Venice, CA’s First Baptist Church Has Closed; 100-Year-Old Institution a Symbol of City’s Shrinking Black Population

First Baptist Church in Venice. (Nancy Zubiri)
First Baptist Church in Venice. (Nancy Zubiri)

On a recent Sunday, I drove past the historic First Baptist Church in the Oakwood section of Venice. The church was the heart of Venice’s African American community for more than a century. Now its paint is peeling, its windows and doors boarded up.

The A-frame building is a short walk from the Venice boardwalk, and an even shorter walk from the trendy shops and restaurants of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which Forbes recently declared “the coolest street in America.”

I live less a than a mile from the church. When I bought my house in 1996, the median home price in Venice was around $260,000. Today the median home price is $1.8 million. Homeowners like me have benefited from the real estate boom, of course. But homeowners like me have also lost, as our neighborhood became less diverse and our common history was washed away.

African Americans have more than a century of history in Venice. In fact, they helped build the town back in the early 1900s. When developer Abbot Kinney began to realize his dream of creating a seaside attraction modeled after Italy’s city of water, he hired black laborers to dig the canals in the marshlands and to work as janitors at his beachfront amusement park.

Those early workers settled in the roughly one-square-mile area known as Oakwood. The area was home to families like the Tabors, who had come from Louisiana, and whose patriarch, Irving Tabor, was Kinney’s driver and confidant. When Kinney died in 1920, he left his home to Tabor. But because black people were not allowed to live in any other part of Venice, Tabor had to cut the structure in half and move it from the canals to Oakwood. Many of the area’s residents worshiped at First Baptist Church, which had opened by 1913.

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The Los Angeles Times