Nearly six months after official proclamations that a new lease with the arts and literature group Beyond Baroque had been secured, The Argonaut has learned that the agreement with the City of Los Angeles for the lease of the old Venice City Hall has yet to be signed.
The venerable creative arts institution, long a venue for poets and writers from the Los Angeles area, was able to secure the promise of a new lease after its current lease was set to expire earlier this year. But since the nonprofit organization is currently only a month-to-month tenant of the city-owned building at 681 N. Venice Blvd., there is some concern about its future, as the arts center closes in on its 40th anniversary.
Part of the reason that no official lease has been signed is due to the fact that Beyond Baroque shares part of the building with L.A. Theatre Works, a preeminent radio theater company that is also negotiating to remain in the Venice facility.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, pressed to get Beyond Baroque a lease before it expired in February.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 to approve the new lease agreement, which was then forwarded to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to review.
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for Delgadillo, confirmed that the city attorney’s office sent the agreement back to the council two months after the vote.
“We sent them the final draft in May,” said Mateljan.
Rosendahl has been working with the other tenant in the building, L.A. Theatre Works, on a lease agreement similar to Beyond Baroque’s.
“They are both excellent, wonderful institutions in Venice, and they both bring a great deal to the community,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut. “Right now, we’re working with L.A. Theatre Works to ensure its continued use of the building, and I’m sure that we will be able to maintain a congenial relationship for both tenants to share the facility.”
This new twist is the latest development that has representatives of the literature and arts venue worried about their future in Venice.
“We’ve been working on getting the lease for the building for a number of years now,” Fred Dewey, the executive director of Beyond Baroque, told The Argonaut in an interview at the foundation in February, the day after the council’s vote. “As we started to get closer and closer to the expiration of the lease, I felt that the political process needed a little infusion from the public.”
Earlier this month, Dewey expressed bewilderment that no official agreement had been signed.
“I’m surprised that there is an institution with this much public support in Venice and in the artistic community and this still has not been wrapped up,” he said.
Doug Jeffy, the president of the board of directors of L.A. Theatre Works, says that he believes that both organizations can peacefully coexist in the same building and that he does not believe that either group is in danger of losing its lease.
“I don’t expect that either one of us is in jeopardy of not having a lease,” said Jeffy. “We have been in this space for more than 20 years and we’re simply going through the process of renewal.”
Rosendahl said that his goal is to have both artistic entities coexist in the same building and in the same community.
“This is a public facility,” Rosendahl stressed. “We have two robust, vibrant groups there and what I want to be is an honest broker for both of them.”
He added, “The city is the landlord, and as a good landlord we should do the best we can to maximize this space for the best public use.”
“The lease that was passed unanimously by the City Council awarded us all the space that we currently occupy, including the theater,” Dewey noted. “This has been the minimum that Bill [Rosendahl] promised us.”
Artists, poets and writers from around the country rallied to Beyond Baroque’s plight when they learned that the creative arts venue could be in jeopardy of losing its longtime location earlier this year before the council vote.
The organization’s board of directors notified hundreds of supporters in the Los Angeles artistic community, who almost immediately responded with a barrage of phone calls, e-mails and telephone messages to Rosendahl’s office.
Recently, an organization called the Friends of Beyond Baroque began calling on supporters of the arts institution and the public to contact Rosendahl’s office to voice their fears about the possibility of Beyond Baroque losing its lease, which they feel would have a deleterious effect on the artistic community throughout Los Angeles. After learning that L.A. Theatre Works was negotiating for a joint lease with Beyond Baroque, they circulated a letter outlining their concerns about a joint tenancy.
“After a delay of four months since the unanimous passage of the Los Angeles City Council’s resolution of February 29th, 2008 renewing Beyond Baroque’s lease to all its current space at 681 N. Venice Blvd., for the next 25 years, the lease remains unsigned,” the letter reads. “We, representatives of the Friends of Beyond Baroque, call upon all people who care about Beyond Baroque, a nationally recognized cultural institution, to contact Councilman Bill Rosendahl to urge him to uphold the council resolution awarding Beyond Baroque’s lease to all its historic space and protect this precious Venice institution intact.”
The letter also states that members of the group have learned through “sources inside City Hall” that Beyond Baroque may in fact lose part of the space it has historically occupied, including the theater, “the heart of its operations since 1979.
“Loss of the lease to its historic theater would cripple Beyond Baroque’s control over its future and severely impair its capacity to represent and serve the community as it has for 40 years,” the letter states.
Rosendahl said that he has spoken recently with members of both of the artistic organizations and that no one would be harmed with the shared tenancy.
“I want to be fair to both groups,” the councilman explained. “We’re working with both groups to have a harmonious relationship. Both tenants need to be respected.
“Let me be very clear on this: Beyond Baroque is safe.”
Rosendahl said that Delgadillo’s office has informed him that there must be a master lease for the facility, and the agreement cannot be executed without both parties.
“This facility is a treasure to all of Los Angeles, and especially to Venice,” said Rosendahl, who lived in Venice in the 1970s.
Nick Velasquez, chief spokesman for Delgadillo, said that his office had been the subject of misinformation regarding the lease that the city has been negotiating with Beyond Baroque. There had been allegations that the city attorney was against the renewal of the lease and had lobbied against it, which Velasquez dismissed as being untrue.
“It’s the council’s prerogative to renew a lease,” he explained. “Our role is to approve a lease in accordance with the law and city policy, but we do not take a position on them.”
Gisele Reberio, the past president of the Venice-Marina Rotary Club, says that those associated with Beyond Baroque have been very good neighbors to the surrounding tenants, including holding fundraisers for Fire Station 63, which is on Shell Avenue adjacent to the arts center on North Venice Boulevard.
“They have always been very supportive of anything that the Rotary Club does,” said Rebeiro, a United States Customs broker. “When you have the support from your immediate neighbors it’s always nice.”
Rosendahl said that he was aware that prior to his election to the council in 2005, there had been some tension between the boards of directors of Beyond Baroque and L.A. Theatre Works, and he is working on changing that dynamic.
“As an honest broker and the council representative for both groups, my hope is that I will be able to bring both boards together in a positive, harmonious way,” he said.
The councilman plans to meet with representatives from Beyond Baroque and L.A. Theatre Works on Monday, July 28th, in an attempt to bring that hope to fruition.
Reberio hopes that Beyond Baroque can get its lease signed soon and remain in Venice.
“They would be a continued asset to the community,” she said.
Sharing the same building and imparting creative expression for those who enjoy the creative arts is what both institutions do best, and doing that in the same building is a unique part of the legacy of the eclectic community that the two groups inhabit, says Rosendahl.
“That’s what Venice is all about — different groups of people coexisting together,” the councilman said.