On Saturday, we got a sneak peek at preparations underway to re-open the Center for Yoga, at 230 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd., and to meet the neighbors behind the effort to bring the studio back.
All are local residents who used to take classes as the Center, and they loosely organized their effort over several months earlier this year. Surprisingly, they didn’t all know each other, but as the idea of bringing the studio back coalesced, they turned out to have the perfect combination of skills to develop a business plan that won over the landlords who were hoping to keep the space for yoga.
“The spirit of what they wanted matched exactly with the spirit of what we wanted,” Jordan Wheeler, broker for property owner Fred Leeds Properties, told the Buzz. “They were very diligent and very organized, and with Jae’s extensive background in commercial real estate, they took all the right steps to structure the deal to get it over the finish line. We tell our tenants that if you’re successful, we are successful,” explained Wheeler. “We are tied together and they made it very easy for us to say yes.”
Jae Yoo and Michael Barton, who had never met each other, were tasked with contacting Wheeler to make the pitch. Barton drafted the business plan, and Yoo weighed on how to make the package work for both the landlord and the fledgling new business. He told the Buzz he was really pleased the property owner was willing to work with them, allowing them time to build the business up.
“When Yogaworks closed, they were offering 120 classes a week,” explained Yoo. “We are going to start with 60 and hope we can build that back up, but we know it’s going to take some time and fortunately, the landlord was willing to work with us.”
The Larchmont studio was a thriving business before COVID, but Yogaworks, which had been struggling with debt from too much expansion, decided to close all of its studios during the pandemic. It was a sudden shock to the Larchmont community.
Efforts to revitalize the studio started months ago, when Katharine DeShaw, who recently helped the Academy Museum complete its $388 million capital campaign, starting talking to fellow former students and neighbors about how to bring the studio back to Larchmont. She reached out to Diana Buckhantz, a longtime friend, whose son Sam Doniger had been telling his mom they should try to do something with the space. (Sam is also one of the investors.) DeShaw also reached out to Randy Paskal, CEO and President of Moviola, who has agreed to serve as president of the new venture. Lisa Walford, Senior Iyengar Yoga Instructor, who started her yoga journey at the Center in 1982 and even lived in the space at one time, also joins as an investor. DeShaw knew Barton, and through other mutual connections they met Yoo. And Lisa Bellamore joined on to provide public relations support.
Passion for yoga, and the community it spawned over the last fifty some years, has motivated the group to find a way to bring back what everyone considered a very special place. If you’re not yet (though you might be when the new space opens up) into yoga, you might not appreciate how special the Center for Yoga is in the world of yoga. The space was built in 1927, as a Masonic Lodge. After the Masons moved out and reportedly into their larger more expansive building on Wilshire Blvd., the space was briefly a Fred Astaire Dance studio. In 1967, yoga pioneer Ganga White opened the studio…and the rest is yoga history.
Yoga instructor and teacher trainer Kim Fisch, who taught at the Center for Yoga for 14 years, has created a documentary-style video podcast called “Revolving Around the Center,” for those who want a deeper dive into the history. Her series features interviews with friends, fellow teachers, students, and staff members, with each person claiming it was combination of the historic building with high ceilings and the people that made the Center for Yoga so special. Interestingly, property owner David Oved, partner with Fred Leeds, was a student there at one time. DeShaw credits Fisch’s series with motivating her to take action to bring the studio back to life.
The group plans to re-open the studio August 24 and has brought back former manager Deb Anderson as General Manager, who will work alongside consultant Lisa Haase, who was the owner/director of the Center from 2000 – 2004. Founding memberships are available for those who want to support the effort, along with monthly classes or an annual membership.
It’s exciting to see this neighborhood-led effort coming together. We wish them well and will check back for the opening festivities.