Photo: Jason Kuffer/Flickr
In 2004, The Church of Scientology launched an initiative for property acquisition, hoping to increase its visibility throughout the world. The Church, which was established by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, uses aggressive fundraising among its members to grow its real estate portfolio, estimated to be worth $1.5 billion according to Jeffrey Augustine, author of the blog The Scientology Money Project.
Despite its efforts, the American Religious Identification Survey found the Church’s membership has declined by more than 50 percent since 2001 to 25,000 members. In Canada, a 2001 census identified just 1,525 Scientologists and throughout England and Wales that figure was 1,781.
To keep up appearances, Scientology’s steady acquisition of property has not abated — the Church claims to have doubled their real estate holdings since 2004, acquiring more than 70 buildings. However, these multimillion-dollar purchases have left The Church without adequate funding to preserve the buildings, many of which are historic and now stand vacant and falling into decay. Here, we explore 10 major structures that Tom Cruise should really step in and bankroll.
In 2013, the Church of Scientology sold their former headquarters, a Richardsonian Romanesque style building, at 448 Beacon Street for $10.5 million. Towards the peak of the financial crisis in 2008, they also purchased the Alexandra Hotel, a late Gothic building dating back to 1875 that was once frequented by Boston elites.
This building too, went untouched for six years until it was put back on the market in December 2014. The neighboring structure, known as the Ivory Bean building, had been purchased by the Church at the same time but had to be torn down after it fell into such disrepair that bricks in its facade began crumbling onto the sidewalk. When questioned about the sale of the Alexandra Hotel, Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology Boston stated, “Some upgrades have caused a need for more space for course-rooms. With that, our international office told us that the Hotel Alexandra will not work because we need at least 50,000 square feet.”
In the Queen City, Scientologists purchased a 134-year-old former publishing house at 223 West Fourth Street. This past February, the empty building was placed back on the market and sold to a high-end condo developer for $550,000. The Church’s “greater Cincinnati” branch has since been relocated to their facility in Florence, Kentucky.
In Missouri, the Church of Scientology bought the former City National Bank building, which was built in 1928 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 1801 Grand Boulevard, it was purchased for around $5 million. Although the sale was made in 2007, the building remains largely unused. In the U.S., Scientology is exempt from real estate taxes because it is recognized as a religion. However, Missouri law states that a property must be “actually and regularly used exclusively for religious worship” in order to forego payment. In an email to The Pitch, a Kansas City weekly newspaper, Scientology’s deputy chief administrator for Jackson County wrote, “While the Church has not been able to utilize the entire building due to the needed construction and repairs, it has been confirmed that there is an ongoing religious use.” Despite this statement, locals maintain the building is empty and being neglected — citing a broken window and chipping paint.
In 2013, the City of Philadelphia went so far as to sue the Church of Scientology for leaving the 15-story Cunningham Piano building unoccupied for six years. The building had been purchased for $7.85 million but plans to develop it into a cathedral never materialized. The city claimed the Church was in violation of its ‘doors-and-windows’ ordinance, which can bring about fines of up to $300 per day.
In April, TimeOut reported that the Church is planning to open a so-called Ideal Org along Printers Row at 650 South Clark Street. The building was originally purchased in 2007, but the Church has yet to move into its new location. In 2013, the City filed a $2,000 housing complaint against the Church of Scientology but the case will not be heard until September 2015.
In Montreal’s Quartier Latin, the Church purchased the former La Patrie newspaper building for $4.25 million in 2007. The seven-story structure dates back to 1906 and is beautifully embellished with grill-work, columns and brick terra cotta. Eight years later, it remains boarded up and covered in graffiti. A music store, punk rock venue and art gallery have all occupied the space since it was purchased. An investigation by Métro, a local newspaper, revealed that the Church of Scientology owes the City of Montreal $117,000 in unpaid taxes, in addition to penalties and interest. The La Patrie building is located at 180 Sainte Catherine East.
For nearly 34 years, the Church occupied an eight-story building at 696 Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. In January 2013, it was announced that the building was in for some much-needed renovations, to include a theatre, bookstore and a “testing center.” Renderings of interior and exterior remodeling were unveiled to the public, but the building has stood untouched for the past two years and its construction application remains under review by the city. According to an investigation by the Toronto Star, the Church of Scientology owes the City of Toronto over $100,000 in property taxes and late payment penalties. The Church currently operates out of a much smaller facility at 77 Peter Street.
Photo: hobvias sudoneighm/Flickr
In the North East region of England, the Church of Scientology purchased the Windmill Hills former school and care home. After nearly eight years, the compound remains empty, attracting squatters and drug addicts, according to the BBC. The building was purchased for £1.5 million ($2,361,592 USD) by a parishioner who then transferred the deed over to the Church. The local council is now considering taking legal action to ensure the building’s future.
In 2007, the Church spent over £3.6 million ($5.6 million USD) to purchase a former distillery, built in 1895. Planning permission to turn the Victorian structure into a “place of worship”was denied by the Trafford council after concerns were expressed about parking. Scientology is recognized as a religion in Britain, however, it is not a registered charity.
Just outside Birmingham, plans to convert a historic mansion into the regional headquarters of the Church of Scientology were approved by the city council in 2013. The purchase was originally made in 2007 for £4.2 million ($6.6 million USD). Despite having received a go-ahead from the city, the Church has yet to begin renovations, which are said to include a 140-seat chapel, training center and 40 offices.
Photo: Elliot Brown/Flickr