Got a spare $20 million on hand? Ready to finally fork over for those 260 acres with nine buildings, gorgeously overlooking the Hudson River and distant Catskill Mountains? For a cool $16,750,000, down from the original asking price of $17,995,000, you can have the former Massena estate in Barrytown, originally owned by the illustrious Livingston family, later bought by John D. Rockefeller so he could build a monastery for the Christian Brothers there, and still later sold to the Unification Church, then led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, so he could start a Theological Seminary for his huge enterprise in the 1970s. That’s who is selling it now.
And an extra $2 million could go a long way towards making it into whatever one wanted.
“We have to find someone wealthy. We’re thinking in terms of museums, wellness centers, schools,” said Victoria Fischer of the property, being one of two brokers at Marcus & Milchap in Westchester County handling its sale since late Spring. “The place is in great shape; they’re still using the building.”
Fisher spoke about other large properties in the general neighborhood. Edgewater is a storied estate overlooking the Hudson that’s regained its old glory in recent years, after being owned for a spell by a much-younger Gore Vidal. Rokeby, also known as La Bergerie, is the former Astor estate a little to the south, run by the Aldrich family for years as a shared creative bastion where, among other things, New York City’s annual Halloween parade through Greenwich Village gets plotted out each summer and fall. Sylvania, smaller than the rest, remains in a storied family whose name shall go unmentioned; George and Susan Quasha maintain their long-running Station Hill compound for publishing and other artistic endeavors in what could be construed as “downtown” Barrytown (a crossroads of buildings, as it were).
“I’m not one to look behind I know that times must change/ But over there in Barrytown they do things very strange,” sang Steely Dan in their song “Barrytown,” off their 1974 album Pretzel Logic.
“The Banks are lined with elegant villas — thought it was the consummation of Earthly Bliss to live in one of those palaces, on such a Noble River, under such a Government,” wrote a young poet named Davidson in the early 19th century, who later grew Edgewater into a grand mansion while some of the old money was running from the area once a railroad was put in right up the banks of the Hudson, breaking their fabled views (and quiet).
When asked about the Unification Seminary’s largest neighbor, Bard College in nearby Annandale-on-Hudson — which recently bought the historic Montgomery Place estate just to the north of what was once Massena, to be used for events and environmental studies programs, among other things — Fisher said her company has reached out to the college. She added that they said they “were not interested at this point.”
What the realtors have been getting to date, she added, were “nibbles and bites, basically from people who want to make sure they have the money to do what they want.”
She mentioned the recent sale of a large convent, formerly the Kenwood Academy and Doane Stuart School in Albany, that sold to developers looking to create condominiums (Doane Stuart moved to a new location within the past decade). What she didn’t mention was that sale ended up one third under its original asking price.
In Barrytown, meanwhile, the Unification Church property includes a 120,000 square foot main building, shaped like an “H” with an updated “upper” half and older, mid-century-style dorms on the lower half. Ancillary buildings add up to another 150,000 square feet. There’s a chapel, library, dining halls, kitchens. There are offices, classrooms, guest rooms, an infirmary, a two-story gym, a 400-seat auditorium, and a 100-seat lecture hall.
“The Unification people feel as if they’re cutting off their left arm, selling the seminary,” Fisher added. They want to keep it but already have a lot of expensive real estate in midtown Manhattan.”
The Unification Church was founded by Rev. Moon in South Korea in the 1950s, following the Korean Conflict. It began spreading in the United States throughout the 1960s, after which Moon moved stateside in 1971. The Barrytown property was bought in 1974, and eventually the church and Rev. Moon bought numerous other properties, including the old New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street in Manhattan. They founded the conservative Washington Times, started matching couples and marrying couples from his followers in mass ceremonies at Madison Square Garden and other arena venues, and Dr. Moon was jailed for tax evasion for several years. He died in 2012.
Back in 1994, when the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival took place in Saugerties, a number of key acts staying on the east side of the Hudson, including Bob Dylan, were flown by helicopter to the Winston Farm concert grounds from a landing area at the seminary.