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$35 Million Question: Can Inisfada Be Saved?

Civic group struggles to get answers

regarding the mansion’s future

The fate of the Jesuit-owned retreat house known as Inisfada, just off Searingtown Road in the Village of North Hills, is a topic of much discussion and unanswered questions for Manhasset residents. The 93-year-old, 87-room mansion is reportedly under contract to be sold to a Hong Kong developer, who, some speculate, will demolish the building to make way for high-end homes.

Many residents have more than just questions; they are raising objections. “The historical value of it is certainly at the top of the list, followed immediately by the last thing Manhasset needs is another housing development,” said Richard Bentley, president of The Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations Inc.

Since the 33-acre property went on the market last year, Bentley and the civic associations have been working to save the structure.

Once the summer residence of Nicholas and Genevieve Brady, the mansion is now known as the Saint Ignatius Retreat House, and was listed for $49 million by the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, according to Bentley.

In other reports, the Jesuits have announced plans to move the mansion’s ornate chapel to Fordham University’s Bronx campus.

To save the mansion, Bentley said the council is taking action in several ways, one of which is to get the building deemed a landmark.

The Brady mansion is eligible to be entered into the register of national landmarks, said Alexandra Wolfe, the director of preservation services at the Society for Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.

However, if the property is added to the list, this does not guarantee it will be saved.

 “What [the Village of North Hills] is supposed to do is conduct an environmental impact study,” Wolfe said, speaking hypothetically. “You have an identified historic resource, and if they have to decide, let’s say, to give a permit for demolition, and they see that this building is on the national register, it’s their responsibility to conduct an environmental impact study and establish if there is any way to mitigate [the effects of demolition on the environment].”

Wolfe said the results of this study would give the public an opportunity to voice their opinions of the property’s historic value to the community as well as the environmental consequences of demolition.

Public comment would be followed by a vote by the village board, she said.

“I think that’s where the local government has to determine whose interests they represent,” said Wolfe. “Is it going to be the community at large [or] is it going to be a developer?”

In addition, the council of civic associations has sided with the Community Wellness Center of America LLC, a group that was interested in purchasing the mansion and said it would preserve the house if it can get the Jesuits out of their current contract, Bentley said.

West Hempstead resident Louis Paolillo, who said he has been going to the retreat house since 1987, also said he volunteered to help the wellness center with the purchase and reached out to Bentley for support.

Paolillo said the center sent an email expressing its interest in buying the property to V. Rev. David Ciancimino of the Society of Jesus in June 2012, before the property was officially on the market. The Jesuits told the center they would save the email on file, according to Paolillo.

Father Ciancimino did not return a request for comment.

The Jesuits spoke to the center before they went into contract with the developer in May 2013, according to Paolillo. When they spoke again, Paolillo said, the contract had been signed.

“What happened was the Jesuits were very open about receiving offers, and now, they’re being really quiet and in the shadows about this whole process,” Paolillo said in a phone interview.

Father Vincent Cooke, assistant for strategic planning of the Society of Jesus, directed questions from The Manhasset Press to his Manhattan-based real estate agent, Guthrie Garvin of Massey Knakal Realty Services, who did not return requests for an interview.

Paolillo reports that the Jesuits told the wellness center that it would need to provide a way out of the current contract if the organization was still interested in buying the property.

On June 6, Bentley sent an open letter to Father Cooke stating that the wellness center would match the developer’s price of just over $35 million as well as any additional costs to void the contract. Father Cooke directed him to Garvin, according to Bentley.

Paolillo said he couldn’t say if the center’s offer still stands.

Bentley said other efforts to save the mansion include examining the documents the Brady family used in handing the property over to the Jesuits in the late 1930s.

While Bentley tries to engage the Jesuits in a discussion, and searches for ways to save the mansion, he remains hopeful. He cited how in recent years the Christ Episcopal Church in Manhasset was saved by reaching an agreement with developers.

“When you say something can’t be done, if you put the right parties in the room and they work on it,” he said, “you often find there is a solution that works for everyone.”