On Sundays, Bishop Horace Allen preaches to his faithful. Under his leadership, the First Baptist Church of Venice worships in Westchester under a new name, F.B.C.V. Worship Center.
Allen said he moved the church from it’s location at 685 Westminster Avenue because the congregation was shrinking, along with Venice’s African American population
“I teach people the building is not your god. God is in you,” Allen said.
Allen’s service at 8946 Sepulveda Eastway is filled with music, dancing and praise. His followers are passionate about the path to salvation. But to his critics, Bishop Allen is a sell-out, who sold the church’s home of nearly 50 years for $6.3 million to cover church debt.
Former members took Allen to court, and a judge ruled he violated his fiduciary duty to the church and committed fraud. The sale, however, was a done deal.
The new owners, Jay and Elaine Penske, plan to keep the A-frame building but turn it into a single-family home to raise their children in Venice.
Now, a coalition in Venice is trying to save the building. But they suffered a major setback last week when Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Commission found the structure did not meet the requirements to become a local landmark.
“It was like a beacon of light, you could always go to the church,” said Etta Smith Moore, a former member whose parents helped build the church, which opened in 1970. At the time, white people rarely ventured west of Lincoln Boulevard.
Smith Moore believes the building is part of the legacy of the disenfranchised. Other neighborhood locals say the church was the cornerstone for the community.
“You know, it’s not very often that you have African Americans with historical sites,” Smith Moore said.
“Many people in the community gave up their deeds to their homes to help provide the funding to build this church, so it’s not just a concrete edifice,” said Naomi Nightingale, who is part of the effort to save the building.
But to Bishop Allen, the effort to save the building is disingenuous.
“People are lying saying ‘come save First Baptist Church of Venice.’ First Baptist Church don’t need no saving. We are still alive,” Allen said.
His membership voted 41-9 to sell the church in 2015.
There’s only one judgement he cares about. And until then, he’ll keep preaching every Sunday.