The P.E. Camp

The first line of my father’s 2010 obituary reads, “Fred Heredia was born at the Pacific Electric Railway camp for track laborers in downtown Culver City in1938.”When I wrote that line, I assumed everyone in Culver City knew about the “PE Camp,” which was housing provided by the Pacific Electric to Mexican and Mexican American employees and their families. I have since learned that the wooden, barrack-like buildings of the camp were essentially “invisible” to the residents of Culver City at the time and that the stories of the “traqueros” (track laborers) who lived in the PE Camp with their families are on the verge of being forgotten.

Four generations of my family, including my great-grandparents, grandparents, father, aunts, uncle, and a first cousin, lived in the PE Camp over a30-year period from at least 1920 through1950. My father didn’t talk much about the camp, but he loved talking about Culver City. He told me about selling newspapers to “studio people” at the age of six in front of the Backstage on Culver Boulevard, and of my Uncle Ruben playing with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer in La Ballona Creek.

What my father didn’t tell me was how it felt living in poverty right around the corner from the glitz and glamour of the movie studios. He didn’t tell me about the dirt floors or outdoor communal restrooms and showers in the camp, or that his family didn’t have a Christmas tree or presents until they were given plastic stockings with fruit by the Culver City Fire Department.

Despite the hardships, my father loved Culver City until the day he died. He would be astounded to learn that anyone was interested in the PE Camp and would be especially grateful to the Culver City Historical Society for helping to preserve the history of the traquero families and their contributions to the growth of Culver City.

Editor’s Note: Please visit the Society’s YouTube channel to watch our interview with Amanda and her aunt Rosie Soto.

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October 20 General Meeting and Program

Hollywood’s Trains & Trolleys presented by Marc Wanamaker
Rotunda Room, Veterans Memorial Building, 7PM

1929 promotion of Paramount’s sound films. World’s first fleet of Sound Trains. (Marc Wanamaker)

Have you started traveling again? Hop on board and travel, Hollywood-style, with film historian and author Marc Wanamaker as he shares stories from his and the late Josef Lesser’s new book Hollywood’s Trains & Trolleys. Learn about how the development of the transportation system in Southern California intertwined with the motion picture industry, starting over 100 years ago. Special focus will be given to the Culver City area.

Marc is always entertaining and a great storyteller. This program will not disappoint! There will be a book signing after the presentation. The book would make a great holiday gift for train and Hollywood enthusiasts alike.

Following COVID guidelines, masks are required inside Veterans Memorial Building.

Pre-registration is required via Eventbrite. The public is invited to this free program.

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Ince Boulevard

The most iconic real-life Hollywood neighborhood to ever sprout up is located right here in Culver City. This street is named after film pioneer Thomas Ince. One hundred years later, this street is still the center of attention. Amazon is building a new state of the art studio complex on the footprint of this old filmmaking institution, rich with tradition, history, and flavor. 

My first memory was seeing Batman and Robin, Batgirl, the Joker and Catwoman filming a scene together in front of the Plantation Building that was Desi Arnaz’s office. 

Superheroes graced this neighborhood. Superman flexed his muscles prior to the “dynamic duos.” The Green Hornet became not just a hit show, but part of this neighborhood. Kato, the character played by Bruce Lee, lived right behind the studio on Van Buren. Many of the kids exchanged greetings with him going back and forth from school.

Ince Boulevard runs a very short distance to be packed so full of iconic film history. It’s paved now, but in its day dirt roads led you inside. King Kong in 1933 could be seen being made from the sidewalks outside the studio. In 1938, that set was burned down in Gone With The Wind

Ince Boulevard was the hub of all the comings and goings on that night in film history. Neighbors old enough to have witnessed these memories share how every living creature that called the backlot home left in mass exodus during the Burning of Atlanta.

If you were at the main gate at the right time, anything could happen. Bob Crane was known to show many kids around Stage 13. Jim Nabors would hand out candy – cherry Life Savers! 

The four-way stop on Lucerne and Ince could at any given time have Andy Griffith’s squad car, the Batmobile, the Green Hornet’s Machine, or Catwoman in her furry ride.

Just another day on Ince!

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The Rollerdrome is Marked!

Under a Covid veil our historic marker was set in cement. Because of the pandemic it was unveiled with little fanfare. Thankfully, our markers outlast the speeches and applause and have become vital and permanent narratives, communicating our city’s history. As has been printed in several articles of this newsletter over the last two years the Rollerdrome was a social and recreational touchpoint in Culver City’s history from 1928 to 1970. The Historical Society is thrilled to mark the site at Tellefson Park with our 14th bronze plaque.

We look forward to a time when it is safe to gather as a large group in order to celebrate this marker and share memories of the Rollerdrome. Until then, we encourage you to mask up and take the people in your pod to read the marker at Tellefson. If your pod mates are of the younger set, they will enjoy the brand-new playground equipment.

Collaboration is crucial and we would not have a bronze plaque, on a cement block, in Tellefson Park were it not for our friends at the City of Culver City Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS) Department and Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, with the leadership of our Historic Sites Chair (and City Historian) Julie Lugo Cerra.

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April 28 General Meeting and Program

The Culver Theatre: From The Red Stallion to Kirk Douglas | Virtual Program

Culver Theatre, 1947 (Image courtesy of Marc Wanamaker)

Do you miss going to the movies? Go back in time as we revisit the Culver Theatre which still stands today! The Culver Theatre opened on August 13, 1947 with the film The Red Stallion. It was designed in the “Skouras style,” an over-the-top baroque style named after its inspiration Charles Skouras, head of Fox West Coast Theatres. In the 1970s, Mann Theatres split the Culver into three theatres. In 1989, it was closed and later gutted after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In 2004, Center Theatre Group restored, repurposed, and reopened it as the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Clare Denk, interim vice president of programs for the society, will discuss its history from its opening day to its closing and subsequent deterioration during the 1990s. Eric Sims, associate general manager of Center Theatre Group, will discuss its restoration as well as share a couple of entertaining stories about Kirk Douglas and shed light on current filming projects taking place within the theatre during the pandemic.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN US virtually for this program at 7pm on Wednesday, April 28.

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