Down, Down To Munchkinland We Go!

The Heart Of Screenland, according to the motto that goes with its official seal, is Culver City.  Considering that there are three major studios within a short distance of each other, along with one or two important landmarks boasting special connections to the history of film, that claim is justified.   

The Culver Studios administration building is featured in the title sequences of numerous films made under the banner of David Selznick.

Culver Studios
As near as I can tell, few if any motion pictures were produced under the Culver Studios label; instead the facilities were leased out to different producers and companies through the years. In the early years RKO and RKO-Pathe were here for many years.  This is where Gone With The Wind was produced, entirely on the back lot.  In 1956, Desilu Studios move in, and the facility became much more concerned with TV production.  The original series pilot episodes for Star Trek were produced here, although the series itself was produced a few miles away at Paramount.  Paramount, by the way, is across the street from the Alexander The Great Apartments, which we covered in an earlier post to this blog. Today Culver Studios operates as a full service production facility in a variety of specialties.  In addition to the expected emphasis on film, television, and commercial production, they also provide rehearsal space for top flight musicians and bands to perfect their sound before heading out on tour. 

The real center of downtown Culver City, however, is where Washington and Culver Boulevards intersect at a narrow angle and thereby form a sort of miniature Times Square.  Wedged into one of the resulting wedge-shaped corners is the Culver Hotel, the undisputed centerpiece of the district.

The Culver Hotel
The wider end of the building is where we find the main entrance.   Approaching the entrance, there's almost a European feel, which is not accidental.  The bare temperate zone trees in this picture, taken in early Spring, heightens this effect.

Culver Hotel Main Entrance

For a number of years before the late 1990s, this hotel was shuttered.  Despite the proximity of the studios, and a large residential district in easy walking distance, this commercial section was rather moribund.   Around the time new owners took over the building, Culver City's downtown was refurbished as a live theater took over the old Culver Cinema, and a coffeeshop and several restaurants came in. Much of Washington and Culver Boulevard was paved over to turn the entire area into a pedestrian zone; and the overall effort has proved to be fairly successful.  

The Culver Hotel is famous for having sheltered some of the cast and crew from the filming of The Wizard Of Oz--most notably,  Munchkins.  A remembrance of this event can be seen to the right of the entrance.

The Wizard Of Oz

with this informative card explaining everything to us.

Be careful to hold your breath so the poppies won't send you to sleep.

Turning around, we see the statuary group of the Harry Culver, for whom Culver City was named, and his wife and daughter.  It seems more like what we would expect to see on the main street of a small Kansas town--which is not surprising since the plaque tells us he was born there in 1880.  Harry Culver joined forces with Charlie Chaplin  to build the Culver Hotel, which opened in 1924 as the Hotel Hunt.

Harry Culver and Family

Not surprisingly, the hotel's prominence in the local film making scene goes back well before Wizard Of Oz.  In numerous, mostly silent, films of the 1920s the hotel appears as a backdrop.  Scenes from many of these movies are shown continuously on a large screen in the lobby bar.   

Let's take a look inside.  Because we're going in by the side door, we first pass through a private banquet room.

A hall for private banquets

Here's a view inside the Lobby Bar.   As you can see, they continue to show the movies regardless of the fact that the band is playing.

The band is cooking and Laurel and Hardy are, I don't know, probably making a mess in the kitchen.
Outside again, and continuing to our right, we come to some historical markers.

Historical Markers

Of special interest is the bottom plaque, placed by the Sons Of The Desert, the venerable Laurel and Hardy Fan Club.  The name of this club was inspired by their film of the same name.    As with the fictional fraternity, the fan club calls its local units "tents."  We can thank the association's Way Out West Tent for this tribute.

We pause to admire the building's tricked out cornice decoration...

 And the neo-Palladian accents and pilasters near the windows. 

The architects who designed this building, Claud Beelman and Alexander Curlett, also designed numerous other local buildings.  Many of these, like the Culver Hotel, boast the status of historical landmarks.

Continuing along the south side of the building we come to the hotel's narrow end. 

The Narrow End
If this whole area is like a like a miniature version of Times Square, then the Culver Hotel has to be a stand-in for Times Tower at the south end of the Square.  While this modest six-story structure is far less impressive than the New York tower shown in my link, it has fared better architecturally.  One Times Square still exists, but today is little more than a giant billboard. 

While the other, uptown end of the real Times Square doesn't seem to have an iconic building to match Times Tower, at the opposite end of this Culver City district is the Washington Building, home to  one of the better Starbucks locations. What makes this  Starbucks special is the interesting architecture of the building, which is obvious not only from  the outside,

Starbucks in The Washington Building

but is also clearly evident  in how the interior has been arranged to take advantage of  its odd, triangular shape.  Another attractive feature is the fact that much of the floor space is actually occupied by tables and chairs where the customers may sit while consuming coffee on the premises--as opposed to merchandise displays intended to facilitate the consumption of coffee at home.

The interior displays a patterned metal ceiling which seems to have been typical of early 20th Century commercial buildings, although it may be a recent emulation done in the course of restoring the structure.

Patterned metal ceiling

And we'll leave with a final exterior view.

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