Black Residents of Venice Beach, California, Fight to Preserve Historic Church

The First Baptist Church of Venice is shown in June 2020 in the Oakwood neighborhood. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Jan. 14, and I’m Robert J. Lopez, writing from Los Angeles.

Naomi Nightingale remembers when parishioners flocked to the First Baptist Church of Venice, a towering A-frame building that was a local institution for Black residents.

Many of the church members were from the surrounding Oakwood neighborhood, one of the few places where Black residents were allowed to live by the beach in the early 1900s, when they were arriving to provide labor for developer Abbot Kinney’s dream of building a seaside attraction modeled after Italy’s city of water.

“The church symbolized culture, it symbolized family, it symbolized faith,” Nightingale, 75, a longtime Oakwood resident and university professor, told me during a phone conversation this week.

The church was founded in Oakwood in 1910 and moved to the corner of Westminster and 7th avenues after the current structure was built in 1967, city records show.

Over the years, the First Baptist congregation dwindled as gentrification transformed Oakwood and the rest of Venice. The neighborhood became more white as Black families sold their homes or were priced out the area, which I wrote about in an opinion piece for The Times. After being saddled with millions of dollars in loans, the church sold its property in 2017 for $11.8 million, according to court records.

As my colleague Robin Abcarian reported in 2020, the church and its property across the street on Westminster Avenue were purchased by Jay Penske, chief executive of Penske Media, and his wife, former Victoria’s Secret model Elaine Irwin, who planned to build a massive home overlooking Oakwood Park.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Robert J. Lopez

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