Getting Ready to Mark History!

I admit I am feeling a little nostalgic! I remember a call from my mom, shortly after my dad,

City Hall, Pictured in the 1950s. (Historic Site No.1)

Captain Charles Reyes Lugo, retired from CCPD in 1979. After reading about the formation of a Culver City Historical Society, she realized that his Lugo family history could be a benefit to keeping him active with community service. I promised to take him to the first meeting of our Historical Society at the home of Fire Chief John Kearney and his wife Mildred.

Soon after that first meeting, Dad became our first Historic Sites Chair and the Society began a program of marking historic sites at least 50 years old. We celebrated marking our first site in 1981, the 1928 City Hall (where City Hall stands today), ten years prior to the adoption of our city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. In the 1980s, the City of Culver City acted to fund a survey of historic structures. A Historic Preservation Advisory Committee formed and the final document, completed by 30th Street Architects, was adopted by our City Council in 1991. A Cultural Affairs Commission was appointed by the council in 2000, which folded Historic Preservation and Art in Public Places together. In 2004, oval city plaques were ordered and installed on historic structures designated by the city as “Landmark” or “Significant.” The National Register has also recognized structures in our city.

City Hall with Street Sweepers (Julie Lugo Cerra)

Our historic plaques are traditionally bronze, mounted in concrete or affixed to the structure. The Society fundraising pays for these narrative markers. I encourage you to visit our website — culvercityhistoricalsociety.org/historic-sites — then go outside and explore the 13 sites we have marked. We are thrilled to mark our 14th site later this year, The Rollerdrome. We will also be mounting an exhibit in the Culver City Historical Society Archives to celebrate and share items, such as an original pair of roller skates. Announcements will go out soon! Join the fun!

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Our Newspaper Treasures

Culver City’s history always amazes me! From early times when our Native Americans traversed this area, using natural resources wisely, to our Spanish ancestors who shared their customs, to the continuing influx of amazing immigrants who expand our cultural wealth every day.

First Society historic site marking at City Hall in 1981. Left to right, from back: Councilmembers Richard Alexander, Paul Netzel, and Richard Brundo; Catherine Zermeno, Society president; Councilmember Paul Jacobs; and Charles Lugo, Historic Sites chair. H. Dale Jones, CAO of Culver City, is kneeling on the left. (Julie Lugo Cerra)

Newspapers serve as incredible sources of information from early times on a daily basis! Our Culver City Historical Society has been lucky to receive, save, and protect early newspapers like The Culver City Star, Evening Star News and The Citizen. The front page pictured is dated September 22, 1927 and notes that it is “Published Daily Except Sunday.” It clearly validates our information that Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, who is posed next to movie actress Marion Davies, visited the M-G-M movie lot, and met Louis B. Mayer, who was “manager of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.” Culver City’s mayor, Reve Houck, is pictured on the far right. Note the studio is illustrated above, with the Washington Boulevard frontage. Palms is recognized to the north, also on the right.

Many of you are aware that we had a “Culver City Airport” which was in the area of Jefferson and Sepulveda Boulevards. City founder Harry Culver kept his plane there, and it was from that airport that Culver flew across the country with his wife Lillian and daughter Patricia, during his tenure as president of the National Real Estate Association. Our collection includes a book of letters, clippings, and photos documenting that trip. Many years ago, I received a call from a church in the Inland Empire asking if we would like a book of Culver photos. After rescuing the amazing treasure, the Society surprised the Culvers’ daughter, Patricia Culver Battle, by returning it to her at one of our meetings. A delighted Patricia graciously turned the table on us and left it in our care. We are grateful that Patricia’s descendants, who now live out of state, continue to support our society with photos and details of Culver history!

