Local History

Spanish Explorers claimed California in the 1500s but it wasn't until 1769 that King Carlos III of Spain mandated colonization. Father Junipero Serra then began to establish missions, which functioned as the center of activities from San Diego upward, between 1769 and 1823. The Native Americans in this area were known as Tongva. They traversed this valley in search of food and after Spanish occupation, they were known as the Gabrielinos, due to their proximity to the San Gabriel Mission, (est.1771).

In 1781, a nearby settlement began as "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles.” Early families that settled in La Ballona Valley came on different expeditions. José Manuel Machado and his wife, Maria, traveled from Sinaloa, Mexico on the Rivera expedition of 1781. Machado continued to serve as a soldier in different locations until he retired to the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1797. José Machado's death in 1810 forced the sons to provide for the family's future. Agustín and his brother Ygnacio Machado, after attempting unsuccessfully to acquire land near the pueblo, decided to settle in this valley and raise cattle on Rancho La Ballona which they established in 1819 with two partners, Felipe Talamantes and his son Tomás. The first school, La Ballona, was established in 1865, with a seven month school year to accommodate the work on the ranches. By the 1880s, a little mission church, St. Augustine’s became a reality on land donated by the Figueroa family. 

After landgrants transitioned from Spanish to Mexican rule, eventually California won independence, becoming our 31st state in 1850. Culver City was formed from portions of the 14,000 acre Rancho La Ballona (Machado/Talamantes property) and Rincón de Los Bueyes (Higuera/Lopez property).

It was Harry H. Culver from Milford, Nebraska who dreamed of a balanced city. He announced his plans for the city that carries his name at the California Club in 1913, and it became an incorporated entity in 1917. Culver established the city in a temperate zone, along main transportation routes, including railroad tracks, halfway between the growing pueblo of Los Angeles and Abbot Kinney's resort of Venice. Early ads read “All roads lead to Culver City.”

Culver City began to do the business of developing itself, as a 1.2 square mile area, centered about a little Main Street. In the early days of the city, the trustees concentrated on the actions necessary to form the city. The first city offices were located above a theatre on the site of the Culver Hotel today. City tracts and streets were named and paved, a numbering system was adopted, and employees hired to take care of the business of the city. The Fire and Police Departments were established. The economic balance had begun, with movie studios forming the early economic base.

Industry came in the form of Western Stove in 1922, then the Helms Bakeries in 1930.  The Hayden Industrial Tract was established in the 1940s. Prohibition spawned a plethora of nightspots and bootlegging was common in the 1920s and 1930s, with World War II stalling growth in the 1940s. Car Dealerships replaced the nightclubs on Washington Boulevard in the 1950s.

Over the years, more than forty annexations increased city size to nearly five square miles. Culver City transitioned from a general law city to a charter city in 1947. In addition to city government, schools became a part of the community, and by 1949 Culver City had its own Unified School District, meaning that education was available through secondary school. The five-member Board of Education governs Culver City's public schools just as the five-member elected City Council governs the city. By 1971, the City Council became aware of the need for redevelopment, and formed the Culver City Redevelopment Agency (CCRA). The first major project accomplished under the CCRA was the Fox Hills Mall which opened in 1975 and has since been redeveloped by Westfield.

Redevelopment is ongoing throughout the city. It has made Culver City a destination for an eclectic choice of restaurants, art galleries and movie and live performance theatres.

The city seal reads “The Heart of Screenland” and there are still two major movie studios in Culver City, both originally established by Thomas Ince. One is known as Sony Pictures Studios (once Ince/Triangle Studios, Goldwyn Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and MGM-UA, then Lorimar. Sony has owned Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Studios since 1990). Ince’s second Studio began as Thomas H. Ince Studios, but after his untimely death in 1924, the sign on the lawn in front of that studio’s Mt. Vernon-like administration building has read DeMille Studios, RKO, RKO-Pathe, Selznick International Studios, Desilu Studios, Culver City Studios, Laird International Studios and The Culver Studios. Hal Roach Studios, located in the eastern portion of the city from1919-1963, has been replaced by the Landmark Industrial tract.

Today Culver City, by charter change, operates under a city manager form of government. Advisory Commissions today number four: Planning Commission, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission, Civil Service Commission and Cultural Affairs Commission. There are numerous advisory committees, generally established on an as-needed basis. 

Culver City works to change with the times and remains an oasis within the urban metropolis.

Julie Lugo Cerra, city historian 2010

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