VENTNOR — Prospective buyers —along with the merely curious — lined up outside St. Joseph Villa by the Sea on Sunday for the first of four open houses before the property is auctioned in September.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is selling the half-acre, beachfront property, which served as a retreat for retired priests, to help cover a $6 million deficit. Anyone willing to bid during the auction on Sept. 15 must bring along a $100,000 bank cashier's check — but even that pricey caveat didn’t stop interested parties from getting in a look at the three-story, 11-bedroom mansion.
“We’re pleased,” said Robert Dann, the executive vice president of the Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Company, of the often 20-minute long wait to get in. “Most of the people looking are just curious about the house, but we’ve had a few prospects.”
Marvin Weizer, of Margate and Huntington Valley, Pa., said the house was “in excellent condition.”
“It’s ideal for a bed and breakfast,” he said. “To see it torn down would be a crying shame.”
Weizer said he’d be interested if city zoning allowed for the South Princeton Avenue property to become a B&B, “but otherwise, no. The upkeep would be too much. ... And it’s nice, and actually in move-in condition.”
“You wouldn’t have to do a thing,” added his wife, Redina Weizer.
Cathy Rossi of Ocean City said they were also considering it for a B&B, “but I don’t know if it’s allowed.”
“I’m going to make the muffins if they get the B&B,” added her friend Paulette Lemma, of Connecticut.
When asked about the idea of a B&B, Dann said that the house “is set up like a bed and breakfast. But in order to be certain of that, you have to check with the town.”
The nearby St. Leonard’s Association usually prohibits B&Bs within its tract of land, a resident said, but the villa is just outside of it.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Albert and Esther Momjian, who live a few blocks away. “I’d rather see it as a bed and breakfast than have them build three or four houses here.”
Others had mixed reviews, including Julie Mezrow of Ventnor and Gladwyn, Pa., who called the mansion “an interesting house. It’s certainly been kept up beautifully, and whatever they did to it recently is very nice. But there’s a lot of unevenness with the floors, and the kitchen’s a little odd. It’s interesting, that’s for sure.”
Down the street, Alan and Paula Zuckerman were outside their beach home, currently under construction, after deciding the line was too long.
“I guess we’re hoping someone would buy it and not turn it into little pieces,” Paula said. It always looks beautiful, well-maintained. It’ll be a loss not having it on the street anymore.”
“We understand that for neighbors, it was a sentimental piece of the street for years,” Alan said. “Aside from aesthetics, we’re sad to see it go. It’s almost like a divine presence.”
Added Debbie Maser of Ventnor and Philadelphia: “I’m (just) sad the church is in such sad straits.”
After three more open houses on Aug. 26 and Sept. 1 and 9, the auction is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15. The live auction will take place in a tent in the rear of the property, Dann said.
“It was there for 50 years, and we move on the block and they leave,” Paula Zuckerman joked. “I’ll try not to take it personally.”
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