The architecture community's relationship with McMansions can be a bit hypocritical considering they are, after all, designed by architects. The true dispassion for McMansions lies with historians, restorationists, and art lovers, which in a region as old as Philadelphia's, is a large slice of the population.
La Ronda estate before demolitionBryn Mawr is no stranger to architectural loss. It's portfolio consists of Gilded Age masterpieces and modern infill that tries to recapture its past with cost cutting interpretations of its history. New or old, they often impress. Kestenbaum's new mansion fits the bill, and once the trees grow in it will blend.
But Philadelphian's don't quickly forget, and rich people with lots of art never do. What Kestenbaum did to a community is why his neighbors are throwing stones from their own McMansions. He didn't just buy a Picasso for the frame. He turned down an offer for the naked Picasso so he could strip it for the oil, then shredded the canvas on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It's almost impossible to believe Kestenbaum wasn't driven by spite. It's likely no one will ever know his motivation for denying the offer to move the house, which would have saved him more money than he could have possibly made by scrapping the mansion. No one really knows Kestenbaum. His silence is understandable considering the region's reaction to his act, but the only stance he has made on the subject is one of befuddlement over that reaction.
He's left himself open to attacks, and in an absence of dialogue we have to assume he deserves them. Could it be true that he was so enraged at his neighbors for trying to dictate what he did with his own property that he razed La Ronda during a costly temper tantrum? The only details offered during the media circus that preceded the demolition came from Benjamin Wohl, a wealthy fan of La Ronda's architect, Addison Mizner, who attempted to have the house moved to an adjacent lot at his own cost.
Of the limited reasons Kestenbaum offered of his decision, one was that he had chosen the site for his new home because of the grounds. The obvious flaw in his argument is that the grounds wouldn't have moved with the house to the adjacent lot. The second flaw can be found on Google maps, which show a lot devoid of landscaping, save five or six trees left to perhaps block the glares from his angry neighbors.
Kestenbaum's Bryn Mawr mansion under construction in Bryn Mawr, haunted before it was built
Another argument made during the debacle in 2009 was that an historic 18th Century farmhouse had been razed to build La Ronda in the 1920s, an act that enraged the community at the time. That is an apt analysis, but if you want to debate the merits of the paleohistoric interpretation of La Ronda's existence, you need to replace it with something even more architecturally astounding.
Let's face it. This man was bitter and wanted to piss people off.
Well he did a fine job, and he certainly created enough space to mise away in solitude, including an indoor hockey rink. He'll have to import friends if he wants to enjoy it.
While the only company he receives from his neighbors in this cushy Main Line enclave will be the passing glares of his neighbors, something tells me he won't be alone. Addison Mizner was an eccentric who died in poverty, and Kestenbaum has branded himself a Dickensian Scrooge. The stage is set for a real life Shamalan horror. The only question remains: How long will it be before the ghost of Mizner and his pet monkey are haunting this McMonster's new residents?