A Fantastic Holiday Outing In Culver City

At 99 She Enjoys Our Tree Lighting


December 24, 2015

Ron Peterson

Santa arrived through the courtesy of the Culver City Police Officers Association and spoke with more than 100 kids

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features Writer

There's just something about holiday lights that evokes a sense of wonder and magic . . .

The Tree Lighting Ceremony at Town Plaza on Dec. 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. elicited oohs and aahs from the happy throng, about 1,500 attending. I don't think anyone's eyes sparkled more brightly than those of my dear longtime friend and Culver City resident Mary ("Toni") Tyrer.

Toni, a 99-year-old force of nature, is a child at heart, always avid to learn and open to new adventures and experiences. Although her frailty and limited mobility require the use of a walker, her mind and spirit remain strong and agile.

Earlier this year while talking about bucket lists she wistfully mentioned that she's never been to the downtown tree lighting or the Culver Hotel, experiences she'd "really like to have, and it would be so wonderful to stay over a couple of nights, not have to rush, and really enjoy downtown."

That's certainly doable, I thought, determined to turn her wish into reality.

After reserving our room for the nights of Dec. 3 and 4 I learned that this charming 46-room boutique hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The striking flatiron structure was built by Harry Culver in 1924, seven years after he founded the city, and has undergone considerable renovation. With impressive vintage furniture, a happening bar, live music, superb dining and all the modern amenities a guest could desire, it effectively and graciously melds past with present.

Having been besotted by movies since childhood, I was tickled to discover that Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and Red Skelton had all been owners of the hotel, which had also provided part-time residence for Ronald Reagan, Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

On Thursday, Dec. 3 we enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea in the lobby next to the hotel's elegant holiday tree, definitely getting us into the spirit. After tea, while waiting for friends Neil and Theodorsia Rubenstein to join us, we stoked that spirit a tad further by indulging in a Kir Royale. "Suddenly I don't mind being 99," Toni said in mid sip.

At 6 p.m. the four of us headed into the plaza to enjoy the celebration, presented by the City of Culver City and the Downtown Business Association ("DBA"). dba has over 150 members and is led by a volunteer board of directors representing downtown business and property owners.

The celebration featured welcoming remarks by members of the city council and entertainment by the Culver City High School AVPA Chamber Singers and a choir of Culver City elementary school students. Past mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells did the countdown for the "green" energy efficient tree lighting, and when over 7,500 warm white LED lights went ablaze on that 22-foot Rocky Mountain Pine, Toni's face was also bright with joy.

After the lines for holiday treats wound down a bit, I secured some hot cider and cookies for us while Toni sat by the side of the hotel, happily talking with a former Ralphs deli employee who used to assist her and was attending with her four young children. Later we strolled around the plaza and enjoyed seeing Santa Claus greet the youngsters lined up to meet him.

We returned to our room in time to watch the live TV production of The Wiz, marveling at the synchronicity of seeing it while bedding down in the very hotel that had housed the Munchkins during filming of The Wizard of Oz.

Friday we had a late breakfast at Grand Casino Bakery & Café, a delectable taste of Argentina on Main Street and a great favorite of ours. I then managed to snag a brief chat with Seth Horowitz, the hotel's gracious, engaging and super busy General Manager.

This is a man who loves his work. "My most important job is to enjoy myself," he said. "If I'm enjoying myself, the place is a success."

Horowitz feels "the tree lighting celebration has become a genuine reflection of community and perfectly symbolizes a true collaboration between its various components. Both the city and hotel have undergone a revival and revitalization, further reflecting the intent of their founder, Harry Culver."

It seems the founder's benevolent spirit may continue to linger within the hotel.

"A guest had just checked in and wanted to get into the gym," Horowitz recalled. "I was standing in the exercise room with him when he turned pale and said he thought he had just seen a ghost. He drew the face and it strongly resembled photos of Harry Culver. Others have also seen and felt a presence in that general area." Since the founder's offices used to be on the second floor, perhaps that's not too surprising.

Toni and I, both fans of animation, then headed to the ArcLight to see The Good Dinosaur, an appealing story with stunning artwork. It was preceded by a short animated film, Sanjay's Super Team, a wonderful, unexpected bonus, as was the hallway art display, The Faces of Homelessness portrait project, consisting of incredible paintings by psychologist Dr. Stuart Perlman. Each portrait is accompanied by an explanatory card with the homeless person's first name, age and gripping story. Perlman paints souls, not just faces. Don't miss it.

Theodorsia Runbenstein

Sandra Coopersmith with Mary ("Toni") Tyler

That evening, back at Grand Casino, we had dinner with our friend, Dale Hoshizaki, and enjoyed a beautifully smooth Pinot Noir. An exceptional entrée is the skirt steak – another "don't miss" item.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at – you guessed it – Grand Casino, then walked a few steps to The Whole 9 Gallery, captivated by the stunning display of small paintings visible from the street, all part of the 2015 Vision of Peace – Love Wins. Peace Rises. All sales help fund The Peace Project's work (thepeaceproject.com).

Toni's summary of this entire experience was, like herself, short and sweet. "I loved it!" she beamed. Mission accomplished. And, when her 100th birthday rolls around in June, we may just don our ruby slippers, click our heels three times, and see what happens.


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