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About the CCHS Historical Costumes Collection

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

The Culver City Historical Society is guardian of a unique collection of over 70 film costumes, acquired from the famous 1970 auction at MGM Studios (now Sony Pictures Entertainment). Many of the outfits were worn by stars such as Lucille Ball, Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Ann Sothern, Lana Turner and Esther Williams among others.

The collection has long been housed in various city properties, but sadly without the resources to keep them in a climate-controlled museum-quality environment. Happily this will soon change, as the Society has now found a permanent home for the long-awaited Culver City Heritage Museum in the Veterans Memorial Building complex (see related Page 1 story).

(It is rather poignant that the Hollywood Entertainment Museum closed this summer, leaving Los Angeles with no permanent venue for film costume history. There have been many attempts to create museums honoring the film industry in Los Angeles, but none have yet succeeded. Even famed actress Debbie Reynolds’ superb collection, the basis of which was formed from the same 1970 MGM auction, has now found a home out of the state – in Tennessee!)

The proper care of costumes is very labor-intensive, and displaying them requires customized mannequins, correct support garments, conservation and research. It is also challenging because one must guard against light fading, and therefore it is never recommended to display them for longer than six months.

The Society has another special costume collection – the group of Spanish-style Queen and Princesses costumes created for the city’s annual Fiesta La Ballona, dating from the early days. They were all designed and made by Professor Rosalie Utterbach.

Professor Utterbach was a long-time Fashion Design Department head at Woodbury University, which is now located in Burbank. This year, at their 122nd Founders’ Day celebration to be held on Saturday, October 7th, Dr. Utterbach will be posthumously inducted into the Faculty Hall of Fame. As the CCHS Costume Committee Chair, it will be my pleasure to attend this event as I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Utterbach and have great admiration and respect for her accomplishments.

One of her significant contributions was the establishment of a Fashion Study Collection in the 1970s. Interestingly, the holdings include a number of film costumes, some of which also came from the 1970 MGM auction.

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