Culver City Finds Itself

As we celebrate Culver City’s Centennial, it’s natural to wonder how the city came to be, and what it was like before 1917.

Open land in 1914, once occupied by ranchos, with Harry Culver’s plans for the future of the city. (Culver City Historical Society Collection)

The quick history of pre-incorporated Culver City: Home to the Gabrieliños (nee Tongva) native peoples, and it was part of the ranchos that subdivided present-day Los Angeles County in the early 1800s. Barley, beans, and grapes were the major cash crops, along with cattle and horses, but soon motion pictures became the city’s industry. Harry Culver had already pinpointed the area that would make his real estate fortunes due to it being halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Abbot Kinney’s “Venice of America” seaside resort, with the Pacific Electric Railway “Short Line” depot at Venice and Bagley Avenles County in the early 1800s. Barley, beans, and grapes were the major cash crops, along with cattle and horses, but soon motion pictures became the city’s industry. Harry Culver had already pinpointed the area that would make his real estate fortunes due to it being halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Abbot Kinney’s “Venice of America” seaside resort, with the Pacific Electric Railway “Short Line” depot at Venice and Bagley Avenue already in place, and announced his plans for a city at the California Club on July 22, 1913. Then Culver famously saw Thomas Ince filming a Western along Ballona Creek, convinced Ince to move his studio from Pacific Palisades to Washington Blvd. and Jasmine in 1915 where the colonnades of Ince/Triangle Studios still stand, and “The Heart of Screenland” was off and running.

Los Angeles Evening Herald, August 13, 1917
(Culver City Historical Society Collection)

 

To hear the Los Angeles Evening Herald tell it, the impetus for Harry Culver to seek a vote of incorporation for his new city wasn’t to found a city bearing his name, to make his fortune, or to improve his standing in the region. Instead, it was the birth of his daughter.

A headline on August 13, 1917, in the Herald read, “Increase Culver City Population by 1; Ask Incorporation.”

“That the population of Culver City had increased over night from 560 to 561 and that this was the main reason for the petition for incorporation of Culver City as a city of the sixth class, was the unique plea of Harry S. Culver to the board of county supervisors today. The increase in the population, Mr. Culver announced, was a new Culver, Miss Patricia by name and one day old.”

Mrs. Harry (Lillian) Culver with daughter Patricia (Culver City Historical Society Collection)

On September 8, 1917, the Herald mentioned that the election was being held: “Polls opened at 6 this morning and will close this evening at 7. There are 560 residents in Culver City. Harry Culver, the founder of Culver City, predicted that the vote in favor of incorporation would be unanimous.”

The next entry in the Herald about the nascent city was on September 12, 1917, with the headline, “Culver City Ready for Big Festival.”

“The Culver City Chamber of Commerce is planning an all-day carnival to celebrate the city’s incorporation and the sixteen-acre addition to the Triangle Film corporation’s studio at that city, already the biggest studio in the world.”

By 1918 Triangle Studios were sold to Samuel Goldwyn, with Ince already having moved to what is now The Culver Studios, with “The Mansion” (or “Colonial Administration Building”) the first to be built on the lot, and in 1919 Hal Roach built his studio on Washington across from what is now the Culver City Expo Line station. In 1924 Goldwyn Pictures merged with Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Pictures, forming Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, better known as MGM.

As for what Culver City was like prior to incorporation, the best we have is this photo, on page with 1914 written on the photo itself by an anonymous cartographer. Culver Grammar School, noted on the right of the photo, is now home to the Culver City Unified School District offices, next to Linwood E. Howe Elementary. Harry Culver’s home was originally located on Delmas Terrace before it was moved to Cheviot Hills. The Culver Building and Hotel of course is the iconic triangular building at Culver and Main streets, which opened as the Hotel Hunt in 1924. “Club Hall” became the Legion Building, built in 1930, which still stands on Hughes Avenue, just south of Venice. Culver City Park is what’s now Media Park, near Venice and Culver boulevards. And the depot is what’s now the Expo Line’s Culver City Station.

