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California

In Katy Perry versus the nuns, both sides declare partial victory

Sister Catherine Rose and Dana Hollister

Sister Catherine Rose, 86, left, hugs restaurateur Dana Hollister on June 25.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Katy Perry’s $14.5-million bid to own a former Los Feliz convent isn’t dead yet, even though another buyer has already moved her own furniture into the hilltop villa.

An L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the sale of the property and an adjacent house of prayer by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart to restaurant owner Dana Hollister was “clearly invalid.”

“I don’t know why they sold to her. It was a bad deal,” said Judge James Chalfant, noting that Hollister handed over a mere $100,000 down payment.

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The judge suggested that Hollister seems intent on turning the former convent into a boutique hotel, and if she can’t get city approval and zoning changes, she may walk away from the deal and leave the nuns in the lurch.

Chalfant added, however, that Hollister can remain on the property at least until mid-September, when lawyers for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nuns and Hollister are due back for another hearing on the convoluted saga, in which Archbishop Jose Gomez agreed to sell to Perry after the nuns sold to Hollister.

Both sides in the matter declared partial victory Thursday, even though Chalfant ruled that only the archdiocese can sell the property. He rejected arguments from the nuns’ attorneys that only the nonprofit Institute of the Immaculate Heart, whose board members are the nuns, can sell the estate.

At various points of the 90-minute hearing, Sisters Catherine Rose Holzman and Rita Callanan — wearing full habits — applauded or groaned. They are two of the five remaining members of the local order, and the other three have split off and signed declarations supporting the archdiocese’s authority to sell. All five sisters were moved off the property years ago and resettled in other diocese properties.

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The two sisters present in court were particularly pleased that Chalfant said he was sympathetic to their lack of trust in the chancery to look out for their best interests.

Diocesan attorney Michael Hennigan said Gomez fully intends to support the sisters’ living expenses no matter what happens.

“They don’t need your help,” Chalfant said, “so long as you let them have their own money.”

Hennigan wanted Hollister ordered off the property immediately, alleging that she had damaged an altar. But Chalfant said she has made an investment in the property and has reportedly been making $25,000 monthly payments to the nuns. Chalfant wondered: Who would watch over the property and compensate the nuns if Hollister were thrown out?

At that point, Hennigan slowly walked to the back of the courtroom and whispered to an attorney representing Perry. Hennigan returned to tell Chalfant that Perry would be willing to pay the rent.

Chalfant neither accepted nor ruled out the idea.

He proposed what could be a rental agreement bidding war, telling attorneys to report back to him with proposals on how much Hollister and Perry are willing to pay in rent and maintenance while the case proceeds. That could take two years, the judge said.

Hollister and the nuns left the courtroom together, and Hollister said they were on their way to her Echo Park diner, Alexander’s Brite Spot, for lunch. As they waited for the elevator on their way out of the courthouse, residents of the Waverly Avenue neighborhood, where Manson family members killed the LaBiancas almost 50 years ago, cornered me to voice their opposition to Hollister’s purchase.

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They don’t want a hotel in the neighborhood, and they fear that if Hollister doesn’t get approval, she’ll turn the villa into a party house instead and annoy neighbors with traffic and noise.

But unless there’s a settlement, Thursday’s hearing may be only the third or fourth station of the cross. So it could be a long time before the old convent becomes either a swanky hotel or L.A.’s latest over-the-top celebrity nest.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATstevelopez

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