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Los Angeles residents stop Rolling Stone publisher from converting Black church into private home

by Premier Journalist

A local housing board has voted to designate a local Black church as a historic-cultural monument in an apparent attempt to challenge a local businessman’s attempt to convert the said church into his own private home.

In the lower-income parts of the Venice part of Los Angeles, the First Baptist Church of Venice was built as an early location for the Black community to gather and worship. It has now stood for nearly 110 years. However, the facility was sold in 2017 when its pastor, then Horace Allen, cited a shrinking congregation as a reason to sell the site to someone with interest. 

The owners eventually sold the site to Jay Penske for $6.3m. Penske is Penske Media Corporation's current owner, the organization that runs both VARIETY and ROLLING STONE magazine. Penske intended to convert the site into his own private home, complete with a deck and garage. That decision irritated the residents, who went as far as to call the conversion “sacrilegious” and clear evidence of the ongoing gentrification.

When Penske purchased the church building, it inspired several of the First Church’s attendees to speak up and speak out in support of the house. The following four years would be spent by said residents combatting this push to erase the church’s history. 

“We just could not allow it to fall into the hands of someone who didn’t have the religious respect of the community,” Venice resident Naomi Nightingale told Religion News Service.

In June, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission has voted in favor of designating First Baptist Church of Venice a historical-cultural monument. The next step will have the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management Committee decide if the building is a monument or needs protection.

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