So when you think of Los Angeles, what’s the first thing that pops in your head? Maybe it’s the Hollywood sign above Griffith Park, or the beaches, or stars in a sidewalk, Rodeo Drive, The Getty, or maybe La Brea Tar Pits. The monkey is willing to guess that Culver City is not the first thing your traveling brain seizes upon when you muse about the sprawling megalopolis on the West Coast. Well, maybe you should rethink that. Much of what embodies LA today all started in the community of Culver City. All those movies that proclaim that they were “made in Hollywood” really weren’t. Yeah, they tricked us. They were actually all made in Culver City.Kongo learned quite a bit about Culver City this weekend when he went on a self-guided Los Angeles Conservancy walk through the center of Culver City and scampered through movie studios, classic hotels, shady streets, and some pretty cool venues. The walking event, “Culver City at a Crossroads” featured a self-paced stroll through the heart of Culver City to visit more than 20 historic or unique sites. Docents were stationed at each of the sites to explain what happened here and what you were looking at. If you’re an urban architecture junkie or a movie buff, this is exactly your kind of tour.The tour began at the Helms Bakery district on Venice Blvd. The original Helms Bakery opened in 1931 and the store became the official baker for the 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles. The bread was so popular that the bakery served several other Olympics and eventually the “out of this world bread” became the first bread on the moon as part of the astronauts menu on the Apollo 11 moon mission. People who grew up in LA remember the iconic Helms Bakery delivery trucks driven by a “helmsman” who brought bread and pastries all over Southern California. The bread was stored in specially built drawers in the truck and delivered to individual homes and businesses throughout the region. People would put an “H” in the window to let the helmsman know they needed bread. The loaves were fresh baked and unwrapped. Sadly, bakery operations shut down in 1969 when supermarkets and risking transportation costs made home delivery impractical. On the tour, several walkers “of a certain age” pined wistfully about Helms’ creampuffs and fresh baked loaves. Today the buildings hold upscale retail stores, restaurants, and bars.The Culver Studios movie lot has operated under a number of names going all the way back to 1918. Iconic movie makes like Ince, DeMille, Selznick, RKO, and Pathé made sliver screen magic here. Gone with the Wind was filmed on the back lot and did you remember the scene where Atlanta was burning? To make that scene, they burned up a bunch of old movie sets, including the staging from the original King Kong.Today the Culver Studios are under the control of Amazon Movies and a huge construction project is underway on the back lot to build new sound stages and production facilities.Kongo briefly visited the Sony Pictures studios. Originally Triangle Pictures back in 1915 but in the early 1920s it was taken over by MGM who kept it. until 1986.
The “Colonnade” used to be the original entrance to the studios until Joan Crawford scraped her Cadillac one of the columns and the gates have been closed ever since.The giant rainbow at the studio, which can be seen from the street, (Wizard of Oz was filmed here) is made of steel.The Rainbow is 94-feet tall and eight-feet thick. It was erected in 2012 as part of a Culver City public art project.A few short blocks from the studio is the iconic flatiron-shaped Culver Hotel.The six-story Renaissance Revival building opened in 1925 and has housed countless stars and celebrities over the years. During the filming of Wizard of Oz the Munchkins were housed here and reportedly they completely trashed the place by the time production was finished. Who knew those Munchkins were such party animals?There’s a great place for martinis in the lounge on the first floor.
A bronze lion water feature adjacent to the hotel reminds passers by to have courage.
Across the street from the Sony Picture Studio is historic St. Augustine Church. Interestingly, there are a series of tunnels that run between the church and the studio lot. Evidently, back in early Hollywood days, aspiring starlets were secreted into the studios from the church so they couldn’t be seen by the press. During prohibition the tunnels were also used to ferret booze. The monkey is still thinking about that.Docents throughout the tour were fantastic. They always had bits of trivia and pointers about what to see next, and a passion for Los Angeles.Architecture along the walk was a mixture of super modern, Art Deco, and SoCal urban. It’s LA after all.At the Culver City Post Office there is a mural by George Samerjam that was made in 1941 and reflected the work he had done at MGM. The artist had received a commission at the age of 25 to construct several public art projects under the New Deal. His mural depicts a working movie set.
If you’re looking for something to do the next time you’re in LA, you need to seriously think about spending some time in Culver City. Lots of history, great places to eat, shopping, culture, and sunshine all in one place. Visit the LA Conservancy website to learn about this and other great insights into Los Angeles.Travel safe. Have fun.