An Unexpected Culver History Lesson, Part 3

I could write thousands of words of what I learned about Harry Culver and his family on my two recent trips to Nebraska over the last eight months.

Harry Culver home in Omaha, NE. (Hope Parrish)

It all came into focus when I learned that Harry moved to Omaha in 1908. He became the manager for real estate developer George P. Bemis. Harry purchased a home in the Bemis development at 3401 Hawthorne adjacent to the Bemis Park. I drove through that neighborhood and found his home beautifully located up on a hill just north of downtown (see photo).

The following year, Harry decided he should go into business for himself and opened his own brokerage office in Omaha’s National Bank Building. He sold large parcels of farm land, offering exchanges of property with merit. “We make a specialty of exchanging Property.”

When Harry arrived in California, as many know, he worked with Isaac Newton Van Nuys, developing the valley. In my opinion, what he learned from Van Nuys, Bemis, his father, and others provided him the tools that he needed to take on this task of developing his own city.

Not stopping there, he became president of the National Association of Realtors, flying around the country, giving hundreds of speeches each year. When I was in Nebraska, I felt a familiar sense of home. One telling sign, it occurred to me that no matter the size of the town I visited, there was a park in each neighborhood. I have read that one of the requirements Harry Culver instilled in his developers was that they should have a park in their neighborhood plan. Coincidence? Culver City has ten parks and five elementary schools that give our children and families a place to gather, learn, and enjoy.

Is this why our town is so unique? Could it be why many say Culver City is a “model city”? Harry H. Culver gave to my family and many others a beautiful city with jobs, homes, and community. Thank you, Harry Culver, for your vision, passion, and service to the world.

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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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January 16 Annual Business Meeting and General Membership Program

HISTORICAL ECOLOGY AND THE BALLONA WATERSHED   

When you bike or walk along Ballona Creek you see a concrete-lined flood control channel. Once you go under the Marina Freeway overpass on the bike path you see fields that are called wetlands, but they don’t look very wet at all.

Artist rendering of Los Angeles Basin, c. 1850. (Southern California Coastal Water Research Project)

But Ballona Creek was once a picturesque natural waterway fed by runoff from swamps and rainwater, lined with sycamores and willow trees that ended at Ballona Lagoon, a freshwater marsh with ponds, vernal pools, and wet meadows. The Lagoon actually extended from the base of the Westchester bluffs in the south all the way to the intersection of Main St. and Abbot Kinney to the north, and as far east as Overland Blvd. During rainy seasons Ballona Swamp covered all of the low-lying land from Culver City to Inglewood Mesa, about ten square miles.

Dr. Eric Stein of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) will bring us back to the days before West Los Angeles covered up and redirected its natural waterways, bringing us what is sure to be a fascinating look at the flora and fauna of what was.

We’ll also take a look at the City of Culver City’s Ballona Creek Revitalization Project, which seeks to enhance habitats, open space, and landscaped areas.

 

Historical Society members and the general public are invited to enjoy this free program on January 16th at 7 P.M. in the Multipurpose Room at Veterans Memorial Building, located at 4117 Overland Avenue. The entrance to both the ARC and Multipurpose Room is through the back of the building and open to the public.

The Historical Society Archives & Resource Center (ARC) will be open for you to come and see our latest exhibits.

 

About Eric D. Stein, D.Env.: Dr. Eric Stein is a principal scientist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), where he is head of the Biology Department. Dr. Stein oversees a variety of projects related to in-stream and coastal water quality, bioassessment, hydromodification and environmental flows, watershed modeling, and assessment of wetlands and other aquatic resources. His research focuses on effects of human activities on the condition of aquatic ecosystems, and on developing tools to better assess and manage those effects. Dr. Stein has authored and co-authored over 100 journal articles and technical reports and participates on numerous technical workgroups and committees related to water quality and aquatic resource assessment and management. Prior to joining SCCWRP in 2002, Dr. Stein spent six years as a Senior Project Manager with the Regulatory Branch of the Los Angeles District Corps of Engineers, and four years with a private consulting firm.

About the SCCWRP: The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) is a leading U.S. environmental research institute that works to develop a scientific foundation for informed water-quality management in Southern California and beyond. Since its founding as a public agency in 1969, SCCWRP has been a champion of sound interdisciplinary approaches to solving complex challenges in water management. The agency investigates not only how to more effectively monitor and protect Southern California’s ocean and coastal watersheds, but also how to bridge the gap between water-quality research and the management community that relies on this science.

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An Unexpected Culver History Lesson, Part 2

Last spring during my visit to Milford, NE, the birthplace of Harry Culver, I was drawn to a brick and stone building that used to be a hospital. Upon further investigation, I learned it was part of a larger campus of buildings that housed and supported unwed mothers at the latter part of the 19th century, and lo! Harry’s father, Jacob Culver, was the home’s early proponent!

In 1884, a philanthropist from Omaha named Mrs. Francis Clark began crusading to change the age of consent for girls from the age of 12 to 18. She petitioned the Nebraska legislature to establish an “Industrial Home” for unwed mothers. As legislatures do, they compromised, and set the age of consent to 15. The term “industrial” as it related to industrial schools, enabled “needy children to learn a trade, and home industries are taught.”

The unwed mothers’ housing proposal gained momentum when Jacob Culver, Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard, entered the conversation and convinced the city of Milford to donate 40 acres of land a mile east of the city, just south of the railroad.

In 1887, $15,000.00 was approved by the State Legislature to establish an institution for 50 “penitent girls who have no specific disease… who have met with misfortune… and thus prevent crime.” Two three-story, 25-room dormitories were built to house the mothers, and included steam baths and a library, along with a powerhouse, cattle barn, and laundry. Doors opened May 1, 1889. Newspapers noted that it was “the only state-supported maternity home in the nation.

”The Industrial Home lasted a little over 50 years when, in 1943, Governor Dwight P. Griswold suggested that the Industrial Home be abolished, and services transferred to the University Hospital in Omaha, leaving the buildings and land for public use.

Stayed tuned to the finale in our winter newsletter!

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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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