A View From the Top

p-1-backlot-1978In June 1960, when Rich Langsford was 12 years old, he got to do what many Culver City residents only dream of doing — go up in the tower of the Veterans Memorial Building. Fortunately for us, he brought a movie camera.

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A glimpse of this set can be seen from above in Rich Langford’s footage.

In town for his Culver City High School 50th class reunion in September, this Class of ‘66 alum presented the Historical Society with a DVD transfer of the film, which was shot on a Kodak Brownie 8mm camera.

The story goes that Rich’s mother, Marjorie, worked at MGM, first in the script department and later as personal secretary for Rod Serling, a screenwriter best known as creator and narrator of The Twilight Zone television series. One day Rich joined his mother for lunch at the Tower Restaurant, which once operated inside the Veterans Memorial Building under the tower, and he just so happened to have his camera with him.

Rich isn’t sure if his mother made an appointment to go up the tower’s elevator or if she just asked nicely, but somehow they were able to spend some time enjoying the view. In 1960 that view would have included a look into MGM’s Lot 2, which included backlot mainstays like “New England Street,” “Grand Central Station”, “Small Town Square,” featured in films like The Philadelphia Story, Meet Me in St. Louis and, yes, TV shows like The Twilight Zone. These days Lot 2 is where the Culver City Senior Center and the Studio Estates neighborhood are located.

“I just did a panoramic filming,” Rich says. “Of course I wasn’t a very good cinematographer when I was 12. It’s all kind of jittery. But it gives you a pretty good idea. You can see some things have changed since then.”

If you would like to see Rich’s 1960 view of Culver City from Vet’s Tower, the DVD can be screened at the Historical Society’s Archives and Resource Center during open hours.

Barbecue Sauce Lost

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Sam Stern is pictured on the right. Do you recognize the other two men from the early days at Sterns?

With Labor Day having signaled the unofficial end of barbecue season, we wanted to take a look back at much loved and much missed Stern’s Famous Barbecue.

Located at 12658 West Washington Blvd., Stern’s attracted fans from far and wide. Opened in 1922 by Isidor Stern, a Texas butcher, Stern’s eventually included a 32-room motel as part of the operation. Isidor’s nephew, Hal, was the last owner before a 1983 fire lead to the restaurant’s closure. Though the restaurant could have been rebuilt, their kitchen setup was grandfathered in, and updated fire codes meant the recipes couldn’t be replicated. Hal Stern moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he became a real estate broker and horseman.

Stern’s barbecue sauce is the legend that lingers, which many recall as being brown-orange instead of the usual red color, served hot with meaty bits. Many have speculated that the sauce contained XLNT chili con carne. Or maybe there was Coca-Cola? Possibly mustard?

Users of roadfood.com were able to contact Hal Stern in an attempt to get the recipe. The secret, according to Hal, were drippings and trimmings from the meat that were ground up and added to the sauce. He was reluctant to divulge the list of other ingredients, but also stated that, since their barbecued meat was included in the sauce, it is impossible to replicate in any case.

While Stern’s Famous Barbecue is long gone, Culver City’s barbecue tradition lives on. Outdoor Grill, celebrating its twentieth year in operation, opened just down Washington Blvd. from where Stern’s was located, Santa Maria Barbecue has been going strong for over a decade, and over the past year both Holy Cow BBQ and Maple Block Meat Co. opened on Sepulveda Blvd. And for those who wish to continue the sauce search, there is even a Facebook group started by Isidor’s great-grandson Jeff Mudrick, who longs for the days of “Hickory Smoked Meats for a Robust Treat,” along with everyone else in the know.