Katy Perry, Bernard Maybeck and the nuns 16.07.15

 

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The singer has her heart set on the Arts and Crafts architect’s 1927 covent in Los Feliz and is willing to take on the resident nuns and a hospitality tycoon to get hold of it, says Edwin Heathcote

Picture this. Katy Perry needs to persuade the nuns to sell their convent. They don’t want to go, but they are being offered a lot of cash – $14.5m to be exact. They know she’s worth it – as the highest-paid female celebrity in the world, her annual income is estimated at $135m.

So she tries to persuade them. First, Perry whips out her phone to remind her of the lyrics to the gospel classic “Oh Happy Day” then belts out a passionate rendition. There’s a pause. Nervous silence in the chilly stone chapel-cum-dining-room. She senses the nuns aren’t convinced, so she shows them the inside of her left wrist where the word “Jesus” is tattooed. This, clearly, is a pious young woman of faith. Her parents were Pentecostal pastors, born-again Christians. Jesus is in her soul. And under her skin.

But when she goes away, the nuns google her. There is whipped cream spurting from her breasts. There are enhanced boobs everywhere. There are the lyrics to “I kissed a girl” and “Ur So Gay”. “Well,” Sister Rita says, “I found her videos and I wasn't happy with any of it.” In the press Perry, despite her background in the “Christian music scene”, has said she believes in aliens and astrology, but not in God. Oh dear.

 

Words

Edwin Heathcote

 

Above: The convent, Earle C. Anthony House in Los Feliz, in Los Angeles, by Bernard Maybeck (1927)

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The house has a hulking, pink-hued cylindrical corner tower of the Rapunzel type, it has an inhabited bridge, Italianate gardens, mad topiary, a fountain terrace with a sublime view over the San Gabriel Mountains and, of course, a fish-shaped swimming pool

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Maybeck's First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley

The house, though, is something else. You can see why Perry wants it. It was designed in 1927 by Bernard Maybeck, the Arts and Crafts architect of San Francisco’s domed Palace of Fine Arts and the brilliantly hybrid First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley (1910). The client was Earle C. Anthony, inventor of the electric car in 1897 (yes, 1897) and the car radio – as well as the man who saved the Hollywood Bowl from demolition.

The building is, we might say, Mediterranean/medieval/Moorish/musical style, a sprawling, eight-and-a-half acre hillside plot at 3441 Waverly Drive, in upscale Los Feliz. It has a hulking, pink-hued cylindrical corner tower of the Rapunzel type, it has an inhabited bridge, Italianate gardens, mad topiary, a fountain terrace with a sublime view over the San Gabriel Mountains and, of course, a fish-shaped swimming pool – after all the fish is the symbol of Christ. In the tower is a replica of the Pope’s private prayer room in the Vatican.

This is a real LA neighbourhood. Walt Disney’s former pad is a little way down the road (it has a projection room where he rough-cut Snow White) and next door is a house where Charles Manson’s Family committed one of their most notorious and bloody murders in 1969. The murderers wrote “Helter Skelter” (after the Beatles Song beloved of their master) in blood on the dead couple’s fridge. They misspelt it as “Healter Skelter”. It’s the stuff of movie tours.

   

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San Francisco’s domed Palace of Fine Arts, also by Maybeck

There are five nuns left in the order, and even they no longer live on site. The only resident is the caretaker and his two dogs. The nuns are members of the severely dwindled Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There used to be more than 50 of them here, but the attractions of the sisterhood (they were a radically progressive order, refusing to wear habits, though they have mellowed in time and are now fully inhabited) are clearly not what they were.

Two of the nuns say they’ve already agreed to sell – not to Perry, but to Dana Hollister, a local hospitality tycoon who already owns the 1923 Paramour Estate, designed by architect Robert D. Farquhar (and set for the Coen Brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty and others), a house also formerly owned by an order of nuns. Hollister has form.

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With annual income of $135m, Katy Perry is the highest-paid female celebrity in the world

But Perry has $10m in cash. Jesus saves, but Perry is loaded. The other nuns want to stay right where they are. Who wouldn’t? The archdiocese meanwhile is on Perry’s side. They’re trying to get the agreement with Hollister voided so Perry can move in. She has said that, unlike Hollister who plans to turn the house into a hotel (who knows what might go on in an LA hotel?), the pop star will move in herself, with her mother and granny and use it as a place to, er, find herself. The nuns are hoping the Pope might step in to defend their right to stay.

Sometimes you want to wrap up a piece like this neatly. Sometimes, you just can’t. Sometimes, there really is nothing to add.

   
     

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