Estate leaves couples in wedding limbo

January 4, 2011 1:55:29 PM PST
Dozens of couples from our area are in matrimonial limbo. They paid a lot of money to reserve their wedding dates at an estate in Elkins Park, Montgomery County, but they are now caught in the crossfire of a legal battle.

This is a fascinating story that involves brides, nuns, and a breathtaking property you may not even know is right in our backyard.

Beckoned by grand chandeliers, marble columns, and gilded detailing, brides and grooms flock to the Elkins Estate and most pay hefty fees up front and in full to say "I do" here.

Ashley Schaffer and her fiancé paid nearly $7,000 to tie the knot here this October.

"We knew right away that was where we wanted to get married. We could picture it perfectly," Ashely Schaffer of Center City said.

Kelley Graff and John McConnell paid $5,070 for a wedding this June.

"They had beautiful grounds and when you first walk into the estate, it's just absolutely gorgeous," Kelley Graff of Churchville, Pa. said. "I've booked everything from the caterer to the band, florist, photographer, videographer."

But Kelley, Ashley, and about 70 other brides-to-be may now have to make other plans.

In November, the operator of the Elkins Estate shocked them all by dropping a bombshell.

The Land Conservancy of Elkins Park, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection, meaning it could no longer guarantee weddings or refunds for couples.

"That is still in limbo and in terms of what they can do and can't do and in terms of their money back, it is in the bankruptcy courts ability to decide who gets paid and who doesn't," President of the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park David Dobson said.

Dobson says the bankruptcy filing is due to a dispute with the Conservancy's lender, which happens to be a group of nuns.

You see, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci bought the estate from the Elkins family back in 1932. The nuns then sold it to the Land Conservancy in 2009.

But last November, the sisters took legal action to foreclose on the estate saying the Conservancy had failed to make multiple payments on the mortgage.

"The Elkins Estate has reached out through our attorneys to the Dominican Sisters in order to have them grant us permission to continue holding these events," Dobson said.

The Conservancy says under Chapter 11 it is able to conduct business, at least for now.

The sisters tell Action News if they succeed in foreclosing and get the estate back, they won't be able to honor the bride's contracts because the contracts are with the Land Conservancy and not with them and the sisters are not in the wedding business.

"It's definitely a tough spot for me and my fiancé and other couples like us because we are so caught in limbo," Ashley said.

"My fiancé and I are both planning on going to the court hearing on January 4th and fighting to get our money back," Kelley said.

That's right, on Tuesday, creditors of the Elkins Estate will be able to line up at bankruptcy court to try to eventually get their piece of the pie.

We'll have an update on what happens.

And late Monday, there was a glimmer of hope.

The Conservancy says it's received a large, anonymous donation.

It includes $250,000 to go toward the resolution of the bankruptcy and the estate's business.

Can that save the estate? Again, we'll keep you posted.