The First Baptist Church of Venice located at 685 Westminster Ave. in Venice, CA has a historic legacy in the Venice Community for over 111 years. According to the First Annual Report recorded January 02, 1914 African American residents came together to develop a worship place of their own on July 17, 1910.. a mere 45 years after slavery was abolished. Although the group met in various places at that time, the original church edifice was built in 1927 across the street from the current edifice. That land was donated by Arthur Reese, a black man and seminal figure in Venice, CA history. Arthur Reese came to California seeking refuge for himself and his family from the remnants of slavery in hopes of building a better life. A very remarkable accomplishment considering this was an era of restrictive covenants and the Klu Klux Klan highly active in political and institutional leadership in West Los Angeles.
In the early 1960s the congregation outgrew the small church (located on the opposite side of the current edifice) so they gathered together to build a new church. Through the personal commitment of funds, semi-skilled and skilled labor and other support services from the community, the current church at 685 Westminster was completed. The congregation took occupancy of their new church in May of 1968. The church properties consist of 7 lots which comprise the ceremonially dedicated corner called E.L. Holmes Square was purchased by families who put up their land trust to purchase the property back in 1910.
Today the Church is in trouble. Without the knowledge of the community the Church was fraudulently sold by “Bishop” Horace Allen in 2017 and unless we can delay forces in action, it will become an 11,700 square foot, single family residence for millionaire Jay Penske. Not only will this historic building be transformed into someone’s home, but the legacy, the contributions, the meaningfulness and the 111 year connectivity and significance to the community will be eradicated. [ Update: Jay Penske and wife Elaine Irwin now plan to build townhouses over the historic properties]
The vision for the First Baptist Church of Venice is to continue to maintain it as a community space that functions as an empowering center of healing, knowledge, and empowerment and to formally recognize it as a Historic Cultural Monument. The ideas include a library, museum, garden , and keeping the church edifice as a spiritual/communal gathering place for all Venetians and all people. The First Baptist Church of Venice represents the resilience and essence of the courageous African Americans coming to Venice to escape Jim Crow and extreme racism dynamics of the South. Within only a few decades after the emancipation proclamation, and with meager means, they transformed the desolate swamp land they were relegated to into a livable, prosperous, community.
FBCV /El Holmes Square is the living symbol of this struggle, resilience, love, vision, and transformation. It is and has always been a spiritual beacon at the crossroads of the historic African American community in Venice and must be preserved as such.
We are currently in the process of establishing ourselves a Community Land Trust (CLT) with the intention of retaining ownership of the Church & its land to ensure that it remains in community possession in perpetuity. The purpose of this CLT is to benefit all people and visitors to the neighborhood and to preserve Black and Indigenous land and spaces which in turn positively affects racial and economic justice. Through this land use model the community will steward the land and achieve equity.
Contact Mike Bonin. Thank him for his recent becoming support of Black History and the First Baptist Church of Venice and encourage him to be sincere and continue to follow through on racial and economic justice tangibles for the historic Black community of Venice.
Bonin’s Number: 213-473-7011
his e-mail: [email protected]
cc: [email protected]
Message Bonin on his Facebook account
We have a petition on CHANGE.ORG with over 40, 000 signatures! Please sign and share if you haven’t already. You may also donate a few bucks to help the petition circulate wider and gain support.
Encourage them to:
1) designate the First Baptist Church of Venice as a historic landmark and help restore it as a community resource
2) issue a Moratorium on development in the Oakwood subarea of Venice until a comprehensive solution can be implemented to protect this historic Black Community
3) reflect on and amend the policies and practices that have resulted in the displacement of historic BIPoC communities and to protect the last community of color on the California coast— Venice, CA
Reference “First Baptist Church of Venice” and these numbers in the title or beginning of the e-mail.
Case N0# DIR-2017-1895-CDP-MEL
CEQA No# ENV-2017-1896-CE
Copy that e-mail message and also send it to the LA City Public Comment Form
Reference: Council File: 18-0835
We usually meet every Sunday from 12pm-3pm at the First Baptist Church (685 Westminster Ave. Venice 90291) to bring attention to this important community issue to gather and organize in a spiritual way. All spirituality and worldviews are welcomed. Gatherings are currently on pause due to heightened COVID concerns.