Help Save the Historic First Baptist Church of Venice

Join the fight to restore the historical First Baptist Church of Venice as a community space.

Venice, CA First Baptist Church History

The First Baptist Church of Venice

 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]

Vision for the FBCV

The Vision for the FBCV 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.


Quick Facts & Timeline

Quick Facts

  • The First Baptist Church of Venice sits at what is called E.L. Holmes Square on the corners of  7th and Westminster Ave. It has been a community spiritual space, refuge, and institution at that location for over 1oo years.
  •  The church’s original edifice was located across the street at 688 Westminster. The current edifice representing the church was built in 1968 at 685 Westminster. Again, both at E.L. Holmes Square on 7th/Westminster Ave.
  • In 2000 the intersection of Westminster Ave & 7th Ave in Venice was designated as a permanent ceremonial location and named Bishop E.L. Holmes Square after the longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Venice.
  • In January 2017 the church property was fraudulently sold by pastor Horace Allen. January 2017 is also the last month the church was open to the public. The so-called Bishop Horace Allen then sold it to Jay Penske, son of automotive billionaire Roger Penske, and his wife, former supermodel Elaine Irwin.
  • Real estate broker Chris Quintal represented both the buyer and the seller in the transaction.
  • Trustees of the congregation filed a lawsuit against pastor Horace Allen for the sale of the First Baptist Church. The lawsuit is still pending.
  • The sale of the church was done covertly. No public notice or real estate sign was put up on the property to notify the local community it was being sold.
  • In October 2017, the real estate sector dominated Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) unanimously voted to approve the Penske’s plans for “adaptive reuse” of the First Baptist Church property even though the sale is in legal dispute and pending verdict. Not one VNC member referenced the historical and spiritual significance of the church space.
  • July,27th, 2017 VNC-Land Use & Planning Committee (LUPC)
    • 7-0 vote against FBCV preservation
  • August 15th, 2017 (postponed) Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Board Meeting
    • Most FBCV supporters showed up here but it was cancelled at the last minute
  • In August at the Love Not Hate Rally 2017  Councilman Mike Bonin promised to helps save the First Baptist Church of Venice.  in 2017-2019 he has been virtually silent and a no-show in keeping his word to help us. When he did finally chime in he imposed a false narrative about the church and blocked avenues to investigate the historic validity of our sacred space.
  • October 17th, 2017 VNC Board Meeting
    •  14-0 Unanimous vote by VNC to approve Penske’s plans for the FBCV properties
    • Zero mention or regard for history
  • December 19th, 2017  Kickoff Rally to start mobilizing for FBCV:
  • April 11th, 2018 – California Development Permit (CDP) Appeal to West LA Planning Commission
    • This was our response to the “Change of Use” (from Church to Residence) approval issued
      by LA City Planner Juliet Oh
  • Feb 3rd, Feb 17th, 2018:  Save Venice 3rd Annual Black History Month @ Venice Library
  • March 25th, 2018: Save Venice 3rd Annual Black History Month pt II @ Beyond Baroque
  • June 20th, 2018 WLAAPC Hearing Part 1:
    •  Fighting the “change of use” permit
    • Meeting draws large crown and media attention
    • 2-2 tie vote resulting in a future meeting
  • August 15th, 2018 WLAAPC II
    • Draws large crowd again
    • All commissioners present this time , votes 4-1 resulting in a “loss” for the hearing
  • August 30th, 2018: Environmental (CEQA) Appeal Filed
    • Appealing the environmental impact was the response to “losing” the CEQA
      exemption issued at questionable WLAAPC hearing.
  • September 11th, 2018: City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resource (OHR) Application Submitted
  • October. 2nd, 2018 : CEQA Appeal Hearing @ LA City PLUM (postponed)
    • Meeting was originally scheduled same week as first OHR hearing (below)
  • October 4th, 2018: OHR Hearing I
    • Hearing took Penske opposition by surprise.
    • Unanimous vote to -consider- the FBCV as an Historic Resource
  •  Nov 7, 2018 : California Coastal Appeal (State) (postponed)
    • Our response to the CDP
  • Nov 19th, 2018: Writ of Mandate and Injunctive Relief Filed against City of Los Angles/ Penske Real Party in Interest
    • Writ was filed to challenge L.A. City’s lack of a comprehensive MELLO Act
  • December 6th, 2018: OHR Hearing II
  • February 16th, 2019: Save Venice 4th Annual Black History Month
  • Save Venice launches GoFundMe to raise money for legal help
    • Please consider donating, every dollar helps!
  • March 19th, 2019: Writ Trial Preparation Hearing (Self represented)
  • April 14th, 2019: FBCV Spirit Rally
  • April 30th, 2019: CEQA Appeal Hearing (postponed again)
  • July 2019- Jan 2010 Writ Hearings ( Self represented) Mike Bravo vs City of Los Angeles
  • January 10, 2020 Writ Case dismissed
  • January 15,2020 – CEQA Appeal finally heard , denied by LA City Planning Commission 
  • June 03, 2020 During George Floyd uprisings, in Venice Ben Affleck holds FBCV sign which goes viral international and puts First Baptist Church of Venice in national spotlight.
  • June 09, 2020 –  George Floyd memorial rally at FBCV. Crowd off appx 700-1000 show up
  • June 14, 2020 – Save Venice holds teach in at FBCV to set actionable items into motion.
  • Check out additional FBCV information on Free Venice Beachhead

How You Can Help

1) Contact Councilman Mike Bonin

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



2) Sign Our Petition

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.



3) E-mail L.A. City PLanning

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

Email:  [email protected] | [email protected] | [email protected][email protected]
cc: [email protected] 

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



4) Join Our Weekly Vigil

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.


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