Feb 18, 2024

Unification Church sells Cardinal Cushing Villa for $5 million

Ethan Forman | Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
February 15, 2024

The former Cardinal Cushing Villa on Western Avenue, whose sale in 1980 sparked an uproar that drew national attention when the waterfront estate was sold to the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, has sold for $5 million to a Gloucester real estate company, according to the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds.

The property sold for far less than the asking price of $9 million, according to its listing.

According to the deed, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, a California nonprofit corporation registered to do business in Massachusetts with an address in New York, sold the 12-acre property at 190 Western Ave. to Lookout Hill LLC of Gloucester. The sale was recorded on Tuesday.

The sale generated $22,800 in excise tax for the state, according to a statement from the Registry of Deeds.

Lookout Hill LLC is managed by J. Gibson Carey of Stillington Drive in Gloucester, according to its certificate of organization on file with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Corporations Division.

Stillington Drive sits about a half a mile south of the Western Avenue estate. Attempts to reach Carey by phone to comment on his plans for the property were unsuccessful.

The property

The property contains a two-story Tudor-style villa with 22 bedrooms that abuts a freshwater cove, the registry statement said.

The property also features a medieval castle on a high cliff along the shore, and a smaller medieval tower leading to a stone dock on the water, photos on the real estate website Realtor.com show.

City records assessed the property at nearly $9 million and the property was listed for sale for $9 million, according to a listing by Biria St. John of CBRE, Inc. A message was left for him seeking comment on the sale.

The listing states the property has 16 full baths, three half baths, and 18,151 square feet with 35 rooms in all. The listing said the property was built in 1845.

The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity has since changed its name to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification and its U.S. headquarters is in New York. A call and an email were sent to the nonprofit religious organization seeking comment as to why it sold the property.

The city Building Department did not have any records of permits being pulled for work there.

Uproar over church

The property was acquired by the Unification Church in June 1980 as a retreat center, but its sale, and that of the former Bob’s Clam Shack on East Main Street by a Moon-affiliated company which outbid local businessmen, touched off a wave of opposition and protests in America’s oldest fishing port, according to various news clippings on file at the Cape Ann Museum. The controversy in Gloucester was even featured on a report on “60 Minutes” in 1981.

The villa was first bought from Cardinal Cushing Villa Inc. by businessman Myron Block for $1 million who then sold it to the church shortly thereafter for more than $1.1 million, according to city records.

News reports, including in this paper, the Boston Globe and others, described how Block had arranged to buy the property for the church, selling it through a personal friend who headed up the Unification Church in Massachusetts.

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. had left the property to the Catholic Church 25 years before, and the property had been a retreat for the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception before the sale, according to a June 16, 1980, story in the Globe. Gloucester’s mayor at the time, Leo Alper, vehemently opposed the sale. An official of the Unification Church at the time vowed not to recruit new members in Gloucester.

There were fears in 1980 the church would take over the fishing industry, buy up the waterfront, and proselytize Gloucester young people during a worldwide push to get into the fishing industry, according to a 1990 story by former Times staff writer Bill Kirk, “but a decade later, that threat has failed to materialize,” Kirk wrote.

The church had been fishing for tuna off Gloucester since the mid-1970s, and had bought a house on Western Avenue and a wharf and marina off East Main Street.

“But it was the purchase of the Cardinal Cushing Villa and Bob’s Clam Shack that galvanized an intense opposition to the church,” Kirk reported.

However, since the church’s acquisition of the villa and clam shack from 1978 to 1980, it had only acquired one other significant piece of property, a boat yard, in East Gloucester, Kirk’s article pointed out.

In 1990, because the villa was used for religious purposes it was exempt from taxation, but the church made a yearly $25,000 payment in lieu of taxes, the article stated. The villa had been the only property that had been registered in the church’s name.

According to a 2004 profile of the church in Gloucester 25 years later in the Boston Globe by then staff writer Steven Rosenberg, the company True World Foods, which was run by church members at the time, owned 17 parcels in the city, including two marinas, and International Lobster, one of the city’s largest lobster wholesaler plants. The uproar around the church had vanished, the story said.

In July 2019, the villa again made headlines as the location of a two-day interior shoot of a haunted house scene for Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions’ and Netflix Productions’ “Hubie Halloween.” The property was still owned by the Unification Church at the time.

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or at eforman@gloucestertimes.com.


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