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Culver City Where "Hollywood" Movies Were Made

by Diane Brady

ecently my husband and I visited our daughter, Denise, who had just moved to a small cottage in Culver City, California. Denise does post-production sound for the movies so this is a perfect place for her. She talked about how important the city was to the beginning of the movie industry.

It seems Hollywood took the credit for movie-making but the big and small movie companies were actually in Culver City. All the major studios were located on a seven mile stretch of Washington Boulevard.

Pioneer filmmaker Thomas Ince and the Nebraska-born founder of Culver City, Harry Culver, were responsible for the city becoming “The Heart of Screenland.”

Ince and two other noted filmmakers, D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennet formed a company that became Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer (MGM) in 1924. They were able to go from silent films to the “talkies.”

It seems Hollywood took the credit for movie-making … in Culver City.

Culver City is where “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed. In fact, the Culver Hotel has a miniature set in the window by the front entrance. The munchkins cast stayed there and the stories of their hijinks are legend. The hotel has been renovated and is going strong now. We walked from Denise’s home to the hotel one night to listen to 1920s and ’30s music by a band in the lobby.

There’s a big sign in the city that says, “Culver City; where Hollywood movies were made.” MGM had six working lots with 30 sound stages on 185 acres. In its heyday 5,000 people were on its payroll.

In the early 1970s the studio sold its backlots, props department and costumes. Some of the costumes are now in Culver City’s small but interesting museum. In 1990 the property of MGM became the headquarters of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Some of the larger studios included MGM, noted for its musicals, such as “Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly and dramas like David Selznick’s “Gone with the Wind.” During World War II, the Army used the Hal Roach studio to make military training films. It soon became known as Fort Roach. Among the film stars in uniform working there were Ronald Reagan and Alan Ladd. The group was often called the “Culver City Commandos!”

The museum, the Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center (ARC), is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. The movie star outfits are rotated. It is housed in the Veterans Memorial Building which also includes a high tower where tourists could watch MGM movies being filmed in back lot 2, across the street. It is no longer open. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit to the history of movie-making — it brought back many memories.

Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center (ARC): www.culvercityhistoricalsociety.org.

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Veterans Memorial Building
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Wizard of Oz Diorama at the Culver Hotel
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