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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In Memoriam: Sharon Shore (1943-2020), Costume Chair 2012-2015

It is with great sadness that I report the untimely passing of my friend and colleague, Sharon, on September 26, 2020, from cancer. Many of you remember her as the Costume Chair before she moved to San Simeon. She also wrote a column in this newsletter from time to time. 

Sharon at Hearst Castle copyI know she took pride in helping the Historical Society with the costume collection, and I was so grateful that she was there for you all when I had to return to England in 2013. Before COVID-19, she enjoyed her jaunts to Los Angeles, and walking and knitting with Julie Lugo Cerra.

In San Simeon, Sharon created a beautiful home by the sea and a stunning studio in downtown Cambria, where she worked on all manner of creative projects. She was a revered textile conservator and mentor, and her clients were numerous, including the Getty Museum, the Broad Museum, Hearst Castle, the Fowler Museum, and the soon to open Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

I was honored to spend her last week with her in San Simeon, and Sharon’s last words to me were “No regrets.” Since most of her family is in Missouri, they will be holding their own celebration next year when they can gather. Sharon wished to be cremated. I am hoping to honor her on her birthday, March 1, 2021, if we are able to gather then.

Louise Coffey-Webb
Lifetime Member
Former President and former Costume Chair

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Recent Acquisitions – Fall 2020

We have recently grown the Historical Society’s collection thanks to our amazing community of friends and members.

Last year, The Culver Studios and Hackman Capital Partners began conversations with the Society to discuss the future of four cinematic historic windows that had been hidden away for 80 years at The Culver Studios. One was from Gone with the Wind (1939), which can be seen in the final scene after Rhett has left Scarlett and she climbs the massive staircase. The other three are from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), directed by Orson Wells. 

It became evident during preliminary discussions with Steve Auer, VP of Operations for The Culver Studios, that the remodeling of the lot was prompting the urgency to find a home for all four windows. With the help of Society member Karim Sahli, we got to work figuring out a pressing challenge: If we got these massive set pieces, where would we store them, and how would we move them? While working through several scenarios, I received another call informing me that The Culver Studios and Hackman Capital Partners decided to restore the Gone with the Wind window and the two largest windows from the Ambersons and put them up for display on the lot. Historic preservation is alive and well in Culver City! 

Steve then informed me that Hackman Capital wanted to gift our Historical Society the smaller of the Ambersons windows. Because our storage space is at a premium, there was some relief with their decision. After board approval and an introduction from past president Louise Coffey-Webb, we engaged the services of Elizabeth Patt of Patt Conservation to begin the preservation process. With restoration complete, we plan to install it in the Archives and Resource Center over the holidays and cannot wait to reopen for everyone to see.

If you lived on Fairbanks in the Lindbergh Park neighborhood, you might remember Woody and Martha Tolkien. Woody worked in Hollywood as a character actor, seen in hundreds of films. Their son, Eric, reached out to donate some wonderful pieces of Culver City history! We are excited to now have Culver Junior High yearbooks from 1955-57, a sign from MGM Studios, and a trolley stop sign. The Tolkiens were also longtime friends of another Fairbanks resident, Fred Parrish. (No relation to yours truly). Fred was a motion picture still photographer, and Eric donated many items of Fred’s that were used in his craft, and many photos that were part of Fred’s collection. Thank you, Eric!

Some time back a fellow Property Master, Tim Wiles, saw me at a prop house and said, “I have something for you…” While working on Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the Sony lot in 1991, he noticed a high stack of original seats from the original MGM theater on the main lot, the Cary Grant Theater, ready to be hauled away from outside of Stage 20. After asking if he could have a set of seats, they took up residence in his living room for a couple years, and then found their way to his storage unit where they sat for the next 20 years. When Tim heard about my connection with the Culver City Historical Society, he knew where the seats needed to go next. I called Chuck Eskridge, Hollywood stand-by painter and generational resident of Culver City, to ask if the seats could be restored to their original luster so we could display them in the ARC—which he did beautifully! We look forward to inviting you back to the archives to sit for a spell. Thank you, Tim and Chuck!

Laura (Ackerman) Shaw, Culver City High School 1977 graduate and childhood resident of the Lindbergh Park neighborhood, came across fan mail for Red Skelton while going through her mother’s possessions. Laura shared with us that her mother worked for Mr. Skelton and has donated 50-plus pieces of fan mail addressed to Mr. Skelton to the Society! Some of the letters were addressed to MGM Studios, but the majority were to his office in the Culver Hotel. Laura also donated a beautiful haberdashery display case that was her mother’s. Our VP of Museum and Archives, Tami Eskridge, cannot wait to add these items for display. Thank you to Laura and the Ackerman Family!

As a cinematographer, Mark Morris, Historical Society Media Archives Chair, has documented many people and filmed lots events of our local history. Mark has done a yeoman’s job digitizing these videos, building up our YouTube channel with videos featuring Red Skelton, Fred Machado, the Helms 1995 reunion, and our Sister Cities Kaizuka Project. Mark has also begun a new project for the Society, generously pairing his cinematic talents with interviewing local residents who have stories to share. If you have or know someone with a great story of our city’s history that could be lost, please email us. Collections are not built just with actual items, but also by documenting and continuing to build our oral histories.

