Once a vortex for the entertainment industry during Hollywood's Golden Era, the Downtown district of Culver City atrophied after a number of studios scattered to other parts of the L.A. area. The last 15 years have brought a dramatic renaissance to the area, kick started by the arrival of the massive Sony Pictures Studio and Entertainment Center. As Downtown Culver City has become the trendy place to be with an enormous selection of restaurants, cafes, shops, theaters, and galleries, its historical value has also been restored or remains intact.
A day tour can only start in front of the heart and soul of Downtown, the Culver Hotel. Built in 1924, the appealing Renaissance Revival style was allowed to degrade into disrepair until renovated in 1997 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places. This is where Munchkins ran through the halls in The Wizard of Oz, and some of those steamy scenes from Gone With the Wind were filmed. Celebrities of the likes of Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, and Ronald Reagan maintained part time residences here. Venture inside and ask about the "ghosts of the past".
Leaving the hotel, cross the plaza to arrive at the Culver Studios, the handsome Colonial style structure where Gone With The Wind was filmed. The studio was originally built by silent movie pioneer Thomas Ince in 1918. After Ince's untimely death, the studio was purchased by Cecil B. DeMille, who built enormous new stages and monumental sets on the back lot. RKO acquired the studios in 1928, controlled the lot for nearly 30 years bringing stardom to Bette Davis, Robert Mitchum, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, King Kong, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. After changing hands several times, television emerged as the primary business conducted at the studio. Classics from the '60s such as The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan's Heroes, The Untouchables, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie and Gomer Pyle all came to life here. Tours are available.
Across the street is Trader Joe's, a great market for picking up a snack or beverage. Opposite the market across Culver Blvd. is Media Park and the Ivy Substation built in 1907 as a streetcar station, now home to the Actor's Gang Theater.
Walk back to Canfield Avenue and note the plaque on the Citizen's Bldg. (9355 Culver Blvd.). Erected in 1925, the edifice features a hybrid style of Beaux Arts and Art Deco.
Go up Canfield and turn left at Venice Blvd. to Bagley and stop in at the Center for Land Use Interpretation (Fri.-Sun. only, 12 - 5 p.m.). To the passerby, the entrance appears as a tattered abandoned insurance office. In fact, this diminutive space is a research and education center focused on understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the land. Interactive touchscreens and exhibits dramatize interrelationships such as sourcing raw materials from the land to finished products, new landscaping technologies, and generally how humans shape their environment.
Continue to walk just a few doors down to the Jurassic Museum of Technology (9341). The epitome of L.A. weirdness...you won't know what to make of this place...but most marvel at its quirkiness. No life-size dinosaurs here, just a series of oddball inventions cloaked in a dark room. It will absorb all of your attention and challenge your critical thinking skills, and your concept of a museum. (Only Thurs.-Sun., 2 p.m. - 6 p.m.).
Follow Venice Blvd. another two blocks east and make a right at Watseka (3764). You will see the Krishna Temple, and next door is the Bhagavad Gita Museum. A group of artists traveled to India to learn their ancient method of clay working. After careful study the artists returned to the United States to apply their traditional craft, along with state-of-the-art electronics to create the eleven stunning dioramas displayed in the Bhagavad Gita Museum. Opened to the public in 1977, the images at Bhagavad Gita Museum are a mesmerizing aural/visual delight.Tues.-Sun., 3 - 7 p.m.
Next to the museum on the other side of the temple is the recommended Govinda's Vegetarian Restaurant, a viable lunch option.
Turn left at Dunn Drive to see the Hobbit House, a registered historic landmark (3819 Dunn). Fairy tales inspired a housing movement originating from L.A. in the early part of the 20th century. The "Storybook House" designs were a raging fad but faded over time to make way for the onslaught of pre-fabricated stucco box/cookie cutter models that monopolize the Southern California landscape today. One of the few remaining is the Hobbit House, a lopsided but fascinating configuration that looks like it melted and hardened into its oddball shape.
Keep walking down Dunn to Washington Blvd. Straight ahead is Sony Pictures Entertainment. You can inquire there about a tour or show tickets. To the left of Sony is the Kirk Douglas Theater, formerly the Culver Theater. Opened in 1947 as a movie house with its Streamline Moderne style, it now serves as a playhouse.
Continue on Washington towards Culver Blvd. and the elegant Washington Building (9718-26), constructed in 1926, now a national historic landmark famed for its Beaux Art Classicism theme. Across Culver at the corner of Lafayette Place is Meralta Park and the Spanish Colonial Courts created in 1925. Pass the fire station and cross Irving Place and the modern retail shops to return to the starting point, the Culver Hotel.