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In a word, Venice center's lease extended

Literary bastion Beyond Baroque will stay put for 25 years.

March 01, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

The show at Beyond Baroque will go on, thanks to an L.A. City Council vote Friday extending its lease in a city-owned building.

Just hours before the Venice literary arts center's lease was to expire, the council voted 11 to 0 to extend it for 25 years.

Currently housed in half of the Old Venice Town Hall on Venice Boulevard, the center has, since the late 1960s, provided a West Coast haven for poets, amateur and laureate, through free workshops, low-cost readings and performances, the archiving of Los Angeles literature, book publishing and curating of public art projects.

"There's nothing like it anywhere else for Los Angeles' poets," said Wanda Coleman, a Watts-raised, Lancaster-based poet who first read her work aloud at the center as a 20-year-old. Now 61, Coleman said she visits about a dozen times a year to reconnect with "the voice" she found there as a poet.

"My family and friends that fall out of touch with me always call there to get a hold of me," Coleman said after exclaiming "Amen!" when she learned Beyond Baroque would remain open. "Our hearts are connected to that place."

Concern in the literary arts community, exemplified by emotional blog posts, led to hundreds of e-mails and phone calls to City Hall offices.

The angst in the blogosphere intensified earlier in the week when Doug Dutton announced the impending closure of his eponymous bookstore in Brentwood, another blow to the Westside literary scene.

"It has been quite an ordeal over the last two weeks," said Nick Velasquez, the spokesman for the city attorney's office, which was involved in advising the city over the lease agreement. "The outpouring of support was strong."

The organization annually serves about 300 writers and 10,000 residents, according to Fred Dewey, Beyond Baroque's director.

The City Council approved the lease at a locked-in rate of $1 per year. An additional 106 nonprofit organizations have similar $1-per-year leases with the city, provided the nonprofits assume responsibility for maintenance, officials said. Beyond Baroque's annual maintenance costs are $20,000.

Beyond Baroque has been at its current location since 1979 and was at the end of a lease last approved in 1997.

The area's councilman, Bill Rosendahl, said the last few weeks have involved various city agencies' conferring over the lease renewal. There was some confusion among city officials about a proposal, which had stalled in a council committee, to end all $1-per-year leases.

Rosendahl said that in order to keep Baroque's lease from expiring this week, the city attorney recommended the councilman immediately submit a motion to the City Council.

"It was down to the wire there," Rosendahl said. "But there was no question that the artistic community needed this center. Beyond Baroque is one of the last bastions of the spoken word in Los Angeles."

Dewey, who has served as director for 12 years, said his organization had been working to renew the lease for years: "Our 10 years of work for a 25-year victory for both the organization and poetry makes it worthwhile. This time, poetry will be the last word spoken."

francisco.varaorta@ latimes.com

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