Just as it’s hard to imagine Culver City back when it was barley and bean fields, it’s impossible to conceive of what the area will look like in another hundred years. We can only hope that it will still be going strong, and that its magnificent history will continue to be preserved and appreciated by people such as yourselves, our most valued members of the Culver City Historical Society.

 

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The Culver CityBus Will Celebrate 90 Years

Although Harry Culver’s early ads boasted “All Roads lead to Culver City,” one needed transportation around the town, after arrival.  By the late 1920s, the Evening Star News pointed out a drawback in the system as the “burdensome rates charged by the Pacific Electric.” Mayor Reve Houck, after exploring options, announced that the city, under a provision of the state constitution, could operate its own transportation service! Mayor Houck and the Board of Trustees, recognizing the need for inexpensive public transportation, brought to life the second oldest municipally-owned bus line in the state of California!

Mayor Reve Houck stepping into the Culver City Bus. (Culver City Historical Society Collection)

On March 3, 2018, Culver City will have provided 90 years of continuous bus service to its citizens. According to his daughter, Alene Houck Johnson, Mayor Houck was very concerned that the buses rented might be sabotaged. Legend has it that Houck then financed the first bus. Bus transportation was enthusiastically supported by the community that voted for a bond to finance our own municipal bus line!

 

 

Our Centennial Tap card.

In celebration of our Centennial, your Culver City Historical Society was delighted to work with Culver CityBus by furnishing a choice of vintage photos for a Centennial “bus wrap,” and for their Limited Edition Centennial TAP (transit access pass) card!

 

We have also worked out a free public bus tour for the September 16, 2017, Birthday Party in the Park led by Culver City Historical Society docents you probably know! You might even meet a Culver family descendent on the ride!  We have a history of doing tours with the city for the Fiesta in earlier times.  Check our website for details at www.CulverCityHistoricalSociety.org/bustours or call our information line at (310) 253-6941.

The Centennial Wrap Bus with vintage photos from the Culver City Historical Society (Culver CityBus)

 

 

Today, Culver CityBus boards approximately 5.8 million passengers each year, for safe rides on its fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. In 2012, the City of Culver City was named the 3rd Best Municipal Fleet in North America, out of 38,000 public fleets.

 

 

Question: Do you know why the Culver CityBus logo is so recognizable?

Answer:  The fonts/script came from the lettering on the landmark tower and neon sign of the 1947 Culver Theatre, which is now the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Special thanks to Art Ida and Dia Turner of Culver CityBus for their help.

Join us – be a part of the fun!

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A Very Generous Gift

While we “suffered” through a cold winter, I received a most interesting email (which, after the holidays, was usually a 50% off code from the Gap). Former mayor Paul Jacobs recently met someone whom he wanted us to meet, a collector of letters. This gentleman had a letter that he thought would be of interest to us. Intrigued, Vice President of the ARC/Museum, Art Litman, and Historic Sites chair, Julie Lugo Cerra, and I agreed to meet them both at the ARC on a Sunday afternoon.

Society President Michelle Bernardin receives Harry Culver’s letter from Dennis Shapiro. Also pictured are Susan Shapiro and Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba. (George Bernardin)

 

Once we were all seated around our worktable, Art set the video on his phone to record and we were off, asking a myriad of questions – from his collecting practices to how he is connected to Culver City. Among the themes in his collection  Dennis Shapiro has amassed letters from all the U.S. Presidents, #1 through #44. An interesting comment on collecting, he stated that he evaluates a letter for content, not solely on signature quality, as one might expect. He spoke very passionately about his 30-year hobby, but we know it’s much more than just an interest. It never is. A very special man, indeed.

At the very end of the conversation, we thanked him for coming in to show us this remarkable letter. He then very proudly said that on behalf of his family, he would like to give the letter to the Historical Society. (I think I might have hugged him a little too hard.) For those of you keeping track, this is the first letter signed by Harry Culver to enter into the Society’s collection. A very special letter, indeed.

