Brentwood Art Center Could Be Saved From Closure

A plan is in the works to keep the art school open.

Brentwood Art Center
Brentwood Art Center
The Brentwood Art Center has received an overwhelming reaction from the community after word of its closure came early Sunday morning.

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls from a lot of people who are interested in contributing in any way, shape our form," said Sarkis Melkonian, the school's president. "I can't promise anything, but we'll try to keep the school open."

Melkonian said that he and attorney Don Burris, husband of art center faculty member Patti Burris, will meet with a group of Brentwood residents on Sunday to decide the fate of the art school, which is located at 26th Street and Montana Avenue.

"He has offered to essentially put together a group of a lot of people who have a great deal of emotional attachment to the place to try and see if there's any possible way for the place to continue," said Melkonian.

Burris was not available for comment by story publication.

Supporters of the art center gathered at the school Wednesday afternoon to say what could have been their final goodbyes.

The message of the closure came in the form of an email just before 1 a.m. Sunday.

"As some of you may have already heard, a change in the current zoning was initiated where the BAC has conducted its business for 41 years," the email read. "This process has had an unforeseen negative impact on the BAC and has dealt a final blow from which the BAC will not be able to recover."
Santa Monica resident Rebecca Kennerly has been bringing her children to the school for almost 14 years.

"We got the email about the school closing in the middle of the night, but earlier that day I had come in and registered my son for the fall session and wrote them a check," said Kennerly. "So, it was really shocking."

The news of the closure was also a surprise to David Limrite, Brentwood Art Center's director of curriculum.

"Ya, it's quite a shock. It's a very difficult thing, you get used to doing something for 23 years and all of the sudden it's not there the next day," said Limrite. "I'm an art teacher, that's what I do and to now not have that available is a difficult situation."

Some of Limerite's students have been with him for 20 years, he said, so the school's closure is a big deal to them. 

"We're here for so many different kinds of people and for so many different reasons," said Limerite. "It's more than a business, it's a community and it's a family."

Limrite, a La Canada resident, doesn't know what he'll do for work if the school does close, but said he's overdue for a vacation. 

Closing the school on Aug. 31 is unnecessary, said the Buttwinicks in a written statement, because the school's lease doesn't expire until 2013:

We initiated a zoning variance with the City so that if the School were to move after its lease expired next August, we would be able to replace the School with another tenant since the current use permit only allows for a school.

The zoning variance process takes some time to complete, and it was not part of a plan to push the School out, only to protect Ed and Linda's retirement income were something like this weekend's announcement from the owner to happen.

In fact, we have had ongoing discussions with the owner over this summer including offering the owner a lease extension, and indicating our willingness to consider further rent reductions and a lease assignment in connection with the contemplated formation of a not-for-profit corporation to take over and continue the School.

West Hollywood resident Billie Udko is a retired executive director of children's orchestras in Los Angeles, she said, so she's got a first-hand appreciation of the arts.

"When I heard about this, I felt like my entire right brain will have no voice… I'm going to start to cry," said Udko, whose eyes welled with tears. "It's very emotional. The community had a creative outlet and now it's just been cut."

Susan Leider has been a student at the art center for 15 years.

"It's a very sad day," said Leider. "I can't imagine the community without it. I've taken many different classes with many different instructors and it's been a very special place in the community and a wonderful learning experience."

SantaMonicaNative August 30, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Thank you Mr. McKeown,. somethings wrong here. I could never afford to attend the Art School but it has always been there.i would hate to lose one more part of Santa Monica. Even if it is in Los Angeles, it's proximity makes it a concern. Zoning changes are never done this quickly, which really makes me curious If a variance was applied for. I thank you for looking into this and providing us with accurate information.
Kevin McKeown August 31, 2012 at 05:51 AM
I still don't have the official version from our City staff, who will have to contact colleagues in the L.A. Planning Department to find out, but it's being reported this was not a large-scale zoning change. Apparently the property owner applied for and received a variance for that one site that will allow retail and office. Like so many business disappearances here in Santa Monica, too, it comes down to who can afford to pay the rent on pricey real estate.
Curtis Plumb August 31, 2012 at 10:08 AM
It hasn't 'always been there.' It was once a grocery store.
SantaMonicaNative August 31, 2012 at 08:42 PM
So sad i hope we don't end up like Westwood, where no one can afford to stay if you don't own the land. My friends and i play "what used to be there? "as drive through the city. We remember Pickle Bills, the multiple Friars, JavaTime, Uncle John's and will soon add the art center. I had forgotten that it one was one of the many neighborhood markets that were woven throughout the city. Thanks to all for the information
Bonnie MacBird September 04, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Reading between the lines here, it sounds like the business was struggling, people were hedging their bets, and the BAC new owners decided to take offense at the zoning variance and use it as an excuse to terminate the struggling business in an abrupt and almost punitive gesture. I don't know if that's the case but that's what it sounds like. In any case, what a shame. It's a wonderful school with great teachers and a lovely addition to the neighborhood. Have taken many classes there. I hope they can resuscitate the business.


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