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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July 17 General Meeting and Program

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: A Presentation that Literally Goes Behind the Scenes

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, a book by Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness, is a large format book that includes sumptuous photos of movie backdrops, and the stories of the scenic artists that produced them.

As revered film historian Leonard Maltin wrote, the book “reveals a facet of moviemaking that even savvy film buffs may not know about … You will be amazed, as I was, at the number of familiar scenes from films as varied as The Wizard of Oz, North by Northwest, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events that make use of these canvases … This is truly an eye-opening book and a valuable contribution to our understanding of how movies are created.”

On Wednesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. Karen Maness will give a talk and presentation all about the subject matter of The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop.

Ms. Maness collaborated in the 2017 Art Directors Guild Archives Backdrop Recovery Project, which recovered over 200 MGM backdrops from Hollywood’s golden age of film for display and study. She is a professor of scenic art, figurative painting, and practical special effects for UT Live Design at the University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre & Dance and Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts. A limited number of books will be available for purchase, and Ms. Maness will be available for a book signing after the program.

Historical Society members and the general public are invited to enjoy this FREE program in the Rotunda Room in Veterans Memorial Building, located at 4117 Overland Avenue. (Please note the change in room–because we have surprises to display!) The entrance to the Rotunda Room is at the front of Vets, on the corner of ARC and Multipurpose Room is through the back of the building and open to the public.

 

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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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Revisiting “Dream Street”

It was my great pleasure to meet the legendary director George Sidney just before the turn of the millennium, while I was program director for the American Cinematheque. I was concurrently the newsletter editor of our Society newsletter, Culver Historical Highlights. George was kind enough to write a piece for the Winter 2000 newsletter, entitled “Dream Street,” his homage to Washington Boulevard. In my view, this was his love letter to the film history of Culver City. Enjoy these excerpts and visit our website for his entire article.

George Sidney’s cover letter, submitting his “Dream Street” article for Winter 2000 Society newsletter. (Judy Stangler)

Everyone has a favorite street—Broadway, Bond Street, Canal Street, Rue de la Paix, State Street, Via Veneto, even the Yellow Brick Road. I first saw mine and walked on my “dream street” in 1930: Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

My footprints shared the path with the entertainment greats—factual, historical and fictional who worked at the studios of the reel cinema world which were created and built along its curbs, such as Triangle, MGM, RKO, Pathé, and Desilu.

From Ince, DeMille, Mayer, Roach, and Selznick came forth a mecca of creativity which encouraged the talents of Thalberg, Freed, Stromberg, Welles, Ford, Stevens, Capra, and Flemming, as well as Minnelli, Lubitsch, Wilder, Leonard, Frankenheimer, and Spielberg, among so many others.

My footsteps echoed alongside those of the Munchkins, Garbo and Lassie, Trader Horne and Lena Horne, Clark Gable and Captains Courageous, Lawrence Tibbet and Elvis (along with Frank and Bing), Astaire and Kelly, and the Nicholas Brothers.

I watched Mickey and Judy grow up; Our Gang remaining kids forever; Tom and Jerry wreaking havoc. I experienced the burning of Atlanta and Gone with the Wind, the San Francisco earthquake, locusts and The Good Earth, and Singin’ in the Rain.

I strutted along with all of these stars and celluloid giants who paved the way for those who will continue to matriculate on this street for the entertainment of 2000 and beyond. It all happens on my “dream street” in Culver City.

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April 17 General Meeting and Program

From Barney Fife to Beats: Culver City’s 40 Acres Backlot

From 1927-1976, the backlot known as 40 Acres played host to Tarzan, Superman, Rhett Butler, King Kong, Captain Kirk, Batman, and Gomer Pyle. It was roughly bordered by Higuera to the north, Lucerne to the west, and Ballona Creek and Jefferson to the south and east, and though it may have been as large as 42 acres at first, it eventually became more like 29 acres due to the construction of Jefferson Boulevard, and flooding from Ballona Creek before it was paved over.

At various times, the 40 Acres Backlot was owned by Cecil B. DeMille, David O. Selznick, Howard Hughes, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball. It had areas known as the African Jungle Set, Mayberry, the Arab Village, Stalag 13, and Tara, and buildings known as “Ship Deck,” “Submarine Enclosure,” “Adobe Indian Hut,” and “Meat House.”

Today, the area that included and surrounds what was 40 Acres has become known for architectural marvels by Eric Owen Moss, offices that are home to companies like Apple’s Beats by Dre and restaurant Vespertine.

Authors and historians Marc Wanamaker and Steven Bingen will give a presentation based on their book Hollywood’s Lost Backlot: 40 Acres of Glamour and Mystery. There will be copies of the book for sale, and the authors will hold a book signing after the program.

The public is invited to this free program at 7pm on Wednesday, April 17. The entrance to the ARC is from the back parking lot.

 

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