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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Landmark effort could upend Jay Penske’s plan to convert Venice church

Application was filed to designate the church as a Historic-Cultural Monument
By Dennis Lynch | September 14, 2018 02:00PM

The church at 685 Westminster Avenue, Elaine Irwin, Jay Penske and Mike Bonin (Credit: Getty Images, Pixabay)

Jay Penske officially has a fight on his hands over the future of the First Baptist Church in Venice.

An application has surfaced at the Department of City Planning seeking to grant the 50-year-old church at 685 Westminster Avenue status as a Historic-Cultural Monument. Such a designation would delay and possibly derail the automotive scion’s plans to convert the church into an 11,000-square-foot manse.

The filing shouldn’t be a surprise to Penske. Locals have strongly opposed the sale of the church since it hit the market in 2015 and Penske has faced protests since he bought the church in February 2017 for $6.3 million. Opposition heated up last year when details emerged about Penske’s plans to remodel the church as a private residence for himself and his wife, former model Elaine Irwin.

Penske is part of the family behind Penske Automotive Group. Through the Penske Media Corporation he publishes Variety, Rolling Stone and Deadline Hollywood. He hired Venice-based DU Architects to take on the conversion.

A filing with the city describes converting the church to a home with a rooftop deck and a four-car garage. There is also a plan to turn an adjacent parking lot into a garden.

The church was built in the late 1960s, but the congregation has been active in Venice since the 1800s. Venice was once heavily segregated and the church served as a haven for black and Hispanic residents. The still-active congregation is part of the effort to designate the church as a historic-cultural monument.

The preservation effort appears to have considerable support. A petition to grant the church Historical-Cultural Monument status has around 32,000 signatures, 3,000 short of its goal.

Leading the charge against Penske is Save Venice, a local group. While it’s not clear who filed the application to consider the church for Historic-Cultural Monument designation, the group has been talking about such an effort since Penske’s plans became public.

Save Venice argues that the church deserves to be preserved because of its importance as part of the history of minority groups in the area. Representatives from the group did not return requests for comment.

Local Councilmember Mike Bonin could not be reached for comment on the application. He said in August 2017 that he would “do what I can to help save that church.”

A spokesman for the Councilmember said a few months later that his office was “working to connect” the local opposition with Penske “to see if there is something they can agree on that will recognize the historical significance of the church.”