VENTNOR — Few outsiders have been invited inside Villa Saint Joseph by the Sea, but that is changing quickly as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia prepares to sell the beachblock retreat for retired priests to cover a budget shortfall.
In a normal year, “We would be very busy right now,” said property manager Fran McManus, of Smithville, who has worked there for 40 years. ‘We would be full, especially with the airshow coming up on Friday.”
But the 19-room home was nearly empty Monday, in preparation for an upcoming auction and the first open house, which will take place Sunday.
Inside the 9,800-square-foot mansion, McManus walked through the lobby and adjacent “phone room” — from the days when a phone was a luxury — into the formal living room, which led into the reading area and the main dining area.
“This is one of the favorite rooms,” she said. Tables were set in front of large windows that allowed for a view of the backyard, Boardwalk and ocean beyond.
On the other side of the lobby is the formal dining room — “For really important dinners, though there’s no view,” she said — and behind that the kitchens, complete with an elevator to the upper floors.
Upstairs on the second and third floors were 11 bedrooms, each with its own bath, all of them in the same style except for the slightly larger Room 7, which featured a mahogany bed and a smaller, second room facing the ocean.
“It’s designed for the handicapped,” McManus said. “It’s one of the bedrooms we can get wheelchairs in.”
The preview is planned for noon to 2 p.m. Sunday. Other previews are scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. on August 26, Sept. 1 and Sept. 9. The auction is scheduled for 1 p.m., Sat., Sept. 15.
In addition to the Ventnor property, the archdiocese is planning to sell The Holy Family Center convent in Philadelphia, part of a nearby pastoral center parking lot and The Mary Immaculate Center seminary in Northampton, Pa.
Selling the property will help cover the archdiocese’s $17 million deficit. While the recent conclusion of a sex abuse case will cost the church another $11 million, the archdiocese has said that was not a factor.
“The decision to sell these properties was not made lightly, but rather after prayer and careful consideration,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a press release. “Selling these assets will help us as we work to ensure the long-term financial stability and position the Archdiocese for future growth. It will also allow us to remain committed to the services and support we provide to the faithful as well as the broader community.”
Neighbors and frequent visitors to the neighborhood expressed shock and sadness that the property would go up on the block.
“I can’t believe they’re auctioning it off!” said Deena Greenblatt, visiting a friend across the street. “That’s been like a landmark here forever. I hope whoever buys it maintains it, and it’s not just one of those things where they buy it and forget it.”
Cindy Loffel, whose family has owned a home in Ventnor since before she was born, wondered, “What are they going to do with it? Tear it down and build a big McMansion? It’s such a beautiful old building. I love these old shore homes. Now they have all these awful, cookie-cutter, McMansion stuff, even if they make it look like it’s old. ... Shore houses have character, especially on this island.”
Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Co. is planning to announce the details of the sale at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the 114 S. Princeton Ave. property.
The 11-bedroom structure, which was built in 1905, was last assessed at $6.25 million. Last year, the archdiocese paid $114,563 in taxes.
“Vacation homes in shore communities are taking two years to sell in some cases and the Archdiocese wants to sell this property now as opposed to potentially waiting,” auction president Max Spann said in a release. “With unique properties like this, it is often difficult to determine a market value. Our auction will bring together motivated potential buyers who will have an opportunity to bid against each other in the open to determine a fair market price.”
The half-acre villa stretches between Princeton and Portland avenues and features a covered porch on the first floor, a spacious oceanfront deck on the second floor and an expansive lawn, almost taking up half the property, that includes a manmade pond between statues of St. Joseph and Mary.
So large is the property — acquired from Hannah Hogan in 1963 for $1,000 in memory of her brother, the Rev. Edward Hogan — that the auction company estimated it could be rezoned into six lots.
“But a lot of people like the yard,” said McManus, pointing to the pine trees shading the property from the boardwalk and the lines of hydrangeas. “You don’t see too many yards on the beachfront. I think there’s hardly any on the boardwalk.”
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