Center for Yoga to open, thanks to a team of locals

| July 29, 2021 | 1 Comment

MEMBERS Of THE TEAM that saved the Center for Yoga, Michael Barton, Katharine DeShaw and Sam Doniger. Not shown are Diana Buckhantz, Randy Pasqual, Lisa Walford and Jae Yoo.

The Center for Yoga may be housed in a creaky old building, circa 1925, but to the yoga community it is sacred, holy ground. And to the Larchmont business community — with its hundreds of yogis stopping at shops and restaurants — the Center had been a lifeline.

“This studio has been an iconic studio since the very beginning. It has a spirituality and an energy about it,” said Diana Buckhantz, an investor and board member of the recently incorporated Center for Yoga, Inc.

The longest continually running yoga studio in Los Angeles — since 1967 — chanted its last Namaste last year and shuttered its doors.

But yogis of all levels will soon be stretching into sun salutations, cobras and other classic yoga poses when the studio re-opens Tues., Aug. 24 as a community-owned-and-operated center — thanks to a team of locals who have stepped up to the mat.

“It’s a beloved space and a sacred space for a lot of people. I couldn’t let it vanish for COVID. I had to do something,” said Jae Yoo, executive director, Cushman & Wakefield, and also a board member of the NEW Center for Yoga. He was instrumental in negotiating a 10-year lease for the space at 230 N. Larchmont Blvd.

Re-opening day Aug. 24

To celebrate opening day, the Center for Yoga will offer a full day of free classes Aug. 24, beginning with an all-levels class at 11 a.m., taught by world-class teachers Jeanne Heileman, Joe Kara, Patti Lewis, Andrea Marcum and Lisa Walford.

Center for Yoga former manager Deb Anderson will return as general manager, working alongside consultant Lisa Haase, who was the owner / director of the Center from 2000-2004.

Walford, who began at the Center in 1982 (literally, she used to live in an alcove above the main studio), returns as one of the studio’s four investors.

“To be a part of the reopening of the Center is very special,” says Walford. “The Center’s impact extends far beyond its physical space, into the Larchmont Village neighborhood, the city of Los Angeles, and the broader yoga community.”

Local investor

Board president and investor Randy Pasqual, Plymouth Boulevard, didn’t think twice when he learned neighbors were looking for investors.

“I’m all in,” said Pasqual, who is borrowing on his financial and management experience running his family business.

“Our primary goal is to bring back the yoga center to the community, for ourselves and everybody else,” Pasqual said.

The Center for Yoga was purchased and run by Yoga Works in 2004, until the pandemic hit, and the national chain closed the studio.

Returning the center to pre-pandemic numbers, when 1,500 students took weekly classes here, will be a challenge, said Center for Yoga board member and Windsor Square resident Michael Barton, managing director of Michael Barton Consulting.

Barton wrote the business plan for the revamped Center. It’s his 27th, and most recent, start-up.

“This is way more old school,” compared to his other projects. But the same business rules apply. “A company is a company,” said Barton.

A modest roster of 60 classes a week to start is hoped to be increased to 120 weekly classes, offering an eclectic approach by experienced teachers, for which the studio was known.

The Larchmont Boulevard Association, the Windsor Square Association and the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association threw in their support, and leasing agent Jordan Wheeler also played a part. When members of the team told him, “‘We don’t have a penny, but we think we can raise a lot of money,’ I thought he would laugh at us,” Barton said. But instead, Wheeler said, “I was hoping something like this would happen.”

Storied history

The building’s storied past began as a Masonic Lodge — framed photographs of Masonic leaders are in the alcove. Later, the studio served as a dance school before yogi pioneer Ganja White opened the studio in 1967.

Two locals — architect Mary Pickhardt and designer Bebe Johnson — are volunteering their services in the upgrade, which includes replacing 1980s lighting with a 1920s schoolhouse style.

A massive Buddha stone sculpture that’s been in storage at a local’s home will be returned, and a mural will be painted on the lobby wall.

The maple floors will be cleaned, and the building’s 22 colors of interior paint will be reduced to one neutral shade. A new heating and air conditioning system with COVID-safe filters will also be ready in time for the opening.

Boost the Boulevard

The investors hope the studio’s reopening will also give a boost to Larchmont businesses, which have suffered from the pandemic and were hard hit by the studio’s closure.

Upon hearing about the closure, Kim Fisch, who taught at the Center for Yoga for 14 years, was inspired to launch “Revolving Around the Center,” a documentary-style podcast.

The video “was about memory and loss,” said Center board member and Hancock Park resident Katharine DeShaw, president of Philanthropology. It motivated her to get involved and draw on her experience running a $388 million capital campaign for the new Academy Museum (set to open Sept. 30 on Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue).

Center for Yoga investor and entrepreneur Sam Doniger grew up on Beachwood when the only chains on Larchmont were banks. He signed on to help save the center “to keep Larchmont, Larchmont.

“I think Larchmont is clearly in transition, and I hope the Center for Yoga will provide a unifying force for what the Boulevard used to be … a community-focused establishment.”

Barton is the sole member of the board that is not a yogi, but he appreciates the center and sees its value.

“I love the neighborhood,” and the yoga center “is in the heart of Larchmont. It’s an old cranky building that everybody loves,” Barton smiles.

Buckhantz, who practices four to five times a week, “fell in love with yoga, and I fell in love with the studio.”

During good times and bad,
“the practice itself, and the community and teachers, kept me grounded and strong… and very limber as I age…

“The response from the community has been amazing, from the associations and from the business owners. We hope it’s a win-win for the whole community,” said Buckhantz.

Founding monthly membership starts at $145. More information about the Center for Yoga, including the class schedule, instructor information, and special membership packages can be found at centerforyogala.com

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  1. mark welles says:

    Really great article!!
    Thanks!

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