Budget Lodgings at Spiritual Centers

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Sleep with the saints in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco

Though they are normally pictured as Gothic castles on rural hills, America's spiritual centers (with in-house accommodations) are also found smack-dab in the center of some of our biggest and most heavily visited cities. And there they provide some of the most suitable budget lodgings in all the nation for travelers in search of both frugality and propriety. Here, if you'll excuse the alliteration, is cost-conscious comfort in contemplative surroundings.

New York City

Even the most enthusiastic tourists can find New York's high pressure a bit daunting. Here, by contrast, is serenity - on a budget.

The Leo House (332 W. 23rd St., 212/929-1010, fax 212/366-6801) was already a 100-year-long mainstay when its surrounding Chelsea district recently became a trendy center of chic restaurants, art galleries, nightspots, and the performing arts (don't miss the Joyce dance theater). Self-styled as "A Heart in New York," it has a wood-paneled breakfast room that today is filled with multilingual chatter as guests enjoy a $6 buffet, complete with home-baked breads. The emphasis here is on the quiet and clean. But it has all the creature comforts you'd want, including cable television and telephones, although in compact rooms. Some units have private baths; others share a shower, but all have a sink and toilet. Singles start at $62 and doubles at $70, with a few larger rooms for families.

St. Hilda's House (621 W. 113th St., 212/932-8098, ext. 345, outpourings@chssisters.org) is a big leap uptown, just steps from Riverside Church and the giant Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (a don't-miss sightseeing attraction). It is a retreat house of the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit, consisting of three converted brownstones in which neat single rooms rent from $65 a night (there are three doubles, which cost $130 a night), and most guests share a bathroom. The nuns center their lives around daily prayer services, and anyone who spends the night is invited to join them.

Landmark Guest Rooms (3041 Broadway, 212/280-1313, tcabrera@uts.colum bia.edu) of the Union Theological Seminary near the Upper West Side's Columbia University, with its English Gothic architecture and tree-filled quad, is like a time machine transporting you to the past. And yet its recently redecorated rooms all have air-conditioning, cable television, a mini-fridge, and private bath. With continental breakfast included, single rooms start at $150, making this one of the priciest of our properties.

The House of the Redeemer (7 E. 95th St., 212/289-0399, fax 212/410-7899, info@redeem.org), on the elegant Upper East Side of Manhattan near Museum Mile (Metropolitan, Guggenheim, Frick), is a retreat where guests in the third- and fourth-floor rooms sleep under the same roof that once housed Edith Shepard Fabbri, Cornelius Vanderbilt's great-granddaughter. Ms. Fabbri donated the house to be used as "a place apart," and it's often filled with quiet groups. When it's not, others can enjoy its splendid fifteenth-century Italian library and newly redesigned chapel that overlooks Central Park. Rooms in this peaceful bit of paradise start at $60 for a single with a shared bath.

Chicago

Carl Sandburg called Chicago "Hog Butcher," "Tool Maker," and "Stacker of Wheat," but obviously he never stayed at one of the city's ultragenteel guesthouses.

Urban Meditation Retreat Center (1710 W. Cornelia Ave., 773/528-8685, fax 773/528-9909, buddha@enteract. com) is a quiet beacon for those with busy lives, particularly blessed by its pleasant sunroom and open deck devoted to restful reflection. At this Zen Buddhist temple, visitors attend early morning meditation and stay on the fourth floor, which has been fitted out with single or dormitory-style rooms with access to kitchen facilities. Located only 15 minutes from downtown by bus or elevated train, it attracts young professionals with accommodations priced at only $45 a night.

Imani House (1340 E. 72nd St., 773/643-0359), whose name means "faith" in Swahili, is a rambling building that over the years has served as both a Catholic rectory and a convent, and is now a lodgings place for transient visitors when people on formal retreats are not in residence. Up to 35 guests can choose rooms that range from singles to triples, and the kitchen, dining room, and sitting rooms make it feel like home. Somewhat off the beaten track, this South Shore facility varies prices to match group size and season, but in general the charge is $15 per person per night.

Bethlehem House (1125 North La Salle Blvd., 312/642-3638) is next door to the Convent of St. Anne, in the heart of Chicago, and both buildings date from the late nineteenth century. The guesthouse, which once served as a butler's residence, has five single rooms with a shared bath. Its quiet convenience costs just $25 a night.

Benedictine Bed and Breakfast (3111 S. Aberdeen St., 888/539-4261, fax 773/927-5734, porter@chicagomonk.org) is a two-bedroom loft apartment operated by monks dedicated to their order's long tradition of caring for travelers. They offer far more than the usual B&B amenities, including a dataport in each bedroom, a fax machine, and secure, off-street parking. With a complete kitchen, dining area, and study, there's plenty of space for up to four guests. Rates range from $145 to $185 per night with breakfast treats such as pineapple topped with Wisconsin maple syrup, delivered to the door with a morning newspaper. It's even possible to make reservations via their Web site at www.chicagomonk.org.

San Francisco

It's been a long time since San Francisco was founded by Spanish missionaries (as Yerba Buena, on the Bay of San Francisco), but there are still open doors for those seeking a spiritual connection in the "City by the Bay."

San Damiano Friary (573 Dolores St., 415/861-1372, fax 415/861-7952) is just two blocks from the historic Mission San Francisco de Assisi, the city's oldest structure. Both it and its neighbor, St. Francis House (see below), are run by orders associated with the city's namesake. Visitors to San Damiano stay in simple single rooms with a shared bath, for a self-determined donation. Despite the brothers' busy schedules, which include work in health care, teaching, and the arts, their hospitality includes sharing their evening meal.

St. Francis House (3743 Cesar Chavez St., 415/824-0288, fax 415/826-7569) is also in the area known as the Mission District. The nuns here welcome visitors to a small guest apartment that sleeps three and comes with a complete kitchen. Set off from the street, it also has a garden that is ideal for quiet reflection. The donation is $30 a night.

Incarnation Priory (1601 Oxford St., Berkeley, 510/548-3406, ohcmonks@ohcmonks.org.), just a 20-minute ride on the BART train system from San Francisco proper, is a short walk up the hill from the BART station and right on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus, near coffee bars and bookstores. Don't be put off by the apartment-house exterior; this is a real Anglican priory with a complete guest apartment (housing as many as four) on the second floor. The priory asks $40 per night for the entire apartment.

Incarnation Monastery (1369 La Loma Ave., Berkeley, 510/548-0965) will require a bus or taxi, but it's well worth the trip. The monastery is built on the side of a hill with a sweeping view that includes the Golden Gate Bridge and the mountains beyond. The $45-per-night guest rooms share bathrooms, but breakfast is included. And the splendor of the setting is enhanced by the stillness of the monastery.

The San Francisco Zen Center (300 Page St., 415/863-3136, ccoffice@sfzc.org), just a block from very hip Haight Street, refers to its guest facility simply as the "City Center." Here guests will find single and double rooms, some with private baths, renting from $55 to $93. While those rates do not include meals, vegetarian fare is plentiful and available at the Center for under $8 a big plate. This elegant building was designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan; its impressive courtyard invites introspection and relaxation.

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