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Hurdle cleared in proposed Bekins estate deal

During a packed meeting earlier this month, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council recommended that the city of Los Angeles grant the Catholic Archdiocese a conditional-use permit in order for it to acquire the 3-acre, Bekins estate on Hill Drive.

The decision clears a hurdle for construction and operation by the Catholic Church through intermediaries to turn the sprawling, hillside residential property into a religious retreat for priests.

The 6-4 vote came after opposition from several Eagle Rock residents, who packed City Hall for four hours on Nov. 1, while council members discussed the conditional-use permit, which had been approved in October by the Land Use Committee.

A smaller number of plan supporters attended too, wearing stickers, which read: “House of Prayer, Yes.”

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The house — built in the 1920s by Martin Bekins, founder of the Bekins moving company — and surrounding property is being sold by the Kvassay family trust, which now owns the estate. Under the Archdiocese plan, the buyer is a third party, a limited liability company tied to pop singer Katy Perry.

In a separate-but-related deal, the celebrity has allied with the Catholic Church in court to buy a much larger 7.2-acre property owned by the Archdiocese in Los Feliz that is currently a convent for nuns.

If the Bekins acquisition goes through in Eagle Rock, Katy Perry’s LLC would be free to donate the Bekins estate to the church, potentially affording Perry a multimillion-dollar tax deduction.

The meeting became contentious at times, with members of the family trust shouting at one another.

Representatives from the Archdiocese said the home located at 1554 Hill Drive would be renovated and converted into a religious facility, not a hotel, as some residents feared.

Family trustee Robert Kvassay, speaking in favor of selling the Bekins estate to the church, said it has been difficult to maintain and try to sell the large Eagle Rock estate.

However, two of his brothers who are also part of the family trust — which they said has been in litigation for six years — said they opposed the plan for a sanctuary, which, they said may “become a haven for troubled priests.”

They said that the Vatican had gotten involved in the development, which Kvassay confirmed.

Several residents urged the council to retain the property’s residential zoning status. Hill Drive resident Pat Bacon was concerned about traffic, especially because many children and senior citizens live along the street and there are many pedestrians.

If the house is renovated and converted, it would include a lobby, kitchen, silent dining room, regular dining room, two chapels and underground parking. Guest rooms would be located on an upper level, and one level would be concealed from street view on Dahlia Drive.

There are about 1,100 priests in Southern California, and church representatives said that priests would stay overnight at the retreat 10 times a year, though details were not discussed. Also, every bishop in Southern California would meet at the converted house for a large retreat twice a year, occupying all 25 guest rooms.

Holleran is a contributor to Times Community News.


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