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A spirits-filled church?

Times Staff Writer

Praise the Lord and pour the apple martini.

That refrain could be echoing down Argyle Avenue if a developer manages to convert the landmark Little Country Church of Hollywood into a combination bar, restaurant and church.

Vytas Juskys sees the historic New England-style clapboard sanctuary as an ideal addition to Hollywood’s burgeoning night-life scene, offering live entertainment and two outdoor free-standing bars, plus space for regular religious services.

The concept would certainly be a new twist in the trendy Hollywood club culture, which has seen dozens of new establishments open along its main boulevard and surrounding streets in recent years. The area already has a club centered around a movie screening room, a celebrity-filled eatery in an old Victorian house and a bar in an old rail car. Juskys, who is in his mid-30s, says he understands what sort of entertainment venues are needed in Hollywood.

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But a bar that doubles as a church? Some residents find that a little sacrilegious. And the developer is feeling the wrath -- if not from God, then from city planners who say Juskys’ proposal doesn’t include enough parking.

City officials who had scheduled a public hearing this morning into Juskys’ application for a conditional-use permit and zoning variance for the restaurant-bar-church proposal have decided to require him to provide 180 patron parking spaces. But he hasn’t been able to find that many spots, so on Monday, Juskys disclosed that he had reluctantly postponed his application indefinitely.

Opponents of the church conversion vowed to fight any plan for a bar.

“Maybe we can get Billy Graham’s people to come out and bless the liquor license,” said neighbor Margarita Allen, who lives directly behind the church.

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“Are they going to call it the ‘Little Church of Hollywood Bar and Grill?’ ” asked John Walsh, whose apartment is just steps from the site. “This sounds like a very bad cable TV comedy.”

In a letter to zoning officials, neighbor Christina Chahal complained that the church’s proposed “late night hours with drunken patrons and noise will make any peace and quiet almost impossible.”

Juskys contends that the sale of a full line of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption at the 73-year-old church, designated a Los Angeles city historic-cultural landmark in 1992, offers the best way to preserve the quaint, old-fashioned sanctuary.

Juskys said he thought he had a customer parking plan worked out with a nearby lot owner, but that the lease of 150 parking spaces fell through.

The church was built in 1934 by the Rev. W. B. Hogg. At the time, he was a popular radio evangelist who went by the name Josiah Hopkins.

The church was designed to resemble a New England-style country church by Paul Kingsley, a popular Austrian-born architect who designed many Los Angeles-area schools, department stores and civic buildings such as Arcadia City Hall.

After the church was built, it became home to Hogg’s radio ministry, described as the first of its kind in the United States. It was also a popular setting for weddings involving Hollywood starlets and stars.

The 3,400-square-foot sanctuary ended its religious service in 1997 after its dwindling congregation could no longer pay its operating expenses.

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Two years later, Hollywood restaurateur Susan Moore sought to convert the church into a theater and restaurant as part of the then-reemerging Hollywood entertainment district. At that time, Hollywood residents fought the redevelopment plan.

Although the church has been fenced in and locked, vandals and squatters have sometimes entered its overgrown grounds. Squatters are blamed for setting a fire that blackened the church basement and damaged walls and ceiling areas in 2004.

Juskys said he still hopes to turn the church into an entertainment center -- once he finds the needed parking spaces.

“We were planning some kind of services on Sunday mornings with a legitimate church,” he said. “We’d serve Sunday brunch. We could host weddings and receptions. It would be special and unique. There’s definitely nothing like it in L.A.,” he said.

After decades of decline, Hollywood has reemerged in recent years as a top destination for weekend partying -- drawing both young people from the suburbs and a scattering of Hollywood stars as well. The church is just the latest of numerous neglected buildings to be considered for revitalization as part of the boom.

Juskys, of Hancock Park, said he gets “weekly offers” from developers who want to acquire the church. There have been inquiries from other churches too, he said. A church would be exempt from the city’s parking requirements, he added.

Juskys said his project was ideal because he would restore the building and provide the community with a variety of uses.

“The building needs to be preserved,” Juskys said. “There have been three owners who have struggled and struggled with the church. Each time, it has fallen deeper in disrepair.”

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bob.pool@latimes.com


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