Every Sunday afternoon at 1:00 PM, you can see a crowd of Venice People gathering in front of the First Baptist Church on the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and Westminster Avenue in Oakwood in the heart of Venice. They gather there to protest the shameful and illegal sale of this historic church building. There are banners, signs, and photos of the History of the church and the Community of Oakwood. There are neighbors, young and old. There are speeches and prayers and colorful chalk designs on the sidewalk. Each Sunday, the crowd grows and the word spreads. And the Venice People mean to fight for and win back this church.
The fight isn’t just for the church building. There’s more to it than that. This church has stood for over a century in Oakwood as a spiritual and cultural cornerstone of the Community. Built by the families of the People of Oakwood, it represents more than just a physical structure. It’s a symbol of the struggles and perseverance of the original Venice Community. Perhaps that’s the reason why the current members of the Venice Neighborhood Council would be so eager to let it go.
At the October meeting of the VNC, there was smiling and congratulating and backslapping by the VNC members a
nd the buyers and their brokers and lawyers. The buyers said nothing about the History of the church. They did say that they would keep a couple of the stained-glass windows in place. And they mentioned, in passing, that the church had some “sentimental value” to some people.
Sentimental value? Does the History of Oakwood and Venice mean anything to these buyers or to the architects and businessmen on the Venice Neighborhood Council? You bet it does. It means the Continuity, Vitality, and Victory of the original Venice Community. It’s just these elements that make the First Baptist Church on 7th and Westminster such a prize for them. The building itself is the physical manifestation, but it’s the History of Venice that they must erase in order to drive out the last Venetians. It’s this History that they omit from the books so that they can rewrite it to justify their illegal occupation.
Over the next few months, you will see stories about the fight for this church in the local realtor-sponsored press. You will find the usual vocabulary of defeatism, with words like “Gentrification” and “Progress”. But don’t be easily clouded by the propaganda. Read the lawsuit. Yes, there’s a lawsuit. Read it at http://savevenice.me/campaigns/save-historical-black-church-venice-ca/ .
The lawsuit was brought by the Trustees of the church. It reveals how the sale was made without the proper authority as prescribed by the church’s bylaws. It tells how the sale was made behind closed doors. It shows how the money was dealt and who dealt it.
And the lawsuit was filed two years ago. So why did the VNC and the VNC’s Land Use and Planning Committee approve the sale? Because they expect you to not care. They expect you to not do anything. They’re hoping to wait this out until the People forget and go away. But clearly, the People of Oakwood in Venice aren’t going away.
The gatherings on Sunday are gaining momentum. More and more neighbors are coming and talking. The History of the church is appearing in print and online. Even the L.A. City politicians are on notice.
At a recent demonstration on Windward Avenue, L.A City Councilman Mike Bonin was confronted and informed by Venice activists about the fight for the church. He claimed ignorance of the scandal; but now he knows. Certainly, at this time, he would like more support from voters in his district. What better way for him to get the residents of Venice on his side than to take a stand on the matter of the illegal sale of the historic church on 7th and Westminster. He would love to hear from you. He can be reached at (213) 473-7011 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Or you can try Juliet Oh of City Planning at email@example.com .
And meanwhile, the gatherings in front of the First Baptist Church will continue. You are welcome to come on Sundays and participate. You can find out more about the fight and learn more about the History of Oakwood and Venice. Hear the History as told by the elder Venetians to the Venetian children whose ancestors dug the canals and built the buildings of Venice. Hear the History and join the fight. Or be forgotten.