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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October 17 General Meeting and Program

Early Culver City Movie Locations Then and Now

Hal E. Roach Studios, 1921 (Culver City Historical Society)

From the early days of filmmaking, Culver City was at the epicenter. We can spot Culver City locations in recent movies and TV shows with ease. But it takes a lot more time and effort to identify locations from silent films and early talkies.

Chris Bungo was born and raised in New Jersey, but he can spot Culver City and other Los Angeles locations from 1920s and 30s movies like a native. He then photographs what is there now, and dissolves in and out from the past to the present in his popular Then and Now videos on YouTube. He will present some of these videos, with a focus on Culver City locations, at our program.

Hal Roach expert Richard Bann, co-author of Our Gang: The Life and Times of the Little Rascals and contributor to the book Laurel & Hardy and the home video release Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection, will also present a brief history of Culver City’s Roach Studios, which produced many comedy shorts on the streets of The Heart of Screenland.

The public is invited to this free program. The entrance to the ARC is from the back parking lot.

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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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July 18 General Meeting and Program

The History of Los Angeles Agriculture, Past and Present

July General Meeting Features Authors of Book on Southern California Farming History

In today’s concrete and asphalt-lined megalopolis, it’s sometimes hard to remember that Los Angeles was once the agricultural center of North America up until the 1950s, with Culver City having played a large part.

On Wednesday, July 18, Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber, co-authors of From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles, will give an illustrated look back at our farming heritage and explore such history as the Tongva people who lived along Ballona Creek, the missionaries that brought European agricultural knowledge to the area, the rancho owners that cultivated West Los Angeles and raised cattle, and the beginnings of California’s citrus and winemaking empire.

We’ll also look at “fantastic farm” tourists attractions like Culver City’s own Monkey Farm, the malathion spraying of the 1980s that began in Culver City, and efforts to bring back urban farming amidst the current locavore and “eat local” movement.

Historical Society members and the general public are invited to enjoy this free program on July 18 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 Rachel Surls: Rachel Surls is the Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County. Cooperative Extension is part of the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. As Sustainable Food Systems Advisor, she conducts research and extends information on a variety of food systems topics, including community and school gardens and urban agriculture. Rachel earned her BS in agronomy at Virginia Tech, her MS in Agricultural Sciences at Cal Poly, Pomona, and a Ph.D. in Education from Claremont Graduate University.

About Judith Gerber: A second-generation Angeleno, Judith Gerber is a farm and garden authority who has written about sustainable and urban farming, local foods, and organic gardening for more than twenty years. She is also the author of Farming in Torrance and the South Bay.

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