Last night at the City of Los Angeles Planning Department meeting supporters of First Baptist Church of Venice gathered to appeal a change of use from church to personal residence. The owner of Rolling Stone Magazine Jay Penske and his wife Elaine purchased the property with the intent of turning it into their personal residence. Several issues such as the legality of the sale and a pending historical status have citizens of Venice outraged at the proposed new use.
First Baptist Church is located in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice at 7th & Westminster. The original church was built by African American architect Henry Williams, Sr in 1911. It is the oldest African American church in the Venice area. The building that stands on the property today was built in 1971.
At the heart of the dispute is the sale of the property by the pastor of the church Horace Allen and whether he had the right to sell the property which had been paid off at one time. It was found that pastor Allen had taken loans out on the property and was eventually forced to sell to pay off the loans. There is pending ligation on this issue
Jay Penske and his wife Elaine were present at the hearing on the change of use of the property. A spokesperson for the couple called the current site, “A spot for dumping old mattresses and termites.” Mrs. Penske spoke and told the commissioners she did some community outreach. A resident declared that she spoke to one of the people sent to do community outreach who did not know the property in question was a church.
Supporters of the church argued that the property is a sacred space and culturally meaningful to African Americans in the area. The preservation of the Jewish Synagogue Mishkon Tephilo was mentioned as an example of a religious space being declared a symbol of the Jewish faith.
Below Jay Penske looks on as opponents of the project speak.
The project was approved by the Venice Neighborhood Council. Supporters of First Baptist Church are upset that the architect of the project is on the council and was included in the vote.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners debated the pertinent issues such as the fact that the Penske’s obtained title insurance on the property from Chicago Title Company, the proposed residence would be 11,000 square feet and would not be in line with the other residences located in that area, and the historical status of the church is still being decided. The commissioners voted on the appeal and the result was a tie. The final decision was postponed until August 15, 2018 when an additional commissioner will be available to vote on the issue.