Housed inside the old Venice Branch library in the Oakwood neighborhood, the Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center has been the home of organizations serving low-income residents for more than a decade.
Among the groups that have been operating out of the Spanish Colonial Revival style building at 610 California Ave. in Venice are Venice 2000, a nonprofit gang intervention organization, Venice Arts, which offers media-based arts education programs to low-income youths and adults, and the Latino Resource Organization, a community-based social service organization working with needy families and seniors. The building was designated as a Los Angeles historic-cultural monument by the city Cultural Heritage Commission in 1984, according to wikipedia.
Operated under the city Community Development Department, which offers economic, social and employment opportunities to residents in need, the center has faced funding struggles in recent years as a result of the recession. The possibility of the Vera Davis Center having to close its doors has been a concern of some who work with the groups there, but city officials say they are taking steps to ensure that the important community center is able to remain open and function in the same capacity it has over the years.
A deputy for City Councilman Bill Rosendahl explained that the Community Development Department, which has been responsible for overseeing the building, has not been able to receive community development block grants after the census tracts recently changed in the community. Because the department would not have the resources to maintain the center beyond June 30, city officials including Rosendahl have been exploring a proposal to transfer oversight of the center to preserve its current operations.
“I will do whatever I can do to keep that center open. It’s been an asset to the community and I want it to continue to be an asset,” said Rosendahl, adding that the center has had a strong relationship with the Oakwood neighborhood and other parts of Venice.
“The groups in there do valuable services and there are other groups that want to be a part of it as well.”
Under a recommendation to the City Council March 18, operation of the Vera Davis Center would be transferred from the Community Development Department to the Cultural Affairs Department. In addition, a request for proposals would be initiated for the center to be operated by an outside agency in the long-term and administered by Cultural Affairs through a joint public/private partnership.
The motion also requested that the services at the building continue without interruption as the RFP process moves forward.
Some community members who learned that Vera Davis may be in jeopardy of closing complained that they were not properly informed of the planned change in hands. Cultural Affairs Executive Director Olga Garay acknowledged there was an urgency by the city to get the process started and ensure the center is kept open.
“It was kind of a Hail Mary pass as I could tell,” she said.
Regarding the transfer to Cultural Affairs, Garay said the department is supportive of the plan as a way to maintain the center in its current capacity.
“We’re trying to be helpful and do whatever we can to keep that facility open and functioning as it is right now,” she said.
Representatives of groups working out of the Vera Davis Center said they were pleased to hear that the city has a plan to keep the community services going.
“I see it as a win-win for all income levels in Venice,” said photographer Jim Hubbard, creative director for documentary programs at Venice Arts, who noted there has been talk of the building closing for several years. “It’s necessary that the city does not close such a vital resource in the community. I credit (Rosendahl) for coming up with a plan to keep the doors open.”
Stan Muhammad, executive director of Venice 2000 and a former Venice Neighborhood Council member, said there has been a lot of speculation about what was going to happen with the center. He explained that Venice 2000 has since moved its administrative services to a facility in Westchester, but the group continues to conduct case management and intake services at Vera Davis and closing the center would have a significant effect.
“It would be a major impact to us if we had to close our doors,” said Muhammad, who added that Venice 2000 has partnered at the center with the Venice Bulldogs youth football group.
“I think (Vera Davis) has been a major resource for local stakeholders who have been able to come over there and be serviced.”
Muhammad believes it can be a good thing to have the facility administered by Cultural Affairs if they are sensitive to the needs of the Oakwood community in particular.
Hubbard said the building has been underutilized in the past but under the direction of a non-profit that has a close connection to the community, he believes it can become a more dynamic center.
“Having a non-profit with a long track record that is a responsible group with the right mission, I think it can become a more vital center and centerpiece for Venice,” he said.
Garay said she is encouraged to see that the community is active in wanting to preserve a local cultural resource for future generations.
“It’s very obvious that there is a lot of community passion and involvement in this center and I applaud that,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that the community is wanting to be engaged in the future of this vital resource.”