Attempts to turn an aging Highland Park church into a venue catering to independent and avant-garde music may now be hinging on a prayer.
The Los Angeles Department of City Planning has declared that the Church on York has been conducting concerts illegally and has denied the venue's requests for permits, more or less pulling the plug on all the venue's scheduled performances.
Church on York owner Graeme Flegenheimer said he is working with venues in the area to relocate all upcoming concerts.
He said he was informed of the city's permit denial Friday afternoon and was subsequently visited by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which informed him that any attempts to stage a concert would be canceled.
Citing the venue's "disregard for the law," associate zoning administrator Fernando Tovar wrote in his permit denial that many of the Church on York's concerts had been staged without obtaining proper documentation from the city. In total, Tovar wrote that only five special event permits had been granted for the site, all in 2013.
Reached by phone late Friday, Flegenheimer said it "was a huge disappointment" but was adamant that he would not be giving up his attempt to turn the space into a music hall. The Church on York has concerts scheduled through the summer, with as many as four or five slated for some weeks.
"We're not going anywhere," he said. "I'm going to keep fighting."
What was to be a two-day event Friday night and Saturday showcasing a number of hard rock bands from Denmark has been moved to Los Globos in Echo Park and will now be an one-day concert. Sunday's concert featuring the indie-folk act the Cave Singers has been moved to the Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts.
All previously sold tickets will be honored.
In terms of the Church on York's currently docketed concerts, Flegenheimer said he is talking with venues such as the Echo and the Echoplex, and has spoken with FYF Fest founder Sean Carlson, and intends for all to go on as planned in different venues.
"They have all put their hand out and said, 'We want to help you and we're so sorry,'" Flegenheimer said of the local music community. "All of the venues who have pledged their support in the past four hours really means a lot to us."
A young publicist-turned-entrepreneur, the 22-year-old Flegenheimer has grand plans for the venue, situated on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 49. Since opening last fall, the Church on York has hosted concerts, comedy shows, film screenings and even music classes for teens and pre-teens taught by members of pop group Maroon 5.
A public hearing in March brought out a broad range of supporters, including the owners of nearby Cafe de Leche and a number of nationally known touring musicians. Tovar's permit denial notes that the Los Angeles Police Department was an early supporter, submitting a letter to city planning offices stating that the Church on York "would add to the over-all neighborhood improvement plan," provided that a number of conditions were met.
Yet Tovar expressed numerous concerns in his written permit rejection, chief among them that the venue's lack of parking and residential location were ill-suited for concerts that could draw more than 300 people. Tovar also writes that Flegenheimer had "engaged in the sale of alcohol" while requests for a liquor license were under review, had submitted inadequate renovation plans and that police had found guests smoking marijuana in the basement.
Flegenheimer said he was willing drop his bid to serve beer and wine to maintain his vision to bring an all-ages music space to Highland Park. He said he hoped to obtain temporary permits to prevent the relocation of all upcoming concerts.
"People like this space," he said. "I'm willing to make concessions for not serving alcohol. There's so many other ways I've learned in the past couple weeks for how to make money, whether that's a film shoot, a commercial or someone recording a record here, that I'm not worried about selling beer and wine anymore."
"We're not going to bow down," he added.
[Updated 12:32 p.m. PDT May 20: FYF founder Sean Carlson clarified that he is not helping Flegenheimer and the Church on York relocate any of its canceled concerts. Carlson said he has only been in touch with some of the artists and artist reps whose dates were affected.]