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Column: Should a former Black church in Venice be turned into a mansion for a white family?

2 27 22

The First Baptist Church of Venice is, honestly, not much to look at right now.

The soaring midcentury A-frame, with a stone veneer exterior that must have seemed very cool in the 1960s when it was built, was once an important strand in the fabric of life in Oakwood, the only part of coastal Los Angeles where Black people were historically allowed to buy property.

For several years now, the church has been empty. Its doors are boarded up, weeds choke the small lawn in front, and a makeshift banner hangs from the second story:

“Black Lives Matter? Give us back our Black church, Penskes!”

In few words, the sign conveys a world of conflict, where property rights, gentrification and the erasure of Black history are colliding and emotions are, understandably, running high.

The conflict over the property began in 2015, after its pastor had taken out loans against the church, then sold it and took his flock to a new church in Westchester. The move prompted a lawsuit in which he was found to have breached his fiduciary responsibility.

In 2017, Jay Penske, CEO of Penske Media, which owns, among other titles, Rolling Stone and Variety, and his wife, the former Victoria’s Secret model Elaine Irwin, purchased the church and its parking lot for $6.3 million. They spent another $5.5 million to buy a second church parking lot, across the street on Westminster Avenue.

The Penkses, neither of whom agreed to be quoted for this piece, want to build a massive private residence on the church site. On the lot across the street, they hope to........

© Los Angeles Times

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