July 7, 2020 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

Historical Venice Church to Become Mansion for Multi-Millionaire?

Lawmakers deny an appeal intended to stop conversion of First Baptist Church of Venice

By Sam Catanzaro

A half-century-old church in Venice with deep historical ties to the area’s African American community may soon become a mansion for a billionaire’s family.

The church is the First Baptist Church of Venice, now owned by Jay Penske, the son of automotive billionaire Roger Penske. Jay and his wife Elaine want the City of Los Angeles to approve an exemption allowing them to change the use of the mid-century church into an 11,860 square-foot single-family home with a rooftop deck. Jay and Elaine, whose net worth is around $800 million, say they want to raise their children in Venice. In 2015 they bought the church for $6.3 million from First Baptist Church of Venice Bishop Horace Allen after the congregation voted 41-9 in favor of selling the church, a sale that a judge later ruled was fraudulent.

On Tuesday, January 14 the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee (Planning Committee) unanimously denied an appeal intended to overturn a West LA planning commission decision allowing for the conversion of First Baptist into a single-family residence.

First Baptist Church of Venice in 1911 before the church was on Westminster.

The appeal, filed by Venice resident and activist Mike Bravo, argued that the First Baptist Church of Venice, founded in 1910, is a historical resource and its conversion into a single-family home would degrade the character of the surrounding Oakwood neighborhood.

“The Oakwood Planning District is significant as a rare example of an early-20th century African-American enclave in Venice,” reads the appeal. “The First Baptist Church was the place that helped represent, unify and strengthen the community throughout the years, from the early 1900s when the first African Americans came to work in Venice and had to cling together, to barter their services, worship together and survive. With First Baptist Church as their rock, the African American people survived through the hardships and aftermath of wars, the great depression, and the daunting years of civil, economic and infrastructure neglect by the City of Los Angeles.”

In 2000, Los Angeles City Council designated the corner of Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue where the church stands as a permanent ceremonial location and created Bishop E.L. Holmes Square named after the longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Venice. In 2018, however, Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Commission found the church did not meet the conditions to become a historical landmark, a major setback for activists trying to save the building.

A sketch of the Penske family’s plan for the church.

Under terms that the Penske family agreed to, the facade and aesthetic of the church must be retained. Councilmember Mike Bonin, a member of the Planning Committee who voted to deny the appeal, said in a Facebook post that this agreement achieves many of the same results as a landmark status.

“Our Planning Committee approved a plan requiring the new owners of the former First Baptist Church of Venice — which did not receive official landmark designation from the commission — to preserve the facade and aesthetic, achieving many of the goals of landmark designation,” Bonin said.

The post, however, has prompted a backlash in the comments section from some Facebook users.

“Just to be clear, the billionaire kid gets to tear down the community church and build his oversized McMansion, but he has to keep the church facade…and you think you’ve accomplished something for the community?” wrote a Facebook user named Steve in a comment.

Supporters of the church say that preserving the facade and aesthetic of the church is not enough to honor the building’s legacy, wanting the church to function as a community space instead of a private residence.

“This church should be gifted back to the community that it was stolen in the form of reparations,” wrote Laddie Williams from the organization Venice Lives in a letter to City Council. “This church should be respected by the City of Los Angeles and restored to its integral beauty and be used once again to gather together in worship in all denominations, house families, feed families, educate children, give people hope that is so desperately needed in our city.”

“This church should be respected by the City of Los Angeles and restored to its integral beauty and be used once again to gather together in worship in all denominations, house families, feed families, educate children, give people hope that is so desperately needed in our city.”

Laddie Williams, Save Venice

While there has been no survey or polling to determine if the public at large supports the Penske’s family attempt to redevelop the church, according to a West Los Angeles Planning Commission report, 20 out of 21 emails and letters received regarding the project were in opposition.

“Approximately 21 emails were submitted by members of the community, of which 20 letters voiced opposition to the project and one letter was in support. Several phone calls were received, from members of the previous congregation of the First Baptist Church, in opposition to the proposed change of use,” reads the report.

Yo! Venice has reached out to the law firm representing the property owner of the church for a statement but they could not immediately be reached for comment.

Related Posts

LAFD Puts out Ballona Wetlands Fire

July 6, 2020

July 6, 2020 1

Grass fire breaks out Sunday afternoon By Sam Catanzaro Los Angeles firefighters put out a grass fire that broke out...

Venice Sees Unhealthy Air Quality After Fireworks

July 5, 2020

July 5, 2020 1

Fireworks continue in LA County despite ban By Sam Catanzaro Air quality throughout most of Los Angeles County, including Venice,...

Newsom Shuts Down Los Angeles Dining Rooms

July 1, 2020

July 1, 2020 1

Earlier this week Los Angeles County’s public health director said that almost half of restaurants and bars were not following...

Venice Beach Scores High Marks on Water Quality Report

July 1, 2020

July 1, 2020 1

Heal the Bay releases annual report By Sam Catanzaro Venice Beach scored high marks in Heal the Bay’s annual water...

Video: West Los Angeles VA Tent Row

June 30, 2020

June 30, 2020

What is the deal with the row of tents outside the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus? Learn more in...

County Directs Closures of Beaches During 4th of July Weekend

June 29, 2020

June 29, 2020 1

Fireworks displays also banned in county By Sam Catanzaro After reporting the highest single one-day COVID-19 case count, Los Angeles...

LA County’s Highest Single-Day COVID-19 Case Count Reported

June 29, 2020

June 29, 2020 3

One in every 140 people in the county has the virus and is infectious, say LA County health officials By...

Newsom Orders Bars in LA County to Close

June 28, 2020

June 28, 2020 1

Countywide COVID-19 cases approaching 100,000 By Sam Catanzaro California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the closure of Los Angeles County...

Closing Abbot Kinney on Weekends for Pedestrians?

June 26, 2020

June 26, 2020 2

Venice Neighborhood Council June meeting recap, part 2. Read part 1 HERE. As businesses adapt to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)...

One Venice-Area Sexual Assault Suspect Still Sought by Police

June 24, 2020

June 24, 2020 1

LAPD arrest one suspect on suspicion of forced sexual penetration By Sam Catanzaro After arresting one suspect, Los Angeles police...

Second Victim Dies in Venice CVS Shooting

June 23, 2020

June 23, 2020 2

Double homicide occurs at Lincoln Boulevard CVS Monday night By Sam Catanzaro A second victim has died following a shooting...

Fatal Shooting Occurs at Venice CVS

June 22, 2020

June 22, 2020 2

Update: https://yovenice.com/2020/06/23/second-victim-dies-in-venice-cvs-shooting/ Two men shot at CVS on Lincoln Boulevard By Sam Catanzaro A shooting at a Venice CVS has...

Video: Housing LA’s Homeless Under Freeway Underpasses

June 22, 2020

June 22, 2020

As ordered by a federal judge, Los Angeles will provide housing for almost 7,000 homeless individuals, especially those living under...

New Bethel Stained Glass Windows, New VNC Board Members, Speed Bumps?

June 19, 2020

June 19, 2020 2

Part 1 recap of the June 16 Venice Neighborhood Council Meeting By Angela McGregor The June 16th meeting of the...

Newsom Orders Statewide Mask Wearing

June 18, 2020

June 18, 2020 1

Los Angeles County reports highest daily COVID-19 Wednesday By Sam Catanzaro Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered all Californians to wear...