By Jon Wolff
After four years of struggle to save the First Baptist Church of Venice, the Venice activist group Save Venice won a major victory in L.A. City Hall on September 29, 2021. This historical African-American church in the heart of Venice has been at the center of the Save Venice group’s efforts to push back against the forces of gentrification since 2017, when it was sold fraudulently to billionaire media mogul Jay Penske. Penske had planned to repurpose the church into his own private mega-mansion but the community of Venice organized and resisted.
Save Venice applied to the City Planning Department’s Office of Historic Resources for historical-cultural monument (HCM) designation for the church in 2018 but that application was denied. An HCM application was resubmitted by L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin in 2020 with assistance from Save Venice, and was then recommended for designation by the Cultural Heritage Commission and the Planning and Land Use Management committee. On Wednesday, September 29, 2021, the full L.A. City Council unanimously approved the designation.
This victory is a significant step in reclaiming the church for the community. The First Baptist Church of Venice has stood for generations as a symbol of Black History in Venice. Councilmember Mike Bonin expressed this accurately when he said, “Not only do Black Lives Matter but Black History Matters too.”
Save Venice faced powerful opposition, but they persevered against the odds and prevailed. In a celebratory gathering in front of the church after the City Council vote, they declared, “Venice Lives!”
Save Venice recognizes the hard work and dedication of all the volunteers who have fought for the church: Jataun Valentine, Laddie Williams, Dr. Naomi Nightingale, Margaret Molloy, Lydia Ponce, Ingrid Mueller, Eileen Archibald, Ed Ferrer, Jay Jolliffe, Pam Anderson, Sara Mahir, Carmen Fanali, Carol Powell, David Johnson, Rev. Oscar Rhone, Wil Stern, Jake Greene, Kim Ford, Ivy Beach, Adolfo Alzuphar, Soni Lloyd, Keli Arslancan, Esteban Pulido, Andi Anderegg, Beth Allyn, Loly Garcia, Ian the People of California, and Jon Wolff.