by Jodi Summers

Real estate law makes it nearly impossible for a seller to change their mind once a sales contract is signed and the parties enter into escrow. New rules, even for existing tenants, need to be put forth in writing prior to sale, otherwise all bets are off. Mix that up with questionable conduct on behalf of the selling party and the result is the sad demise of the First Baptist Church overlooking Oakwood Park in Venice, which is now on its way to becoming a single-family compound.

The First Baptist Church is one of the oldest African American religious congregations in the United States, founded in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1774. The Coastal California congregation began as the Second Baptist Church of Santa Monica. The inaugural service was the third Sunday of July in 1910, with the Rev. R. S. Kelsey as pastor. In February 1911, the congregation purchased property in Venice at 5th and San Juan.

There was a barn on the property. It was cleaned and refurbished by the congregation and flourished into the spiritual home of the area’s growing black population.  The church on San Juan was paid in full the next year and incorporation papers for the church were filed with the State of California. By 1923 the growing congregation needed a larger church and property was purchased at 688 Westminster Ave. Construction of the new building began in 1927.

Mrs. Abbott Kinney, wife of the founder of Venice, donated the lumber for framing, the Harvey Brothers donated foundation materials, rock and sand and all donations were hauled by the Tabor Brothers Trucking. The new church was dedicated on June 10, 1928, with the Rev. J. W. Jordan officiating. A parsonage was purchased in 1940, and in 1955 long-term pastor the Rev. E. L. Holmes was called to serve. The lots across the street from the 1928 church were purchased and in October 1966, construction of a larger church and educational building was begun at 685 Westminster. Dedication services were held in March, 1968. The 1928 building was given to a Los Angeles congregation, and the lot used for parking.

The First Baptist Church was a neighborhood focal point for the African American community.  Sunday was an all-day event for with Sunday school, worship at 11:00 AM, lunch and dinner, then the evening services at 6:00 PM.

Flash forward to February 2017 when the church sold for $6.3 million to a private holding company.  Then, the Venice Neighborhood Council backed the new owner’s plan to remodel the church and turn it into to a single-family home designed by Venice-based DU Architects.

The applicant for the project is identified in planning documents as Jay Penske, the media mogul and owner of Variety, Deadline, and a number of other entertainment-focused publications. Penske and his wife, former model Elaine Irwin, plan to live on the property.

These plans put the First Baptist Church attendees into a panic. “I don’t know why they want to take away something that’s on sacred ground. I don’t know why they want to destroy something that God has planted here,” observed Ronnie Brock, who grew up in the church. “You don’t destroy what God has put in place.”

But, obviously someone with the authority of church had to sell the building. Apparently, it was the church’s pastor, Horace Allen, who sold the church out from under his congregation. (Allen has since moved his assembly to Westchester, where he still serves as pastor for an organization of nearly the same name: First Baptist Church of Venice Worship Center.)

Not that the transaction can be unwound, but the congregation is asking if Rev. Allen had the authority to sell the First Baptist Church. A lawsuit filed in December 2015, days after Allen held a church meeting to approve selling both the structure and the land. It is alleged that that meeting was both unofficial and impromptu and did not allow the church membership to vote on the transaction.

Plaintiffs Herman Clay, a trustee and deacon, and Sharon Moore-Chappell, a staff minister, accuse Allen of obtaining loans using the equity of the church property, and then spending the proceeds for his own personal expenses. They claim that $3.5 million of the church’s money is still unaccounted for. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rafael A. Ongkeko noted gaps in the church’s financial records and that without having all of the receipts, he couldn’t be confident that Allen had not stolen money from the church.

Now, the goals of the congregation are to raise awareness about the church’s history and significance, and to nominate it as a Historic-Cultural monument, with the hope that it would delay—and maybe even halt—its demolition. But, as the nomination is about the congregation and its cultural significance, and not necessarily the building itself, the honor will more likely be a sign or a plaque.

“When we think about the loss of our legacy, we think about the loss of our history, we think of what it is we don’t see anymore,” Brock recalled. “And if you don’t see it anymore, you soon forget that it was even there.”



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About Jodi Summers

Jodi Summers
SoCal Investment Real Estate Group
Sotheby’s International Realty

Sotheby’s International Realty’s legacy dates back to 1744. Respected as one of the world’s oldest and largest fine art auctioneers, Sotheby’s has a longstanding tradition of bringing together buyers and sellers of fine property. Today, Sotheby’s International Realty boasts nearly 13,000 sales associates, located in more than 660 offices in 49 countries and territories. Broker Jodi Summers is the founder of the SoCal Investment Real Estate Group, a top producing team with Sotheby’s International Realty in the Los Angeles area.

With more than $140,000,000 in listed inventory, Jodi and the SoCal Investment Real Estate Group know finance, rules, regulations, procedures and methods. We are accurate, knowledgeable, timely and aware of how government shapes the cities of Southern California, including Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.

A New York native, Jodi grew up working in the family business – marketing, Madison Avenue style. Childhood math quiz questions calculated demographic and psychographic percentages or analyzed the allocation of adverting dollars. Word games were for devising slogans.

“My marketing and communication skills have proven to be a true gift when it comes to promoting real estate,” observes Jodi. “And I am consistently able to get an exceptionally high price per square foot for my sellers.”

Discipline (Jodi holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do), organization, motivation, excellent communication skills and knowing & satisfying the needs of her clients have been her essentials for running a successful business. A passion for investment real estate explains her emphasis in asset-yielding properties.

The City of Santa Monica chose Jodi to be part of the prestigious 9-member Civic Working Group to analyze and offer feedback on the future of the 10.5-acre Santa Monica Civic Auditorium site. Additionally, Jodi is a member of the National Association of Realtors, Beverly Hills + Greater West Side Association of Realtors, Action Apartment Association of Westside income property owners, the Santa Monica Conservancy historic preservation society, the Friends of Sunset Park community group, the Real Estate Investors Club L.A., the American Solar Energy Society, Sierra Club, California Parks Association and the Culver City Rock & Mineral Club. She is currently the Communications Chair for the Ocean Park Association in Santa Monica, and a partner in Save the Civic – a community group involved with the City in the adaptive reuse of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and adjacent area.

An honors graduate from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, Jodi moved to California in the mid-’90s to achieve her goal of living by the beach with a hibiscus bush in her yard.

She has thrived as an entrepreneur in the entertainment, media and marketing industries. She has three books in publication with Allworth Press – The Interactive Music Handbook, Making and Marketing Music and Moving Up In the Music Business. Making and Marketing Music is in second edition. Check out her work on

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