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Christian Church Accused of Being Anti-LGBTQ Buys Highland Park’s Bright Orange Buddhist Temple

9:46 AM PDT on August 23, 2022

    Residents in Highland Park are sharing their opinions about the news that Zoe Church has purchased the old bright-orange “Mystic Dharma” building on the corner of Figueroa Street and Avenue 52. The 98-year-old building, which boasts 19,200 square feet in what developers love to refer to as the “hottest corridor” in Los Angeles, was listed for $8.75 million.   

    The story broke yesterday morning on @highlandpark90042’s Instagram account, a page popular with both long-standing and new-school Highland Park residents. The page shows a video originally posted on Zoe Church’s Instagram in which founder Chad Veach and his wife, Julia, shout, “we bought a building,” as a drone camera gently hovers overhead and Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s viral hit “All the Way Up” starts playing in the background. 

    Comments from concerned community members quickly started to pour in. Some residents, like Christina Guerra, were quick to point out Zoe’s controversial past, “ Oh wonderful, some homophobes & bigots in our neighborhood. 🙄 Google them; not hard to find info about their shitty backward views. For once, I’d take an overpriced coffee shop. GROSS.” On Zoe’s Instagram account post, most of the couple’s followers, many of which are not Highland Park residents, left positive comments. 

    The controversy behind Zoe Church goes back to the religious organization’s roots, being both modeled after and part of the Hillsong megachurch family, which was exposed in 2016 for participating in gay conversion therapy and “praying the gay away.” Originally founded in Australia, Hillsong pioneered what has been dubbed the “charismatic Christianity” form of its religion, catching massive momentum in the last 10 years among celebrities such as Bono of U2, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, and many more. 

    Last year, Hillsong church’s founder, Brian Houston, stepped down after he was charged by Australian police for “knowingly [concealing] information relating to child sexual offenses.” The international controversy caused the megachurch to close nine of its 16 campuses across the country and fall out of grace with its millions of followers.

    Zoe Church's Veach and Julia were executive producers on The Heart of Man, a film that equates homosexuality to “sexual brokenness and porn addiction. In 2019, Zoe Church was accused of being anti-LGBTQ by actor Elliot Page for their connection to Hillsong. 

    In July of last year, the Mystic Dharma Temple was briefly used as a space to host experimental dinners combining Mexican food and immersive art. L.A. TACO attended one of the dinners and remembers parts of the floor being on a slant, indicating extensive repairs needed.

    The news of this ownership change at  Figueroa’s recognizable bright orange building comes days after Highland Theaters—another century-old building considered a neighborhood landmark located just a few blocks away—was also listed for sale.

    Highland Park has had a large Latino presence since the 1950s. The last census registered the neighborhood as being 70 percent Hispanic. Many of these families and residents braved it out in Highland Park throughout the 80s and 90s, when it was considered one of L.A.'s deadliest and most active areas in gang violence. The neighborhood has been the poster child for rapid gentrification in the last decade. In 2014, Highland Park was the subject of a series on Marketplace for being a neighborhood where the controversial act of "re-tenanting" was practiced.   

    The sale of both buildings will mark a significant end of an era and another dramatic change to one of L.A.’s oldest neighborhoods.

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