The hills around Hollywood have always been coveted real estate, but a fight over the sale of a hilltop convent has pitted an order of elderly nuns against the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, who wants to sell the property to pop singer Katy Perry.
The Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary opposes selling their former home to Perry. The order has owned the property for more than 40 years and have already made a deal with a local entrepreneur with plans to turn it into a boutique hotel and restaurant, including a bar.
For weeks, lawyers for Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the nuns and businesswoman Dana Hollister have lobbed accusations of dirty dealings over the convent that sits atop a hill in the Los Feliz neighborhood near Hollywood. A judge on Thursday will consider whether to block Hollister's access to the property, which she has already begun cleaning up after purchasing it from the nuns in June.
A ruling in the archbishop's favor could eventually lead to Perry finalizing her purchase of the convent and an adjoining House of Prayer, although her bid still requires the Vatican's approval. At least two of the nuns want the judge to block the sale to Perry and rule that they have the right to control the sale.
"It's a great Los Angeles story and totally unprecedented in terms of all the players,'' said Adrian Glick Kudler, senior editor of the real estate blog Curbed LA.
Before it was a convent, the property was a private residence, rarely photographed, and few have ever seen it up close."`It's really a beautiful, old Hollywood estate,'' she said. "You can certainly see why there's a fight over it. The fight is unique, too. I've never seen anything like this.''
Kudler said Hollister's plan for a hotel is likely to meet opposition from the property's wealthy neighbors, while Perry wouldn't be the only star to call the area home.
The archdiocese and nuns agree the property, which was bestowed to the sisters by a devout Catholic who wanted them to keep him in their prayers, should be sold. The two sides are fighting over the control of the sale's proceeds and whether Perry or Hollister are suitable buyers. The "Roar'' singer, whose parents are protestant ministers, is only tangentially involved in the case and hasn't filed any motions.
The archdiocese contends Hollister's initial $100,000 payment for the property, with a promise of another $9.9 million at a later date, is a bad deal. Hollister has filed sworn statements indicating she has financing to pay millions more for the property, but has ceased restoration work until the ownership issue is resolved.
Perry has offered to pay $14.5 million for the property and provide a new location for the House of Prayer, which is used by priests.
Filings in the case are full of references to civil codes, religious governance documents and even one lawyer's paraphrasing of Shakespeare to reflect displeasure with the archbishop's preference to sell to Perry.
"'Something is rotten in the City of Los Angeles,''' wrote Hollister's attorney Randy S. Snyder in a riff on "Hamlet.'' So far, though, no one has quoted the Bible, or any of Perry's hits.
Yet the filings contain details that could be fodder for screenwriters who toil in the entertainment mecca that sprawls far below the convent.
In May, at the archbishop's request, the nuns met with Perry to see if a compromise could be worked out. At least two of the five surviving nuns - who had already searched for Perry's music videos and weren't pleased with what they saw - continue to oppose the singer purchasing the convent.
The filings also describe a meeting between Gomez and the nuns in which they say he gave them the impression they could control the sale. "Exasperated, the archbishop threw his arms above his head and told the sisters ... they could sell the (convent,)'' the filings state." He said, `whatever you want to do I'll do, but see me first.'''
The church's lawyers point to discord and management problems within the order a decade ago, which prompted changes that now require the archbishop's approval of the convent's sale. Religious doctrines govern the case, the archbishop's lawyers argue. The nuns counter that only members of their sisterhood can make decisions for the order and civil laws governing property sales are on their side.
It will be up to a judge on Thursday to determine which side's request - called a Prayer for Relief in legal filings - should be granted.