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Marking and Preserving History

First Society historic site marking at City Hall in 1981. Left to right, from back: Councilmembers Richard Alexander, Paul Netzel, and Richard Brundo; Catherine Zermeno, Society president; Councilmember Paul Jacobs; and Charles Lugo, Historic Sites chair. H. Dale Jones, CAO of Culver City, is kneeling on the left. (Julie Lugo Cerra)

When our Culver City Historical Society formed, we knew we all shared an interest in local history and we learned about many options available to preserve that rich history! Charles Lugo chaired our first Historic Sites Committee, and it offered a learning experience for me to work with my dad and our Society “madrina” (godmother), Clarita Marquez Young. Ordering bronze site markers was admittedly a real learning experience!

The Society voted to mark City Hall as our entry experience and as we approached the City, their only concern was set aside since we were marking “sites,” not structures. The City Hall marker remains on the corner of Culver and Duquesne. It tells the story of the site of the 1928 City Hall, which has since been replaced. In some instances, like the Hull Building, site #2, the marker is in plain view on the structure. Our choice from the beginning was to provide long-lasting bronze markers that tell the story of the site.

It was many years later before the city formed a Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, made up of a wide-range of organizations and at-large members, which included some of our Society members like Linda Brady, Carolyn Cole, Mary Ellen Fernandez, James Lamm, Judy Potik, Jim Quirarte, and Cathy Zermeno. With the help of a consultant, 30th Street Architects, a historic structures survey report was produced in August 1990.

Another historic benefit to our community was the formation of a Cultural Affairs Commission in 2001. The commission, which included members of the Historical Society, was given the opportunity to combine the programs of Historic Preservation and Art in Public Places. One of the interesting decisions we made when I served on the commission was to recommend changes to the Culver City Municipal Code, one of which allowed “Architecture” in the category of Art in Public Places. Do you know the other Society past president who served on that commission? Michelle Bernardin!

As we enter the New Year, I urge us to work together and make changes that benefit our fine city. One way might be to have your voice heard by city staff who will update our city code with respect to historic preservation. Christine Byers, has shared this upcoming opportunity:

“City staff anticipates placing an item on the City Council meeting agenda in January 2019 relating to the City’s Historic Preservation Program. This agenda item pertains only to updating relevant sections of the Culver City Municipal Code (CCMC), which is the foundation and framework of the Historic Preservation Program. Staff will be seeking direction from the City Council with the intent of making updates to the CCMC so that the program reflects best practices, current priorities of the Culver City community, is better aligned with state and federal guidelines on historical resources, and is more user friendly both for property owners and City staff.”

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“Living History”

Each year, Fiesta La Ballona reminds me of memories that spelled “fun.” I remember how hard our mother worked to outfit my brother, cousin, and me as “Early Settlers.” I liked the “señorita”dresses and learning about my ancestors, except one year when I had to wear a mustache (itchy!), and pull my little brother and cousin in a wagon-based “float”! Little did I know that learning our history then was setting the stage to teach it forward.

Third grade students from La Ballona on a 2018 walking tour. They asked to pose for a photo in front of the Rainbow sculpture at Sony Pictures, part of the Public Art program in Culver City! (Julie Lugo Cerra)

In 2017, our society helped to bring historic sites and people to the forefront for Culver City’s Centennial Celebration. Walking tours, bus tours, and classroom visits for Career Days broadened the story of our city for locals, especially children. Michelle Bernardin and Denice Renteria designed coloring sheets for the students, who learn about local history in third grade.

As Culver City students have just begun the new school year, we look forward to increasing our participation in the area of youth education. Before summer break, our volunteer docents (Fred Alexander, Michael Laase, Michele Lachoff, Denice, and myself) led La Ballona third-graders past many historic sites like Tellefson Park, (former Rollerdrome), on land that was known as Rancho La Ballona. Many were impressed when they learned that our city founder, Harry H. Culver, flew his plane out of the Culver City Airport! El Marino School also participated in their annual bus visit to City Hall and scavenger walk.

Working with our schools is not new. Over the years we have enjoyed taking “Living History”skits into third grade classes, in partnership with AVPA high school students. Watching the high school students take the parts of Machado family members claiming rights to land on “horseback” certainly held their attention! Other skits helped the students learn about Harry Culver, his plans, and his family.

