All Roads Lead to the Culver Hotel As They Celebrate 90 Years in Style
August 21, 2014
On September 4, 1924, Mr. Harry Culver opened The Culver Hotel to great acclaim in Los Angeles. All the biggest stars came out to celebrate the six-story "skyscraper," the centerpiece of Culver City, which Culver had founded just seven years prior and to which he had already lured several movie studios, including MGM and Hal Roach Studios, famous for its Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy comedies. Now, nearly nine decades later, The Culver Hotel again sparkles as the jewel of downtown Culver City. New ownership and an extensive renovation have brought the boutique 46-room landmark hotel into the modern era...and now it's ready to celebrate its 90th birthday in style!
On September 6, 2014, The Culver Hotel will commemorate almost a century of history for a new generation, showcasing that with age comes beauty, elegance, style and a grand 90th-birthday bash. There is a lot to celebrate: a rich history, legendary ownership, the preservation of an icon and most of all, an extraordinary comeback.
Curlett & Beelman, the architecture firm responsible for renowned Art Deco buildings throughout Los Angeles, including the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and downtown's Eastern Columbia Building, designed The Culver Hotel. As Culver City became a movie-making Mecca in the 1920s and '30s, its grand hotel was a glamorous hangout for the biggest celebrities of the day. Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton and Ronald Reagan all passed through the doors, with some maintaining private residences for months at a time. "Most people don't know this, but in actual fact many of the classic 'made in Hollywood' movies, such as the original King Kong and Gone With The Wind, were made in Culver City," says Culver Hotel owner Maya Mallick. Dwight D. Eisenhower even had a campaign office in the hotel during his successful run for President in 1952. At one point, Charlie Chaplin owned the Culver Hotel, and legend has it that he lost the property in a poker game - to none other than John Wayne, who later donated the building to the YMCA.
Its unique flatiron shape and architectural details made the building itself a bit of a star as well. The Culver Hotel has stood in for Paris (in winter, no less), Spain and Italy, and stars can often be spotted in the lobby having tea or in the middle of a film shoot. In recent years, The Culver Hotel has appeared in Showtime's House of Lies and Masters of Sex, the Netflix revival of Arrested Development, and most recently hosted the W Magazine cover photo shoot with Mila Kunis for the August 2014 issue.
But The Culver Hotel is perhaps most famous for its association with The Wizard of Oz. The legendary film was made in Culver City, and The Culver Hotel was home during production to nearly all of the 124 actors and actresses who played the Munchkins. They slept three to a bed; tales tell of much debauchery among the Munchkins at the time.
In more recent decades, the hotel fell on hard times. "People who grew up here in the '60s and '70s were told never to go into the property," says General Manager Seth Horowitz. The place was even boarded up for a while in the 1980s and was lucky not to be torn down. The hotel was partially restored and reopened in the '90s, joining the prestigious National Register of Historic Places in 1997, but it again entered a downturn after that.
However, The Culver Hotel's modern resurgence and true comeback really began in 2007, when Maya Mallick, whose mother started the family hotel business years ago, took a risk and bought the ailing property in a neighborhood that hadn't yet been revitalized. "It wasn't for sale, but my sister Angela and I kept ending up at the doorstep," she says. "We fell in love with this building. Even in its state, we had a grand vision for all that it could become again. It wasn't just a hotel for us, there was so much potential on so many levels" The Culver Hotel was in fact among the initial players that created the momentum for the resurgence of downtown Culver City, now one of LA's "it" neighborhoods.
Plenty of potential, but the Culver needed a lot of work. "Getting there was truly a challenge but thrilling at the same time. We kept our eye on that grand vision despite the obstacles that came our way," Mallick says. Over the next several years, she diligently restored and redesigned the entire hotel, treating each space with the utmost attention to detail in order to preserve the architectural integrity and historic feel of the building. "I wanted to create a timeless and artistic décor, and capture the perfect balance between the classic and the modern," she says. Whether it was vintage shopping at flea markets on the weekends or having a 20-foot mahogany bookcase custom made by local artisans, Mallick took her time to make everything feel just right.
The operational challenges of upgrading the entire electrical and plumbing systems, renovating and modernizing all 46 rooms (including replacing 140 hand-made wooden windows), and refurbishing all the public and back-of-house areas, were staggering as with most historic property renovations. But with a dedicated team at work, including Project Manager Douglas Newton, a Culver City native, and Director of Private Events Milena Alunni, who launched the food and beverage operation, The Culver Hotel was well on its way to becoming what it is today.
