Nonprofit’s Bankruptcy Disrupts Couples’ Wedding Plans

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April 19, 2011; Source: Philadelphia Inquirer | The bankruptcy in late 2010 of a nonprofit that owns an estate near Philadelphia has many brides and grooms tied up in knots about how they’re going to tie the knot.

Located on 43 acres just outside the northern border of Philadelphia, the former estate of oil and streetcar tycoon William Lukens Elkins was purchased in 2009 by the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park to save it from demolition. For many, the historic estate with its columned Italian Renaissance palace, is the perfect spot for wedding nuptials and other ritzy social events.  However, all that has come to a halt, throwing plans into a tizzy for couples planning to get married there. In addition, those who booked the estate for their ceremonies worry they’ll lose their substantial deposits.

David Dobson, the head of Food for All, what the Philadelphia Inquirercalls one of one of Philadelphia’s largest low-income-housing charities, created the Land Conservancy two years ago to purchase the estate from an order of Dominican Sisters that had owned it since 1932. According to the InquirerDobson made a down payment of $1.5 million using funds from Food For All, while promising the sisters an additional $6.9 million in principal and interest payments.  Although future interest payments continued to come from Food For All, in February 2010 Dobson missed the first $250,000 principal the Land Conservancy owed to the sisters, and by May all payments has stopped. So in November, the Dominican order reclaimed its deed to the property saying the nonprofit had defaulted.

The Land Conservancy subsequently filed for bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, during the period leading to bankruptcy, and while it was unable to meet its debt obligations, the Land Conservancy continued to book weddings far into the future, collecting thousands of dollars in deposits that it now might not be able to refund.  That’s forced couples to shell out thousands more to book new wedding venues. Saying she is sympathetic to the brides, Anne Lythgoe, president of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci, adds that “we have no legal authority to honor contracts made with the Land Conservancy.”

For now, it’s not just the couples waiting to marry who are seeing red. “I feel like I got taken for a ride,” said David Goodwin, whose daughter paid $6,400 to reserve the space for her upcoming wedding. “My daughter’s only going to get married once. And here, I got swindled.”—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

    A correction to this story: There were never any plans at any time by anyone to demolish or tear down the Elkins Park property. In fact a condition of any sale included the requirement of commitments to historic preservation. This error has been repeated frequently in the media and is without any basis in fact.
    Secondly, Food for All, Inc is also in a dispute with Cheltenham Township over its taxes. The township does not recognize Food for All has having not for profit tax exemption, since its activities do not conform to the Zoning Board’s agreement for the use of the property as a place for spiritual retreats. The township is seeking over $400,000 in unpaid taxes.

    Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP President, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci

  • Bruce Trachtenberg

    Thank you for your additional information regarding the Elkins Park property. What makes your correction more disturbing is that the reference to possibly tearing down the structure comes directly from the Estate’s website, which contains the following:

    “Land Conservancy of Elkins Park Inc. rescued the historic Elkins Estate from demolition and development in February 2009…” (

    Bruce Trachtenberg