Lastly (for now!), did you attend our program on Hollywood backdrops last year, which included four backings that the Society was gifted? (If you missed it, it can be viewed on our YouTube channel.) Following the program, we were contacted by Thomas Walsh of the Art Directors Guild, offering us a few more backdrops. Ever resourceful and always with a great idea, Mark reached out to our landlords at Veterans Memorial Building and Heather Moses, CCUSD Arts Coordinator, to inquire whether these backdrops might be of interest to the city’s public spaces. While these are ongoing discussions, it highlights that we at the Society continue to get creative in making room for all these wonderful pieces of Culver City history. If we can help find good homes for some pieces that will be cared for and used for education, we are happy to share the wealth!

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Preserving History

The Culver City Historical Society, like most non-profits, was established for all the right reasons! The effort was led by former Fire Chief and Mrs. John Kearney, Parks and Recreation Director Syd Kronenthal, and many others like Clarita Marquez Young, (our Madrina), Frank McCann, Cathy Zermeno, (first president), Charles Lugo, Rusty Kostick, Esther Tarn, and a host of others who have taken leadership roles over the years. Their motivation and selfless gifts of time and energy continues to preserve the incredible story of people who brought Culver City, the Heart of Screenland to life and renewal.

Volunteering generally brings good feelings from our work. One of my early experiences in the Historical Society, which encouraged me, started with a call from a gentleman who found an oversized “book of clippings” about a man named Harry H. Culver! The church, where it had been found, wanted to return it to its rightful owner. My husband was happy to take it on as a “family adventure” so we picked it up miles away. It was, as we hoped, the big book of clippings on our city founder.  Harry Culver’s daughter, Patricia Culver Battle, spoke of it as one of her family’s treasures, the book that had a special place in their Wallace Neff-designed mansion in Cheviot Hills. Sadly, it had been stolen and was never recovered.

That day trip out to the Inland Empire yielded gold! It was just as Pat described it, a huge book which recorded the Culver family’s incredible year, flying across the country so Harry H. Culver could personally, as president of a national real estate association, deliver his message of the importance of responsible real estate development.

The Society board decided to keep this secret, until Patricia Culver Battle could attend a meeting or event. Our expectation was that she would take it home to keep it safe for posterity. The evening arrived and yes, it was a teary surprise, and when we “unveiled it,” Pat was absolutely delighted!

We were prepared to place the amazing record of Mr. Culver’s productive year as president of that professional group, in Pat’s car after the meeting. The grown up “little girl who so admired her father” turned the table on us. She wanted it to be a part of the collection of the Culver City Historical Society. And so it is. You can see the huge copies of pages in the Society’s Archives and Resource Center thanks to our city founder’s kind and giving daughter. We will make sure you get a glimpse during the Centennial!

 

Friends, thank you for all you do!

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A Very Generous Gift

While we “suffered” through a cold winter, I received a most interesting email (which, after the holidays, was usually a 50% off code from the Gap). Former mayor Paul Jacobs recently met someone whom he wanted us to meet, a collector of letters. This gentleman had a letter that he thought would be of interest to us. Intrigued, Vice President of the ARC/Museum, Art Litman, and Historic Sites chair, Julie Lugo Cerra, and I agreed to meet them both at the ARC on a Sunday afternoon.

Society President Michelle Bernardin receives Harry Culver’s letter from Dennis Shapiro. Also pictured are Susan Shapiro and Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba. (George Bernardin)

 

Once we were all seated around our worktable, Art set the video on his phone to record and we were off, asking a myriad of questions – from his collecting practices to how he is connected to Culver City. Among the themes in his collection  Dennis Shapiro has amassed letters from all the U.S. Presidents, #1 through #44. An interesting comment on collecting, he stated that he evaluates a letter for content, not solely on signature quality, as one might expect. He spoke very passionately about his 30-year hobby, but we know it’s much more than just an interest. It never is. A very special man, indeed.

At the very end of the conversation, we thanked him for coming in to show us this remarkable letter. He then very proudly said that on behalf of his family, he would like to give the letter to the Historical Society. (I think I might have hugged him a little too hard.) For those of you keeping track, this is the first letter signed by Harry Culver to enter into the Society’s collection. A very special letter, indeed.

Dennis Shapiro generously gifted the letter to the Society in the name of his son, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, his wife, Susan, and himself. All three were our guests at the April 19 General Meeting and Program, where they officially presented their gift to the membership and could be publically thanked. I was able to cajole Rabbi Shapiro into reading a couple of amusing passages out loud, as a one Mr. Culver encouraged Mr. Warren Doane from the Hal Roach Studio to forward a petition for better mail delivery. History does repeat itself. A very special evening, indeed.

We are very lucky to have a member of the Shapiro family in Culver City on a permanent basis, as Zach is the rabbi at Temple Akiba. His parents seasonally spend time on this coast. We encourage you to come into the Archives to see this amazing letter in person. An excerpt is shown here only to whet your appetite to visit and take in the wit of Mr. Culver.

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