An Independence Day Treat from the Archives
by Julie Lugo Cerra
It seems like most Culver City natives have a story to tell about “going to the movies.” After all, when you grow up in the “Heart of Screenland,” not only were movies made in our studios and on city streets, but we viewed them in local theatres. Our first movie house was on the Culver Hotel site. Initially, that two-story building housed the theatre on the first floor, with city offices above.
Over time, your historical society has been able to “flesh out” some little known history. For example, the initial movie house was run by Pearl Merrill and Laura Peralta, ladies with a history in vaudeville. When the t
heatre was earmarked for demolition to make way for Culver’s landmark hotel, the owners decided to move down the street and build their own theatre. And yes, you guessed it–they combin
ed their names to call it the “Meralta!” Will Rogers agreed to be the opening act in 1922. The theatre thrived until WWII, when a fire destroyed it. This was especially sad since the owners lived in the upper level apartment, where they could watch the movies. At the time, there was a wartime moratorium on building, but our city found an interim space on the second floor of the 1928 city hall, (where our new city hall stands today).
We had the privilege of interviewing Laura Peralta’s niece who gave us more information. And with the internet, we have been provided with gifts that further tell our stories. There are few photos of the owners, but we know Pearl Merrill served on the Board of Education, while Laura Peralta became active in the Culver City Woman’s Club. The invitation to the 1945 re-opening of the Meralta offers a sketch of each of the owners and a heart-felt welcome back as shown, (courtesy Wm. Barnett). The small print reads:
“Out of the ashes of the old Meralta, a more beautiful theatre has arisen. We proudly dedicate it to you, the people of the community.
In these days of world weariness we strive to raise the morale of our Americans, not in order to forget our duties to our country but rather to inspire grateful realization of the wonders of this land and the purpose for which our boys have left their homes.
We are proud that in these troublous times we are again able to fill a need in this community of which we have been a part for twenty-six years. To all those associated in our endeavors we are happy once more to greet you and to our new friends we welcome you and heartily solicit your patronage. It will be our policy to offer the best in entertainment for all~particularly the children who need special guidance through the post-war period.
We wish you to feel that this is your theatre, dedicated to your enjoyment, recreation and entertainment.”
This seemed fitting to share as we get ready to celebrate Independence Day!