By Jon Wolff
The following is from a recent conversation with Venice Elder, Jataun Valentine about the fight to preserve the historic First Baptist Church on Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue in the Oakwood Community in Venice.
Jataun Valentine: I was raised here in Venice. There’s a lot of History in Venice. I think that needs to be preserved. Especially something like First Baptist Church because it’s a black church and it’s been here for a while and a lot of people put their sweat into it. A lot of people. When it was a small church, the congregation got bigger. They put up their houses for deeds to get the church built. I think it’s a shame what’s happening now. It’s just being handled like it’s nothing. The Holmeses and the other people really put their heart and soul into it. It needs to be preserved. It needs to be told.
Jon Wolff: Yes. And the new owners and the Venice Neighborhood Council have plans to turn it into a single-family home.
JV: Now, the way the Neighborhood Council is, they’re not what you’d call the Heart of Venice. They don’t really know the History. Nor do they care. And too many things are going before them that they’re voting for, for the developers. I think things like the church need to be saved.
JW: Definitely. What would you say to the ones who bought it now? What would you ask for them to do?
JV: I would ask for them to find out if it was bought legally. That’s a concern of a lot of people.
JW: There’s evidence that it might have been a fraudulent sale.
JV: If it was, I would ask them to back off and admit that it was wrong and let it be a church.
JW: What other History can you tell about the church and about the area itself?
JV: Everybody knows who Irving Tabor was. And his wife, Ethel Tabor. She was one of the members from the very beginning. She put a lot of time and effort and money into the church. Like a lot of what I call the “Pioneers”. And it was a staple. It was something that was always respected. To the people that had lived here a long time, the First Baptist Church was their main hold.
JW: You’re related to the Tabors.
JV: Yes. My grandmother is a Tabor. Jenny Tabor, who is my grandmother, was Irving Tabor’s sister. Irving Tabor went on to become Abbot Kinney’s chauffeur. And also a friend. Even though California wasn’t a slave state, Abbot Kinney never stayed at a place where Irving Tabor couldn’t stay when they were travelling and going to different places. Irving Tabor was a businessman too. All the Tabors and the sisters, they all ended up having a trade. In fact, my grandmother’s husband was Alphonse Joseph Henry. That’s my grandfather. He was the first black cement contractor. Irving Tabor found a way to have a place for the family to stay. Because remember, it was covenanted then that the blacks were all on certain streets. The church has always been a mainstay, especially for the black people going way back into slavery. It was one of the mainstays. Everybody has always had respect for the First Baptist Church and all of the churches that are around here.
JW: What do you think makes it so easy for the new owners to just paint over all that History?
JV: Well, they don’t really know the History and they don’t want to hear it. They don’t try to find out. It’s just a building; it’s not a church, something to be respected and to worship in.
JW: What do you think it will take to change their minds?
JV: If they know the truth and if they listen. That’s why, every Sunday, someone is down there at First Baptist Church to let them know what’s going on.
JW: And all the people that are passing by every Sunday get the information.
JV: They’re getting the information and, hopefully, the ones that own it now will find out if it was bought illegally.
JW: Maybe more and more people in Venice that learn about this will make a difference. And they can come out for the events at the Venice Library this month.
JV: We’ll continue doing things every Sunday down by the church. We’ll reach out with Black History Month there at the Library and they’ll go to the Library and ask questions.
JW: The gatherings on Sunday are getting stronger and more people know about it. We’re not slowing down.
JV: We can’t. That’s what they probably think we’ll do. People here in Venice usually keep on until there’s some sort of answer or conclusion. So we have to continue.
JW: Yes ma’am.