VENICE CHURCH UPDATE – By Jon Wolff
The First Baptist Church of Venice was recently purchased by the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), in collaboration with Original Save Venice (OSV). OSV will be involved from top to bottom with the plans to restore the church fully, and to build low income and very low income housing on the lots. OSV will work with CCSM every step of the way in the process of selecting the architect and the architectural designs.
On Sunday, May 7, representatives from Community Corporation of Santa Monica and Original Save Venice held a community meeting in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Venice. CCSM Executive Director Tara Barauskas spoke about CCSM’s mission of “improving lives in neighborhoods”, and of their commitment to serving families and seniors. She said that CCSM bought the property to make affordable housing but also to preserve the church. CCSM serves people who have low paying jobs. CCSM makes housing more diverse and inclusive, and have been doing so already in Santa Monica. They plan to build sixty affordable units on this property in three years time. And the church will remain a church. CCSM will select residents from a lottery, but they will work with the community to ensure the “right of return” for displaced members of the community.
Original Save Venice Spokesperson Dr. Naomi Nightingale spoke about the history of the First Baptist Church of Venice and about OSV’s struggle to save it. She told of the church’s beginnings in the Venice Black Community over a century ago, and how the land for the church was donated by Arthur Reese. She described the work of Pastor E.L. Holmes whose congregation put up the deeds to their homes to build the church building. Pastor Holmes served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Venice for forty-five years. After Pastor Holmes’ and Mrs. Holmes’ passing, the church was headed by one Horace Allen who sold the church in 2017 to millionaire magazine publisher Jay Penske. Penske and his wife intended to gut the church and turn it into their own private mega-mansion.
In late 2017, Venice Activist Laddie Williams began sitting on the front steps of the church, where she was joined by Dr. Naomi Nightingale. They began a protest of the sale of this sacred space. Soon, more Venetians met with them on these steps every Sunday, and rallies and events were staged there. The community came together to form a group to save the First Baptist Church of Venice.
The Original Save Venice group fought the desecration of the church on every front. They lost their appeals to the West L.A. Planning Commission. They were repeatedly blocked by the Venice Neighborhood Council. They got no support from the City of L.A. But finally, with the help of L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin, OSV was able to secure a historical designation for the church and all of its seven lots. Their perseverance proved successful, and they won a great battle in the fight to save the First Baptist Church of Venice.
After five-and-a-half years of struggle, OSV scored a victory for Venice that many naysayers said was impossible. Original Save Venice overcame all obstacles and endured all setbacks. They outlasted all adversaries. And they will go on to win more victories for the glory of Venice in the years to come.