With its galleries, shops, cafes and small businesses, Culver City offers a combination of urban living and small-town charm. The area has been a significant center for motion picture and later television production for decades. The first film studio here was built by Thomas Ince in 1918. In 1919, silent film comedy producer Hal Roach built his studios there, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) followed in the 20s. Iconic films like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane and classic TV shows like The Andy Griffith Show were filmed on the lots of Culver City. Today the former MGM site is the home of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The location was also the longtime headquarters of the Hughes Aircraft Company.
In the early ‘90s, the city launched a downtown revitalization. Today, it’s a pedestrian-friendly destination with upscale restaurants, gastropubs and a thriving art scene. The Kirk Douglas Theatre performing arts venue, dance and photography studios like Smashbox (where LA Fashion Week takes place), wine bars, cooking schools, architecture and design firms and trendy eateries are everywhere. At the heart of the new Culver City is the Helms Furniture District — a block-long Moderne monolith, once the famous Helms bakery. A few blocks away, more than two dozen contemporary art galleries thrive. As the New York Times put it, “One part Hollywood nostalgia, one part modern design, the city … now inspires expressions like ‘nascent Chelsea.’”
Culver City History
Spanish Explorers claimed California in the 1500s but it wasn’t until 1769 that King Carlos III of Spain mandated colonization. Father Junipero Serra then began to establish missions, which functioned as the center of activities from San Diego upward, between 1769 and 1823. The Native Americans in this area traversed this valley in search of food. Because of their proximity to the San Gabriel Mission, (est.1771), they were called The Gabrielinos.
In 1781, a nearby settlement began as “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles”. Early families that settled in La Ballona Valley came on different expeditions. Francisco Salvador Lugo, for example, came on Rivera’s 1774 trip from Sinaloa, Mexico, and was one of the soldiers present at the founding of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781. He and his descendants served in different places before they arrived in this valley. Another soldado, José Manuel Machado and his wife, Maria, traveled from Sinaloa, Mexico on the Rivera expedition of 1781. Machado continued to serve as a soldier in different locations until he retired to the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1797. Jose Machado’s death in 1810 forced the sons to provide for the family’s future. Agustín and his brother Ygnacio Machado, after unsuccessful attempts to acquire land near the pueblo, decided to settle in this valley and raise cattle on Rancho La Ballona which they established in 1819 with two partners, Felipe Talamantes and his son Tomás. Land grants became confused under Spanish and Mexican rule, and eventually California won independence, becoming our 31st state in 1850. Culver City was formed from portions of the 14,000 acre Rancho La Ballona (Machado/Talamantes property) and Rincón de Los Bueyes (Higuera/Lopez property).
It was Harry H. Culver, from Milford, Nebraska, who dreamed of a balanced city. He started plans for the city that carries his name in 1913, and it became an incorporated entity in 1917. He established the city in a temperate zone, along a transportation route, alongside railroad tracks, halfway between the growing pueblo of Los Angeles and Abbot Kinney’s resort of Venice. Culver City began to do the business of developing itself, as a 1.2 square mile area, centered about our little Main Street. In the early days of the city, the trustees concentrated on the actions necessary to form the city. City tracts and streets were named and paved, a numbering system was adopted, and employees hired to take care of the business of the city. The Fire and Police Departments were established. The economic balance had begun, with the studios forming the early economic base. Industry came in the form of Western Stove in 1922, then the Helms Bakeries in 1930, and then the Hayden Industrial Tract was established in the 1940s. Prohibition spawned a plethora of night spots and bootlegging in the 1920s and 1930s, with World War II stalling growth in the 1940s. Car Dealerships replaced the night spots on Washington Boulevard in the 1950s.
Over the years, more than forty annexations increased city size to about five square miles. Culver City transitioned from a general law city to a charter city in 1947. In addition to city government, schools became a part of the community, and by 1949, Culver City had its own Unified School District, meaning that education was available through secondary school. The five-member Board of Education governs Culver City’s public schools just as the five member elected City Council governs the city. Today the city has quadrupled in size with a community of nearly 40,000 residents.
For more information on the history of Culver City, visit the Culver City Historical Society’s website.
Culver City history provided by Julie Lugo Cerra, official Culver City Historian.