Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Coordinates: 9400 Culver Boulevard

One of the many directional street signs.
AMIDST THRIVING new restaurants, a modern movie theater and the popular Trader Joe’s lies a historical landmark which is often over looked even though there are multiple signs directing Culver City travelers to the location of the “Historic Culver Hotel.” This unique building was the first “skyscraper” to arise in the brand new Culver City. Although at its meager six stories, the building hardly lives up to today’s conception of a skyscraper. Conceived by the founder of the city, Harry Culver in 1924, the building was created in order have a destination residence for celebrities and movie stars filming at the nearby MGM studios.
The plaque outside of the main entrance.
Today the Culver Hotel is often walked by without causing even a slight head turn from unknowing Culver City pedestrians. I have actually posed for a picture with the Harry Culver statue that is located in front of the Culver Hotel without realizing the piece of history that I was standing next to. If I had stopped to take a good look at the hotel I would have noticed the numerous plaques attached to various sides of the building marking it as an official landmark. I should have wondered why the front window displays feature scenes from “The Wizard of Oz.” If I had explored further, I would have found that within those windows lies a tribute to one of the most significant parts of The Culver Hotel’s history.
“The Wizard of Oz” was filmed at MGM and the Culver Hotel became the temporary home for over a hundred of the little people who played the Munchkins in the film. This rich history of the hotel has sparked rumors of under ground tunnels existing beneath the building. The rumors state that the tunnels were used for safe travel between the hotel and the studio, to avoid the busy traffic of the boulevard. Rumors also speculate that the tunnels were used to usher booze into the hotel during the prohibition era.
The hotel has an odd shape to it.
Standing in front of this landmark one cannot help but be transported back to a time of classic movies and great music. The sounds of Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and others, flow out of the speakers surrounding the outside of the hotel. Those once well-known artists, may be overlooked and unknown by the younger crowd who patronize the surrounding businesses. However, for someone who grew up singing along with those marvelous voices, I couldn’t help but smile as I hummed the familiar tunes and imagined watching Greta Garbo, Judy Garland and the other stars of early Hollywood walk through the grand entrance of the hotel. Walking through those doors into the hotel where these great legends once stayed, gave me chills and transported me to Hollywood’s golden age.
When entering the hotel, it is obvious that every inch of the tall but skinny building is used to its max capacity. The lobby serves as a bar and tearoom, possibly confusing anyone who walks through the door with the lack of an entryway and check-in desk. Every open space of the hotel is also available to be rented out for events, including the outdoor patio, the lobby and even Harry Culver’s old office, all with an offered max capacity adjusted for sitting or standing guests, just to make the most of each room. The hotel was designed by architect Claud Bellman, who is now known for creating many of Los Angeles’ historical landmarks. There were over 60 rooms and only one restroom per floor, which was the standard for that era. Once MGM moved offices and shortly after Harry Culver’s passing the hotel began to deteriorate as it sat in real estate limbo.
The Grand Entrance to the hotel
After the restoration, the hotel re-opened in 1997 and is now a highly respected social destination in the LA area. As I walked around the building on a Sunday afternoon, several areas were being set up for private events and both the restaurant and lobby/tearoom held dining occupants. Now only containing 46 rooms, this hotel plays up its history by charging close to $300 a night for the limited rooms, and they do indeed sell out.
Unique moldings
This landmark in the middle of Culver City provides rich history to anyone who enters. Though the outside and written history of the building accessible on the hotel’s website, provides more for a viewer then for someone inside the hotel. In order to truly appreciate this building one should first go to the website, read its history, and then walk through its doors. With ornate molding of pink and blue, that are both on the inside and outside of the building, a hint of Munchkin Land comes out in these touches of whimsy throughout the building. With this unique architecture, The Culver Hotel is on its own in more way than one. Harry Culver would be happy to know that his landmark of an idea is still in use and being visited by the young and old, admiring both its unique look and history that many buildings in the city can no longer offer.

--Mickala Jauregui 


  1. although the area has changed significantly, the hotel still occupies its own space with streets on all three sides, correct? and i do believe one of those streets is main street, which according to culver city's own website is the shortest main street in the US.

  2. I have been walking and driving past this historic hotel at least once a week for two years and I have never noticed it or even heard people talk about it. That really makes me sad. It just goes to show how many amazing things go unseen in LA. Thank you for posting this, it is really an eye opener for me. Great reporting and writing too.