Los Angeles doesn’t have neighborhoods so much as it has orbiting moons, connected by almost overwhelming asphalt astrology. People who visit and spend a static vacation in, say, Silver Lake or Santa Monica might deem LA a misunderstood monster—”Traffic, what traffic?”, “Smog? All I could see were the exceptional sunsets,” (forget the chemical irony in that statement for a moment), “What an easy place to live!”
I can’t tell you how frustrating those niceties are. LA is not supposed to be easy; it’s frustrating and insular and congested and shallow and only after you come to terms with those sorts of disappointments—and deal with them, sitting in a hour of traffic to go 15 miles is just the beginning—are you rewarded with a torpid gloaming of geographic satisfaction. Los Angeles is hard work.
That could be changing. LA is becoming more urban and less astral. Neighborhoods are embracing that nexus of destination and residency, it seems that you can live in and enjoy the same patch of land in today’s Los Angeles. Which is how we come to Culver City. Culver appropriately straddles two geographies and two worlds. To its immediate north is Beverly Hills a town that doesn’t need explanation so much as exoneration, to its south is Inglewood a neighborhood not exactly known for its glitz. Culver was once home to productions lots for Sony Pictures and MGM Studios and provided production homes for classics like Raging Bull, Citizen Kane, and Cougar Town. That changed in 1976, when two of the big movie houses sold their collection of property in CC and the new buyers leveled history to build—it’s California after all—a mall and a subdivision. Things stalled out from there.
“It was desolation boulevard,” Tim Blum of Blum and Poe gallery—the first one on the scene in Culver City—told the New York Times’ Janelle Brown in 2007 when prompted about his current neighborhood’s post-celluloid past. The accelerated pace of change—beginning in the 1990’s with the return of Sony Pictures (through their subsidiary Columbia Pictures) and reaching a subjective crescendo when the Times finally deemed Culver City “cool”—strikes me as definitively Los Angeles where, unlike dense cities on the East Coast, ease of permanent movement between neighborhoods and zip codes is simple and relatively painless. Angelinos are, in a way, uniquely mobile, able to reformulate neighborhoods on the fly; this is do-it-yourself urbanism at its finest.
Much like Chelsea in New York and Wynwood in Miami, Culver City had that wallowing grit of industrialism which is exactly what attracted artists and enterprising gallerists alike. There are now 38 galleries listed in the Culver City Arts District guide, lining either side of Washington and La Cienaga forming a veritable congress of curators, an acute angle of artists. Los Angeles’ vascular sprawl that draws the ire of nearly every young urbanist actually serves the art-based future of Culver City well; cheap, raw spaces are perfect settings for galleries and the low profile of low density means that many times galleries are able to be standalone properties, something as good for installations as it is for publicity. Culver City’s current urbanity can be attributed to its mixed media present as well as its big screen past—when you hit the inflection point between form and function, some beautiful things can come out.
Theodore Brown is a transportation and urban planner. This is a continuation of his previous post on the Wynwood Walls in Miami. His past articles can be found at Radials and on Paddle8 (on Chelsea’s Past).