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What’s Next for Hollywood’s Hidden Angels Monastery?

For 90 years, Los Angeles Monastery was home to a cloistered community of Dominican nuns who lived, prayed and baked their famous pumpkin bread on the rambling four-acre property nestled on a hill in the heart of Hollywood.

But in recent years, the number of nuns living on the property has fallen from a high of 45 to fewer than six, part of a trend playing out at religious institutions across the country as orders and orders dwindle. religious congregations. When the last sisters were relocated in the fall of 2022, neighbors and supporters of the monastery worried about the future of the property that many had come to see as a spiritual oasis.

Now, in what some say is a modern miracle, it appears that the Monastery of the Angels may be preserved after all. The Dominican friars of the Western Province announced that they have partnered with the Dominican nuns to seek proposals to restore the monastery while leaving the chapel and pumpkin bread business intact.

“Our sisters loved the Hollywood Hills community, and we look forward to working with the friars, stakeholders and the neighborhood to ensure that our beloved monastery can continue to be a blessing to all,” said Sister Maria Christine Behlow, former prioress of the monastery, he said in a statement.

The request for proposals will be published in early April.

“We want to be open to all the creative and interesting ideas out there and do our due diligence to evaluate all possible angles to save the monastery,” said Chris Hanzeli, head of strategic initiatives for the Western Province Dominican Friars. “We are united with the community to protect the treasure of the monastery for generations to come.”

The friars and nuns cannot predict what proposals will come their way, Hanzeli said, but they are committed to preserving the chapel as a sacred space for the community, preserving the pumpkin bread and candy-making business and protecting property in general for the neighborhood. so that “it may continue to be a blessing to all.”

To oversee this process, the Dominicans are working with Dominic Dutra, a Fremont-based real estate agent who has dedicated the past 15 years to helping religious communities in California use their properties creatively.

“Faith-based organizations have been declining in terms of their numbers and now they have a lot of surplus or underutilized land,” Dutra said. Rather than sell their properties to the highest bidder, many of these organizations want to ensure that their land continues to serve the community at large.

“For people of faith, we see it as wanting to give God a chance to step in and show us that miracles can still happen,” said Dutra, who is a Christian. “That’s really the priority here: to inject some hope and a positive outlook into the world.”

A statue of Jesus, erected in 1955, lights up on the grounds of the Los Angeles Monastery in Hollywood.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Monastery was founded in 1924 and was early supported by some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles, including the Dohenys, the Dockweilers, the Van de Kamps, and the Hancocks.

In 1934, the order moved to a sprawling Hollywood property that had belonged to copper mine owner Joseph Giroux, which he bought for just $10. Fourteen years later, Catholic women in Los Angeles raised funds to build a new cloister, chapel and office complex for the sisters on the same site, designed by noted architect Wallace Neff.

Since then, the monastery has served as a spiritual haven for people of all faiths.

“Every time we take people to that property, we see how they slow down and have peace and feel welcome,” said Kim Cooper, a cultural historian who has taken tour groups to the monastery. “LA is a giant swimming pool and the water is cold and deep. There are a few reefs to land on, and Monasterio de los Ángeles is one of them.

Along with her husband, Richard Schave, Cooper is one of the founders of Los Angeles Monastery Foundation. The group, which has no affiliation with the monastery or with the Dominicans, was formed in January 2022 to ensure the monastery remained a sacred space in Los Angeles, including raising enough funds to purchase it if necessary. Now, its members hope to submit a proposal for the property themselves.

“Hollywood was founded as a city of gardens and churches,” Schave said. “Now we have the opportunity to return to the roots of Hollywood.”

Dutra said there will likely be a 90 to 120 day deadline after the RFP is published for individuals and organizations to submit their qualifications and ideas. Ideally, the friars and sisters will be able to determine in which direction they want to go during the next six months. However, if they need more time, they will take it.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” he said.

The property is owned by Los Angeles Monastery, but Dutra said he will also consult with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Vatican, neighborhood members and others as part of the decision-making process.

But he had a caveat: not everyone will get what they want.

“Of course there will be push and pull — we have to meet the long-term interests of the sisters because they are getting older and will have senior care requirements,” she said, “but we want to be as transparent and respectful of everyone’s interests.” . interests as possible.

Establishing a new long-term plan for the monastery is likely to be a multi-year process. A similar project that Dutra worked on with the Sisters of the Holy Family in the Bay Area took seven years from start to finish, but the result was worth the wait. The sisters’ 15-acre property was converted into a 5.5-acre open space park that is now part of the national conservancy, while also creating 47 new housing units for the sisters.

“The church is at a tipping point with this downsizing, and it’s easy for some people to get caught up and think, ‘Oh, this is the end of it,’” Dutra said. “But really, if you think about the resurrection story, that wasn’t the end of it.”

Dutra believes that as the real estate needs of religious institutions change, there is an opportunity for them to reconnect with the outside world and show they are sensitive to those needs as well.

“It is our hope that, in the midst of cynicism and division, we can show that there really is more to life than winning, losing and making money,” he said.