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Huizar Announces Plan to End Methodist's Olvera Rent Dispute

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011, at 08:00AM
Plaza Methodist Church Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Councilman Jose Huizar joined members of the La Plaza United Methodist Church on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to announce a deal that would allow the church to stay in its historic El Pueblo home for up to 30 more years.

The city and the church have been at an impasse for five years, since the expiration of church's 1956 lease agreement. A 2006 proposal from the city would have charged the church $14,000 per month to rent the structure it started work on in 1916.

The new deal would charge the church $663 per month for 80 hours of use. The church is required to create a museum and community services as part of the 15-year deal, which includes an option for another 15 years.

So just how did the city end up owning a church? It got it from the State of California.

In 1956, as the state was assembling the El Pueblo historical monument, it purchased the building from the denomination for $425,000. The church's saveolvera.com website says that sale took place only under the threat of eminent domain. That's not an unlikely claim—the state filed similar proceedings against several El Pueblo structures in April of 1955.

At the same time, though, the church's use of the building had been changing.

Plans for the Plaza Institutional Church were announced in 1916, calling for a structure that would include a church facility but also a clinic, courses in trades such as shoemaking, carpentry, printing and plumbing, a gymnasium and even a swimming pool.

It took another ten years before the church—now operating as the Plaza Community Center—was finally able to construct and open the present-day buildings, which included the clinic and classrooms but not the swimming pool.

By the early 1950s, Los Angeles' demographics had changed, and the Plaza Community Center had decided that it needed to change with them. In 1953, new director Charles M. Schermerhorn told the L.A. Times that the center would likely need to move to continue serving a Latino population that was now located elsewhere.

The organization, now known as Plaza Community Services, today operates several facilities in East L.A.

The new lease deal must still be approved by the City Council and the El Pueblo Commission. In a release on Wednesday, Huizar said that he hopes to see the deal completed by November.

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