The First Baptist Church of Venice is an historic African-American church in the heart of Venice. This church was founded over a century ago to serve the citizens of the Black Community of Venice. The building that housed the congregation since the 1960s sits at the corner of Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue in Venice. Many members of the congregation still reside in Venice, with descendants of those who built the church still very active in the Community.
The church building was purchased in 2017 by a wealthy White couple, Jay Penske and Elaine
Irwin. The Penskes have planned, for two years now, to gut the church and turn it into their own private mega-mansion. The Penskes have no regard for the history of the First Baptist Church of Venice or the history of the Black Community that built it. They intend to treat the building as they would any other piece of property. One may wonder how it was possible for an historic Black church, with a profound legacy for the People of Venice, to be sold to a couple who have no connection to Venice at all.
Meet Horace Allen.
“Bishop” Horace Allen,as he calls himself, was the last pastor of the church. It was he who sold the building to the Penskes. It was he who saw the church as merely an asset to be traded in the real estate marketplace.
Mr. Allen became pastor of the church in 2006. At the time, the church was a familiar part of
Venice. Nothing was owed on the building or the property. And the congregation had been blessed with honorable previous pastors, such as E.L. Holmes, for whom the intersection at Westminster and 7th is named.
In 2011, Horace Allen’s adult son was arrested for misconduct with an underage girl while he was serving as a youth pastor in the church. Horace Allen took out loans on the church property to pay for his son’s legal defense.
The Bylaws of the First Baptist Church of Venice would have prohibited Allen from taking loans without the proper authority of the Trustees of the church. But in 2012, Allen obtained a loan of $400,000. In mid 2014, Allen took out a loan of $800,000. And in late 2014, another loan of $105,000. In early 2015, he borrowed $980,000. In October 2015, Allen called for an unofficial meeting to announce his plans to sell the church. Then he obtained yet another loan of $2,625,000.
Despite repeated requests by Trustees, Horace Allen refused to disclose the documents for the loans. He was sued in 2015 for fraud by a Trustee and a Minister of the church. He was accused of hiding the existence of the loans, and converting the money from the loans to his own personal use and benefit.
It was alleged that Allen held unannounced meetings to sell some properties and buy another property. Allen’s family members were said to have assaulted, intimidated, and harassed voting church members to keep them from the meetings. Horace Allen’s loan documents were kept hidden from Trustees. His dealings on behalf of the church were unauthorized according to the church’s Bylaws. And his tactics for carrying out his acts were nefarious. With multiple loans unpaid, the First Baptist Church of Venice was sold. A century of Venice Black History was sold for common real estate by Horace Allen.
In 2018, the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles issued a permanent injunction on Horace Allen to comply with the governing documents of the church in all financial matters, and to provide receipts for his corporate expenditures. None of this can repair the harm that Horace Allen brought upon the First Baptist Church of Venice. But all is not lost.
The building still stands. The Venice congregation still exists. And the Save Venice group has been fighting to return this historic church to the Community that built it.
For two years, the Penskes have been held back from desecrating the church and turning it into their own plantation house. Save Venice has battled in court and in Planning Commission meetings to get the City of L.A. to do the right thing and recognize the First Baptist Church of Venice as more than just a building.
You too can join this fight. Come to the gatherings in front of the church on Sundays from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM to learn about the history of the church and the Community. And then spread this knowledge to others. The fight to save the First Baptist Church of Venice is the fight for Venice itself.
Be a part of the Victory.
For more information go to: savexvenice.com