Gatsby-era St. Ignatius Retreat House furnishings being auctioned
Chairs, tables and mirrors from the St. Ignatius Retreat House in North Hills are being auctioned off -- a move some see as the latest sign the "Great Gatsby"-era mansion where a future pope once stayed may be headed for the wrecking ball.
Saturday, an auction house in Queens will sell several dozen items, including two Gothic-style altar cathedral chairs.
The proceeds -- expected to reach $30,000 or more -- will go to Jesuit-run Fordham University, said Karen Cangelosi, senior appraiser at Capo Auction Fine Art and Antiques in Long Island City, which is handling the auction.
"It is bittersweet," Cangelosi said. "We're excited to have it, but realistically it's sort of the end of an era."
The 87-room mansion, also known as Inisfada, built by Catholic philanthropists Nicholas and Genevieve Brady in 1920, was sold by the New York province of the Jesuits in July for $36.5 million.
The new owners, Manhasset Bay Group Inc., have not commented publicly, but local officials say the developers plan to build 66 upscale, single-family homes on the site.
Gold Coast historian Paul Mateyunas, of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, said the auction is "yet another reminder that the St. Ignatius Retreat House is gone forever" and "an additional reminder that the fate of the building is very much in danger."
The potential demolition of the mansion has alarmed preservationists, who call it a historic gem. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, made the house his home base during a U.S. tour in 1936.
After the 72,000-square-foot home was sold, most of its contents were given to Jesuit institutions, said the Rev. Vincent Cooke, who handled the sale for the Jesuits. The spectacular St. Genevieve Chapel, which the Bradys received rare permission from the Vatican to place in a home, was dismantled and given to Fordham.
The university is auctioning some of the nonchapel furnishings it received to help defray the cost of preserving and reconstructing the chapel at the Bronx university, Fordham spokesman Robert Howe said.
Cangelosi said many of the items up for auction are not original to the house, though some are from the same time period it was built, or earlier. An Elizabethan-style carved oak refectory table could date to the 16th century, she said, while an Italian Baroque-style walnut prayer desk may be from the late 18th century.
"I am hoping that what is sold will go to people that are interested in preserving these pieces of furniture and possibly preserving the house," Cangelosi said.
North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said Wednesday the developers have not filed any applications for demolition or building permits.
In September, workers started removing asbestos from the building.