La Ballona Students in the ARC (Michele Cerra Lachoff)

Last year, we renewed our docent-led bus tours. In one day, 200 riders took our tour on the Centennial Culver CityBus. Their “tour” continued after they disembarked and made their way to the ARC for a special visit, which took them past a wonderful piece of public art, Filmstrip USA by Natalie Kroll, in front of the Veterans Memorial Building. They also walked through the building to see some historic movie photos rescued by our society. Their last stop was our Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center, where they were intrigued by Culver Family items and much more! Many were surprised when we pointed out the nearby Mayme Clayton Library and Wende Museum, also located in the Cultural Corridor in our city.

From youngsters to adults, history can be painless education!

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Marking the Rollerdrome Site

Newly built Culver City Rollerdrome

Newly built Culver City Rollerdrome

Located on a portion of Rancho La Ballona, the Rollerdrome was the earliest significant structure on that site. That area had been a part of Culver City’s Annexation #4, known as the 1924 “Bohemia Annexation.” The Rollerdrome, a very popular roller-skating rink, was dedicated in the late 1920s by Mayor Reve Houck. It was a wooden skating rink, equipped with an organ. The space was also used for competitive skating events.

Culver City Rollerdrome patch used on skate case. (CCHS Collection)

Culver City Rollerdrome patch used on skate case. (CCHS Collection)

The Rollerdrome became a well-known recreational facility that appealed to skaters of all ages. Many people, like our own Virgie Eskridge, have shared their memories of time spent at this popular roller skating rink. Virgie remembers Mr. Osterloh, who served as the early organist. Another Society Founder, Ethel Ashby, often spoke of this historic site and its social significance to our community. She liked to point out the “strict dress code” precluded anyone from wearing “blue jeans!” It was a favored place to meet family and friends, celebrate birthdays, or enjoy a date. Skating options like “Regular Skate,” “All Women,” “Couples,” “Solitary” (interpreted as “solo time to show off”), were announced, along with the “All Men” call, which Ethel pointed out “made all men race like a bunch of whippets.

Early map of the area with several important recognizable local sites: Rollerdrome (centered), Kennel  Club, Stern’s Barbecue, Fox Hills Country Club, Loyola University, Sebastian’s Cotton Club, etc.

Early map of the area with several important recognizable local sites: Rollerdrome (centered), Kennel Club, Stern’s Barbecue, Fox Hills Country Club, Loyola University, Sebastian’s Cotton Club, etc.

”When the Rollerdrome was no longer viable as a skating rink, it was razed to make way for another recreational venue, a city park. It was named for Michael Tellefson, who served as a city employee, (Chief Administrative Officer and City Attorney), and as an elected Councilmember and Mayor (1930-34). Many remember Tellefson Park became an official 1976 U.S. Bicentennial dedication. Mike Tellefson advocated for other city-owned facilities, like the Veterans Memorial Building (1950), and he negotiated important contracts, like our sewer contract with Hyperion in 1951. His portrait hangs in the Mike Balkman Council Chambers at City Hall, and a Culver City street is named Tellefson. Mr. Tellefson and his wife lived on Irving Place.

Culver City Mayor Reve Houck, is pictured seated in the light suit during the ceremony to celebrate construction of our historic Rollerdrome in the late 1920s. Houck was also an advocate for Victory Park, Culver City’s first park, and the financing of the first city bus, which led the way to establish Culver City’s bus system, the second oldest in the state.

Culver City Mayor Reve Houck, is pictured seated in the light suit during the ceremony to celebrate construction of our historic Rollerdrome in the late 1920s. Houck was also an advocate for Victory Park, Culver City’s first park, and the financing of the first city bus, which led the way to establish Culver City’s bus system, the second oldest in the state.

We look forward to marking the Rollerdrome site as the Society’s Historic Site #14. Watch for an announcement of the marking date soon!

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