Miller Barondess Fights to Save Office Space for Dozens of Local Nonprofits through Peace Center Foundation
By Tara Lynn Wagner, Spectrum News – September 11, 2020 — Carol Wells understands the weight of paper. “Paper is heavy,” she said, surrounded by posters in filing cabinets, folders, and tubes. “Paper is trees.” And in the case of the paper that fills her office, Wells said paper is history.
What You Need To Know:
- The Aris and Carolyn Anagnos Peace Center Foundation was founded to provide rent-free office space for L.A.-based progressive groups
- The center is home to a dozen nonprofit organizations including The Center for the Study of Political Graphics
- Attorney General Xavier Becerra has issued a cease-and-desist order in an attempt to stop the sale of the Culver City building
“These posters show a very long history of struggle and a very long history of many victories that aren’t recorded any place else but in the posters,” she said.
Wells founded the Center for the Study of Political Graphics about 30 years ago and since then has amassed a collection of 90,000 protest posters, or as she sees them, pieces of political art. The organization started as a concept with posters stored in her tiny bedroom, she said.
“We had a name. We had a P.O. box,” she said. “It was an idea and Aris believed in the idea.”
Aris Anagnos, a philanthropist and lifelong political activist, came to the U.S. and worked his way through UCLA by washing dishes, Wells said, before becoming a successful real estate investor.
“And he never forgot his politics,” she added. “And he never forgot his commitment to social justice.”
It’s that commitment, she said, that led him to offer free office space to several nonprofits, including hers, first at a location in Hollywood and eventually in this building on Sepulveda Boulevard, known as the Peace Center.
Wells said a dozen progressive nonprofits are headquartered there, including the Peace Action Education Fund, the California Clean Money Campaign, and the Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence.
But that’s just one layer. The building also has a large meeting room, a safe space where members of other outside groups who don’t have offices in the space can hold gatherings – all for free.
“This has become a real hub for organizing,” Wells said, adding that it is often used for phone banking, or to host out-of-town speakers working for different causes. “That’s the key about the Peace Center and that’s really why we are fighting so hard to save it.”
When Anagnos died in 2018, Wells said he left behind plans and money — reportedly $1.5 million — for the Peace Center to continue. Since then, she said, his son Demos, an attorney, has taken over, replaced the board, and reshaped the Aris and Carolyn Anagnos Peace Center Foundation, removing the words Peace Center, along with Carolyn’s name.
Over the summer, he put the building up for sale, and sent a letter to the nonprofits, referring to them as guests of his father and urging them to “start making arrangements immediately.”
“So it wasn’t an official eviction notice,” Wells said of the note that had been slipped under her door on a Friday night, “but it was a notice to get out.”
And that, Wells insists, is the opposite of what Aris Anagnos had wanted.
“He spent his entire life fighting for peace and justice,” she said. “He and Carolyn considered the Peace Center their life’s legacy.”
The Center for the Study of Political Graphics filed a lawsuit and started a petition that has gathered hundreds of signatures. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate what he said: “appears to be significant improprieties in the handling of the Peace Center Foundation since its founder, Aris Anagnos, died.”
In late August, the Attorney General’s office ordered efforts to sell the building to cease and accused Demos Anagnos and other family members on the board of “filing false, misleading, or incomplete information” in an attempt to sell the property. Demos Anagnos declined to comment for this story but did provide Spectrum News 1 a copy of the grant deed for the building, which he said, “contains no restrictions” on its use or sale.
Following the order, the “for sale” sign outside the Sepulveda Boulevard building has been removed. Demos Anagnos and others named on the order have until the end of the month to appeal and request a hearing. That gives Wells and the other nonprofits a moment to breathe, she said.
Wells said having to move and find a safe place to store her posters would be physically and financially difficult.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible because I don’t think anything is truly impossible,” Wells said. “But it would be extremely difficult. It would literally change how much we can do and what we can do.”
Which is why she said she’s been working around the clock to save the Peace Center, sending emails well after midnight. It’s exhausting, she said, but it’s worth it.
“I mean, Aris gave us a gift,” she said, fighting back tears. “The Center for the Study of Political Graphics would not have existed without Aris’ seeing it as part of his vision. His vision allowed my vision and all of the center’s vision to thrive.”
Click here for LA Times coverage on September 17, 2020.