Brentwood Art Center (Ashley Archibald ashley@smdp.com)

MONTANA AVE — A group of students and interested parties will meet over the weekend to discuss ways to save the Brentwood Art Center, a beloved art school on Montana Avenue and 26th Street that will close at the end of the week.

Sarkis Melkonian, who owns the school, said there has been an outpouring of support from community members and students to potentially form a nonprofit to keep the school’s doors open past Friday.

There may be word on that as soon as next week, Melkonian said.

Students and teachers received word from Melkonian that the school would close Friday in an e-mail sent at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26.

In that e-mail, Melkonian said that a zoning change had an “unforeseen negative impact on the (Brentwood Art Center) which has dealt a final blow from which the (center) will not be able to recover.”

The zoning change, initiated by owner Edward Buttwinick in the spring, would allow the 6,370-square-foot school to become a commercial retail and office space with 11 on-site parking spaces.

David Greensfelder, a commercial real estate professional and relative of the Buttwinicks, characterized the zoning variance as a “contingency plan” so that the retired couple could continue making money off of the building if the school were to close.

Greensfelder would not discuss the exact uses, but said that they would be compatible with the neighborhood and that the change would not have precluded the school from continuing at the location.

The Buttwinicks founded the school in 1971 before selling it to Melkonian in 2005. They retained ownership of the building, and have been leasing it to the school for the past seven years.

The current lease doesn’t expire until Aug. 31, 2013. The Buttwinicks began the zoning variance process and Melkonian, who still held the lease for another year, objected to the change, Greensfelder said.

When the Buttwinicks asked Melkonian if he would like to extend the term past that date, he did not respond, Greensfelder said.

“We had a tenant that made no move to renew a lease that’s expiring,” Greensfelder said. “What are we supposed to do, wait for it to expire before we look at what to do next?”

If you ask Melkonian, the decision to request the zoning change forced the school into an economic position from which it could not recover.

“Rumors began flying around and enrollment dropped,” he said Thursday.

Students at the school didn’t see the closure coming.

Rebecca Kennerly, an education advocate in Santa Monica, has been taking her children to the school for over 10 years.

She had paid for a new session on Saturday only to see the e-mail from Melkonian Sunday morning, she said.

“It’s an institution,” Kennerly said.

The announcement that the center was closing took the Buttwinicks by surprise as well, Greensfelder said.

“The actual decision to close the school, we were told the same way everyone else was,” Greensfelder said.

It puts the Buttwinicks in a “very bad position,” as they rely on the income from the tenant, but that the loss of the school which they founded has hurt them deeply.

“They founded and operated that school for 35 years,” Greensfelder said. “They sold it to the current owner and the current owner decided he has to close it, which means that the people who founded the business are seeing them go away, which they are devastated about.”

 

ashley@smdp.com

 

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