a matter of just a few years. The value of these buildings is not at all close to the value of La Ronda but they do have inherent value to their particular neighborhood and its history.

This was La Ronda:

This was La Ronda last Thursday:

Become a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and visit The National Register of Historic Places.

Postscript — Found this. Worth watching.


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Cathy Gatland said...

What a tragedy Suzanne, unbelievable that some can be so blind to beauty and history.
But great to read about this other side of you, and how active you are in your community. Inspiring!

Suzanne McDermott said...

Hi Cathy! From your last post, I'm amazed but delighted that you had time to read.

I'm sure it's answered in one of the linked articles but I cannot, for the life of me, understand why La Ronda was not on the National Register of Historic Places. It really is a great American Tragedy.

Pat said...

I am always learning more about you every time I read your posts. Like Cathy I was not aware of all the things in which you are involved. I am off to investigate all your links.

Anne Spooner said...

I was heart broken to see this magnificent home destroyed. I'm always surprised by the utter greed some people have. We as a nation really need to preserve our history and art. You inspire us to get more involved. Thank for this great blog of yours!

Suzanne McDermott said...

Thanks, Pat. I've recently realized that this blog is developing into a non-linear autobio of sorts. Glad you're taking time to read!

Suzanne McDermott said...

Great to hear from you, Anne! I am very pleased to inspire. Though I must say that I wept when I watched the video of La Ronda's demolition.