Graeme Flegenheimer answers the door like someone who is in a fort. He peers through the crack between two doors with, “Can I help you?”
Inside The Church on York Performing Arts Space, formerly the Church of Christ, Flegenheimer is flanked by stained glass windows, an altar with podium and high ceilings. The sound of hammers and power saws whir away, while his shirt is covered in dust.
Built in 1913 the building was erected one year after the area was annexed into the city of Los Angeles. Flegenheimer arrived in Los Angeles about six years ago and lists off the facts of the building as though he’s been rehearsing them for some time now:
- Architects were Robert Train and Edmund Williams.
- The first congregation to meet here were Methodist.
- Over time the congregation dwindled and the building was put up for rent.
Flegenheimer came across the Craigstlist post for the building after a night out, one of those late night internet searches before bed.
On his first visit to the church he saw the ceiling caving in, along with hideous green carpets and plenty of neglect for the century-old building.
A movie geek Flegenheimer always wanted to work in the industry, so he made his way west to Los Angeles, found himself in Highland Park and worked various jobs on sets. Art school didn’t work out for him, he dropped out and cut his teeth with music public relations, first at one firm, then another he started with an associate. His firm signed Frank Ocean, a big notch in any PR firm’s belt. Just like all those public relation firms collect artists Flegenheimer began to make friends with touring musicians as he organized their busy schedules. All of this would somehow lead to the church, to Flegenheimer meeting with the owner and summing up the Craigslist post with, “RENT THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE WE WON’T HELP YOU WITH ANYTHING,” he says with a sardonic tone.
The building had been sitting empty for some time. 6,600-square foot. Inside acoustics are grand, and a voice can get lost in the din of its space. At the time of its listing the owners were asking $9,000 a month. Flegenheimer along with several others make up the LLC who pursued the lease for the church, now titled The Church on York Performing Arts Space.
At this very moment “we’re flying by the seat of our pants” with regards to a calendar of events, though the church will host a Lummis Day event in 2014.
At a recent Land Use Committee meeting Flegenheimer, along with a consultant and his lawyer, presented his progress to the board. Reactions from the board members were mixed – why are you trying to serve drinks? what time will your music be played till? what are you going to use this space for? what about parking? parking? parking? No one walks in Los Angeles, you’re going to crowd the streets.
Flegenheimer answered: there would be beer and wine, and a Salvadorian menu. Music would not go past midnight during weekdays. There will be parking for bicyclists and for motorists. Flegenheimer seemed upset by the end of his presentation.
Harvey Slater Land Use Committee Chair went onto say, “I think we should really consider the benefit of what they’re trying to do – they’re taking an old underused building and repurposing it for the neighborhood.”
“But what about parking,” another member went on.
In the end the board voted to give a letter of approval to The Church on York, now nominated for historical status by local historian Charles Fisher.
Flegenheimer has summed up his hopes for the building a number of times. Back at the church he says it like this.
“This will not be a nightclub, or a bar. It will be unlike any other type of venue in L.A. I like certain aspects of the DIY culture. Like Jabberjaw or The Smell, places where musicians are part of the workshops, part of the physical labor that’s put on there.”
At the church Flegenheimer’s office overlooks York Boulevard, that corridor of progress and recent boom of boutiques and specialty shops. He sits lurched over his laptop, while other members of the LLC busy themselves on their own laptops.
When asked if there’s any irony in transforming a place of worship to a creative arts venue Flegenheimer nods his head slowly and says, “No. No irony at all. It’s just a beautiful place. After so many earthquakes in California, for this place to survive. If you want to strip it all down it’s just a beautiful building.”
The Church on York
4904 York Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90042