House (of Worship) For Sale 

Since 1997, the stately mansion at 1440 Central Avenue has been the city's only Church of Scientology. But it may soon become home to another church or a new family.

A "For Sale" sign has taken the place of the stone "Church of Scientology" sign that once graced the building's front lawn. The mansion has been on the market for about two months, according to ReMax realtor Dean Graves.

"We're exploring moving farther east," said David Slaughter, who holds the local charter issued by Los Angeles' Church of Scientology headquarters. "Having to drive all the way in from Collierville has become a situation for a lot of our parishioners."

Scientology, founded by science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, is characterized by a belief in the power of a person's spirit to clear itself of past painful experiences through self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.

Locally, Slaughter said a church in East Memphis, preferably near Poplar and I-240, would be more convenient for the church's members. Slaughter said parishioners come from all over the city, but he could not provide an estimate of local church membership.

"We've looked around and found several prospects, but we haven't settled on any," Slaughter said. "We want to sell our building first."

The area is zoned residential, and Graves says it could easily be converted into a single-family home or townhomes. It also could house another church without going through a zoning change.

The 11,500-square-foot building has six bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, and a 2,000-square-foot carriage house. It's currently listed for $895,000. The church purchased the building in 1997 for $475,000.

A 3,000-square-foot basement, currently used as a purification center to help people detox from drugs, features a sauna and changing rooms.

"The building has some gorgeous stained glass that is original to when the house was constructed [in the early 1900s]," Graves said. "It has hardwood floors and a large winding staircase."

Local scientologists have been toying with a move for more than a year. "They've never put it on the market until now," said Graves. "They've contemplated selling, so they can move to a location that better suits their needs."

Central Gardens residents say that the Church of Scientology has been a quiet neighbor.

"I've never seen a human go in there," said Peter Donovan, who manages the nearby University Club of Memphis.

Donovan says he's not picky about who or what moves into the building, so long as "it's not a McDonald's." "From the club's standpoint, we would like to see something come in that's in line with the historic feel of the neighborhood," Donovan said.

As for the scientologists, whose local membership includes Lisa Marie Presley and Isaac Hayes, Slaughter said they will retain a presence in Memphis. "We are definitely not leaving the city," he said.

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