First Baptist Church of Venice
The First Baptist Church of Venice is among few remaining properties that tell the story of Oakwood, an African American neighborhood in Los Angeles' Venice neighborhood.
The First Baptist Church of Venice was designated Historic-Cultural Monument #1244 in 2021.
Los Angeles, California 90291
The First Baptist Church of Venice and adjacent parking lots, located at 671-685 and 686-688 East Westminster Avenue, were designated Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in 2021. These properties tell the story of pioneering African Americans who created an important center of spiritual, cultural, and social life in Venice.
Built in 1968, the church was designed by George R. Williams in the Mid-Century Modern architectural style. From its construction until 2017, the church was the home of the First Baptist Church of Venice, originally founded as a Black church in 1910 in the same neighborhood.
A Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for the church was submitted in 2018 by local residents, following what many believed to be an illegal sale of the church to media mogul, Jay Penske, who planned to build his family residence on the property and the adjacent parcel.
The nomination would eventually fail, following an unfavorable Office of Historic Resources Staff report finding that the church building did not meet any of the required criteria for local designation. This staff finding was upheld by a vote of the Cultural Heritage Commission in December 2018.
Despite this setback, local residents remained determined to recognize the church’s significance. They continued to advocate for preserving the longtime church building and to bring it into public ownership. During this time, community members gathered outside of the church almost every Sunday, leading protests and vigils. The church remained a touchstone for community members who shared such sentiments as, “I don’t know why they want to take away something that’s on sacred ground,” “The church is a cultural monument,” “My heart and soul is here,” and “The church is a living symbol of this struggle, resilience, love, vision, and transformation.”
On June 7, 2020, following George Floyd’s death, hundreds gathered outside First Baptist Church to decry racism and the gentrification of Venice. The Black Lives Matter movement brought renewed attention to the community effort to designate the church building. In October 2020, then District 15 Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represented the Venice neighborhood, reintroduced the HCM nomination of the church, giving community members another opportunity to make a case for landmarking the property.
The Conservancy supported the community-driven efforts and provided supplemental information to strengthen the 2020 nomination. The City Council unanimously voted to designate the the First Baptist Church of Venice as a Historic-Cultural Monument in September 2021.
About This Place
About This Place
Established in 1910, the First Baptist Church of Venice was one of the first two churches in Oakwood’s Venice that served the African American community. It was founded by the Reverend R.S. Kelsey, along with other prominent members of the African American community, including Arthur Reese, the official town decorator for Venice.
Over time, the congregation outgrew its previous church buildings. Congregants pledged their mortgages to help raise the $250,000 needed to build the Mid-Century Modern style building that now stands at 685 East Westminster. The church building was dedicated on March 30, 1968 with nearly 700 people in attendance.
The new, larger home for the church demonstrated the collective desire for a community center where residents could gather, worship, socialize, and advocate for shared goals for the neighborhood, and it was the first African American church in Venice to be purpose- built for a particular congregation. As Oakwood and greater Venice experienced significant change over the decades following the church’s construction, the property remained a symbol of security and support for the African American community.
Bishop E.L. Holmes, a significant Oakwood community leader, served as pastor of the church for 44 years. Following his passing in 1999, the City of Los Angeles dedicated the intersection of Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue, adjacent to the church property, as Bishop E.L. Holmes Square. The church building remained in use until 2017, when it was sold to a private owner and the congregation moved to a new location.
The First Baptist Church of Venice and adjacent parking lots located at 671-685 and 686-688 East Westminster Avenue are among the last remaining significant resources associated with the history and development of Oakwood, an early African American neighborhood in Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood.
These properties tell the story of pioneering African Americans who created an important center of spiritual, cultural, and social life in Venice. As a designated property, the First Baptist Church of Venice adds to SurveyLA’s African American Historic Context Statement and increases representation of African American heritage sites in the City’s Historic-Cultural Monument program.