Dennis Shapiro generously gifted the letter to the Society in the name of his son, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, his wife, Susan, and himself. All three were our guests at the April 19 General Meeting and Program, where they officially presented their gift to the membership and could be publically thanked. I was able to cajole Rabbi Shapiro into reading a couple of amusing passages out loud, as a one Mr. Culver encouraged Mr. Warren Doane from the Hal Roach Studio to forward a petition for better mail delivery. History does repeat itself. A very special evening, indeed.

We are very lucky to have a member of the Shapiro family in Culver City on a permanent basis, as Zach is the rabbi at Temple Akiba. His parents seasonally spend time on this coast. We encourage you to come into the Archives to see this amazing letter in person. An excerpt is shown here only to whet your appetite to visit and take in the wit of Mr. Culver.

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Summer 2017 Message

Dear Members and Friends,Michelle Bernardin, President

Happy Summer!

I haven’t shared many personal moments through this public letter, but since our last newsletter was published, I became a homeowner. This does not amount to much for the purposes of typical President Messages, other than the pathways of homeownership and historic preservation intersected with this purchase and it was an interesting test of my beliefs. The irony does not go unnoticed that May was national Historic Preservation Month. If you are interested in hearing more of my tale, come sit by me, and I’ll have a story to share.

We hope you enjoy this expanded newsletter issue, celebrating our Centennial. Please enjoy the photos, and additional articles. (Extra points will be given if you notice the new subtle changes to our newsletter design.)

As we celebrate the 100th birthday of our city’s incorporation, please calendar Saturday afternoon, September 16. We will bring back the Society’s historic bus tours that used to happen during Fiesta La Ballona. While the Culver City Centennial Committee’s 100th Birthday Party in Vets Park will be going on from 11am to 3pm, we will have our tours at designated times. Tickets will be free, and there might be surprise guests! Check back on our website for ticket information and reservations. We are grateful to partner with the city’s Transportation Department to bring this tour back for the birthday party.

Visit our website and like or follow us on the social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to stay connected with us!

As always, thank you for supporting your Historical Society! We cannot do this without you.

#ThisPlaceMatters

In early May, the Society accepted a proclamation from the Culver City Council in recognition of Historic Preservation Month. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s theme this year is “This Place Matters,” which perfectly describes our feelings about “The Heart of Screenland” as we celebrate our Centennial year. (Jeremy Green)

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From Abraham to the Sepúlvedas

You can always tell who’s new to Culver City by their mispronunciations of two of our most important streets: Duquesne (Doo-KEZ-nee, instead of Doo-cane, which is the proper French pronunciation) and Sepulveda (Sep-pull-VEE-duh, instead of Seh-PUL-vih-duh, which is the proper Spanish pronunciation).

Duquesne Avenue runs through the heart of Downtown Culver City, and Sepulveda Boulevard is one of the longest streets in Los Angeles County.

Who were these streets named after?

Abraham Duquesne (born 1610 in Dieppe, France) was one of the French Navy’s greatest captains, and he also sailed for the Swedish Navy. He often fought against the

Duquesne

Spanish Armada for France, and against the Dutch for Sweden. During the Franco-Dutch War, he fought against the combined Dutch-Spanish fleet in the Battles of Stromboli and Augusta in 1676, which resulted in the death of Dutch Admiral Michel Adriaanzoon de Ruyter. Duquesne was only able to ascend to lieutenant general because of his steadfast refusal to convert from being Protestant. His grandnephew Michel-Ange Duquesne de Menneville was a Governor General of New France, founded Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and is the namesake of Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University.

 

 

Sepúlveda

Francisco Xavier Sepúlveda y García (born 1742 in Villa de Sinaloa, Mexico) was patriarch of the Sepúlveda family, who the street was named after. In 1839 his son Francisco Sepúlveda (born 1775 in Sinaloa) was granted 33,000 acres of the Rancho San Vicente and Santa in recognition of his services to the Mexican government. Eventually, all thirteen of Francisco Sepúlveda’s children controlled large ranchos, with María Ramona Sepúlveda marrying José Agustín Antonio Machado, one of the grantees of Rancho La Ballona, which included present-day Culver City.

 

So the next time you hear these great street names mispronounced, you can school any newcomers with a little history too.

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