A rally was held on April 14, 2019 at E.L. Holmes Square on Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue in Venice to celebrate a year and a half of struggle to save the First Baptist Church of Venice. The event was organized by the Save Venice team and emceed by Venice Activist Mike Bravo. There was a mighty crowd of people, with speakers and musicians keeping the excitement level high. Media representatives and photographers were everywhere, and a documentary film crew interviewed key members of the Community.
Since 2017, Save Venice has fought to keep this historical African-American church in Venice from becoming a private mega-mansion for a rich White couple, Jay Penske and Elaine Irwin. This church institution had served as a spiritual beacon in the Venice Black Community for over a century until the building was sold to the Penskes, under questionable circumstances, by Horace Allen, a pastor who came from outside of Venice. The City of L.A. has not, at this point, recognized the historical significance of the church. But Save Venice rallied on this special Sunday to draw the Venice Community together to show the world that Venice will not let a such a sacred site go to the gentrifiers.
The first speaker was Venetian Taylor Nightingale. He talked about growing up in Venice. He called Save Venice’s regular Sunday gatherings in front of the church a beautiful thing and he encouraged more people to come out and participate.
Venice Elder Jataun Valentine thanked people for coming and urged everyone to never give up.
Dr. Naomi Nightingale spoke about Save Venice’s upcoming appeal hearing to challenge the Penskes’ exemption from doing an environmental impact report. Normally, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires such a report. Certainly, an 11,700 square foot residence would have an impact on the community, the adjacent park, and other resources in the neighborhood. Dr. Nightingale urged those in attendance to continue the fight, and reminded everyone that the group had come this far without lawyers.
Jeremy Gonzalez, of the Tongva-Kizh Nation, the indigenous people of the Los Angeles basin, talked about the importance of the church and the importance of History. Mike Bravo played a ceremonial drum and sang a Tongva song of welcoming and friendship.
David Johnson, a lifetime Venetian and member of the church told of his youth in the church’s Junior Boys Chorus. He described the church as a place where people could come to get help, seven days a week, and how the pastor would visit people to solve problems. Mr. Johnson felt that people coming to Venice these days have no idea how important the church really is.
Mike Bravo took a moment to give a eulogy of respect for a Sister in the Community, Pamela Krantz who passed on recently. He then listed the significant milestones in the work that Save Venice has been doing behind the scenes. His chronology started with the rally in August of 2017 where members of the group confronted Councilmember Mike Bonin. At that event, Bonin pledged to help in the battle but later refused to write a letter of support to save the church. Mr. Bravo talked about the times where the Venice Neighborhood Council facilitated the Penskes’ plans to desecrate this sacred site. He described the various battles with city officials and commissions, and he reminded everyone that the fight is far from over.
Aztec dancers inspired awe with a colorful and moving ceremony of dancing and drumming. They shared an Aztec tradition of Peace and Harmony.
The Reverend Oscar Rhone spoke earnestly at the event. He himself had been raised in this church. He talked about Jesus Christ making His final entry into Jerusalem to be arrested and beaten, and to endure the cross. He said that Jesus stopped to heal two blind men on the side of the road, and that God is always able and never fearful. Reverend Rhone spoke of Pastor E.L. Holmes as a trailblazer and a pioneer. He told of his tutelage under Pastor Holmes. He affirmed that his grandmother, along with fifty others, gave the deeds for their homes to build this church and how Pastor Holmes gave back the deeds when the church was built. And Reverend Rhone declared that God will take care of this current struggle too.
David Busch said that he, a White homeless person in the community, was saved by the food, love, and care of Black people. He fumed about the idea of a son of a billionaire moving in to the church and possibly installing a hot tub over the altar.
Reverend Dennis Moore, Assistant Pastor of True Everfaithful Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles grew up on Westminster Avenue. He remembered the old church across the street and Pastor Brown who created the Junior Boys Choir. He said that he wouldn’t be what he is today without Pastor Holmes and Pastor Brown. He assured us that God will bring this battle to a swift conclusion.
Caviar, from the Horny Toads, played a lively acoustic guitar set that included classic songs such as “The Crystal Ship” by the Doors.
The man who identifies himself as The People of California talked about “Bishop” Horace Allen. Allen was the pastor who sold the church to the Penskes. He called Allen a charlatan and a fraud and one who would destroy the community. He invited the 32,000 signers of the petition to save the church to donate $5 for legal expenses.
Two teachers from Venice High School, Keli Arslancan and Soni Lloyd spoke of how their students face the threat of gentrification. They said that the students were allowed by the City of L.A. to paint images celebrating the history of the First Baptist Church of Venice on a local circuit box, but the City of L.A. soon painted them out. The students have plans to re-paint them this summer. They called the fight for the First Baptist Church of Venice one of the greatest fights in the U.S. today and they allied Venice High School with Save Venice.
Peter Demian played guitar and led everyone in great spiritual standards such as “Amazing Grace”.
Ivy Beach and Adolfo Alzuphar answered those who say that Save Venice is fighting for things that aren’t going to happen. They explained that this fight is not going to be won overnight. They described how the elders in the Community have said that a beautiful struggle has come from this movement. They vowed to win the fight for the church and for our dignity.
The event concluded with a huge prayer circle where most everyone in attendance joined hands in unity. Reverend Rhone led the prayer. And each person took a turn saying a prayer, or offering words of positive encouragement.
On this Sunday, the People of Venice showed that the First Baptist Church of Venice is more than just a building. It’s a symbol of the Community of Venice and the History of Venice. Although the fight is not yet over, it’s clear that the Save Venice team and their supporters aren’t slowing down at all. In fact, more and more momentum is growing. And more attention is coming from the media and the public. The Victory to save the First Baptist Church of Venice is within reach now. All that remains is for you to join the fight and share in the Victory.
Go to www.savevenice.me for info and to sign the petition.