Simultaneously, Culver City itself began experiencing resurgence, with new restaurants, bars and shops coming into the newly popular and charming downtown area. When Harry Culver originally founded the town, he used the slogan "All Roads Lead to Culver City" to emphasize its accessibility and dream location halfway between downtown L.A. and the ocean, central to all areas of Los Angeles. Busy streets and streetcars surrounded the hotel, with underground tunnels leading from the hotel to the studios. Today, all roads still lead to Culver City: it's at the intersection of the 405 and 10 freeways, and the Metro Expo Line runs right through town on its expanding route to Santa Monica.
With a 10-year background in fashion combined with her love of design and her family's hospitality gene, Mallick was able to achieve her goal, but admits that it is an ongoing process. "I wanted to make it feel more intimate, like a large manor house, where each room is unique and different but with a common thread, to create an overall artistic character unique to The Culver Hotel," she says. Mallick's loves of vintage and eclectic sensibility with an overtone of European ambiance are just right for the historic building. All that, combined with great service, makes for a memorable experience. "We have had a significant increase in repeat hotel guests such as our Sony clientele and enjoy seeing the tremendous growth in our bar and events business." Mallick says. "We have created a place where people really enjoy coming together."
Every night of the week, handpicked local artists perform live music in the lobby, drawing in a great mix of both locals and guests from all over Los Angeles. "When you come into our lobby at night, that's where the action is," Horowitz says. "Downtown Culver City has become a destination in L.A. County." And with the help of Alunni, who has been with Mallick from the very beginning, The Culver Hotel has built up its events and entertainment programs to rival the top bars and restaurants in the city.
The Culver Hotel will be introducing all-new Prohibition-inspired food and drink menus starting in September, spearheaded by Food and Beverage Director Louie Spetrini. Separate breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus will feature what he calls "modern takes on classic grand hotel dishes," along with shareable small plates and appetizers for the bar clientele. Everything uses as many fresh and local ingredients as possible, and menus will change seasonally. The new cocktail list will feature 18 Prohibition-era classics, each given a slight twist, along with a brand-new wine selection.
"The quality, flavor, and presentation of food is very important at The Culver Hotel," Mallick says. "We try to keep that boutique feel, whether it's high tea for two or a large wedding." The second-floor meeting and event space is the latest part of the hotel to be renovated. With crystal chandeliers, large windows and herringbone wood flooring, it's not what you'd expect from the usual hotel meeting space. One room was formerly Harry Culver's office, which boasted a huge walk-in safe ("The Vault"), private washroom. and even an escape route leading to the basement and its underground tunnels. (Some hotel employees claim to have encountered Mr. Culver's ghost haunting his old office.) All in all, the elegant, cleverly designed and multi-functional spaces - with names like the Parisian Room, The Velvet Lounge and the Crystal Dining Room - The Culver Hotel can hold events for as many as 300 guests at a time.
"The Culver Hotel experience is about providing the ambience and service of a grand European hotel in a way that's casual and relaxed," Horowitz says. "You have a four-star product in a place that isn't pretentious. We don't put on airs and graces: Hospitality is about creating an environment that is fun to be in." Hence, the quirky design touches found throughout the hotel, such as the giant empty picture frame hanging askew in the lobby or the Wizard of Oz-inspired emerald velvet chair with a ruby pillow in the entrance staircase.
With all the renovations and improvements complete, The Culver Hotel is thrilled to showcase what all the buzz is about. And it's going to do just that for its 90th birthday on September 6, 2014, throwing an all-out bash in honor of its 1924 opening called, appropriately, the Prohibition Ball. The hotel will transform into an authentic swanky 1920s party, with open-bar craft cocktails, heavy hors d'oeuvres, a ragtime band, burlesque performers, cigars rolled to order, casino tables, Model Ts parked out front and much more. Elegant period attire is, of course, required.
Whether you're coming by for a business lunch on the outdoor garden patio, to enjoy the swing band on a Wednesday night or to toast to 90 years at the Prohibition Ball, you'll find lots to discover at the historic Culver Hotel, downtown Culver City's only hotel. After all, "there's no place like...The Culver Hotel."
The Culver Hotel's restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 7:00 am to Midnight. The Culver Hotel lobby bar is open Sunday through Thursday from 7:00 am to Midnight and on Friday and Saturday from 7:00 am to 2:00 am. For more information or reservations at The Culver Hotel, please visit http://www.culverhotel.com or call The Culver Hotel directly at 310.558.9400.