Culver City History Tour

Culver Hotel

Today I attended a tour called “Culver City at a Crossroads,” organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy. It gave me a chance to discover many things I did not know about the history of iconic buildings such as the Helms Bakery and the Culver Hotel.

Harry Culver’s Office, Culver Hotel

It was Harry Culver who founded Culver City in 1917, at the crossing of three tram lines, half way between Abbot Kinney’s Venice and Downtown LA. In 1924 he commissioned architects Curlett & Beelman to build the Hotel Hunt, now the Culver Hotel, in the Renaissance Revival style. It was owned by John Wayne from 1945 to 1967, then fell into disrepair, it was reopened by Lou Catlett and restored in the 1990s, in 1997 it was placed in the National Registry of Historic Places. In 2007 new owner Maya Mallick revived it as a boutique hotel and restaurant. I had photographed this building before, but today we had access to Harry Culver’s private office, ante-room and vault.

Helms Bakery. H.D. Buttercup

In 1930 Paul Helms commissioned architects Grant and Bruner to build the Helms Bakery in the Art Deco style, it opened in 1931 and operated until 1969. Their famous trucks delivered bread and baked goods throughout Los Angeles, they had a distinctive whistle to call customers. Their motto was “Daily at Your Door.” I had never walked inside the furniture mart H.D. Buttercup, where the history of Helms Bakery is told in words and pictures on a wall, an actual truck from 1948 is preserved there. For the first time I saw the original arched wooden ceiling with skylights.

Helms Bakery. Original ceiling

I had photographed the murals by Art Mortimer in the parking lot that reproduce old B&W photos from the 1930s and 40s, but today I saw one of the actual photos of the early 1930s trucks. A replica of the 1962 truck is parked on the now pedestrian Helms Bakery District.

Helms Bakery 1930s truck, mural by Art Mortimer

Learning more about the history of the bakery, that served bread at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, helped me understand the meaning of the mural titled “Helms Coach Gone A Rye,” painted in 2002, also by Art Mortimer. It depicts Culver City landmarks like the Culver Hotel and the KIrk Doulas Theater, oil wells and an airplane, as a backdrop to a Helms truck that has hit a fire hydrant. The back doors open to reveal the shelves of baked loafs inside.
Another historic building, the Beacon Laundry built in 1932 in the Zig-Zag Modern Art Deco style, now houses my favorite Italian restaurant, Pasta Sisters. That is where I had a wonderful breakfast of Neapolitan sfogliatelle and affogato, hazelnut ice cream drowned in espresso.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Read more articles about Culver City
Pasta Sisters at this link
Movie Studios at this link

And new article in LA Curbed about the history of Culver Studios

A Cannabis Cafe

Cannabis Cafe (c) Elisa Leonelli

Touted as the first restaurant in America where guests can openly smoke marijuana, A Cannabis Cafe opened October 1st at 1201 N La Brea Ave in West Hollywood. They serve farm to table food and offer a variety of cannabis products to eat, drink or smoke; both are sourced from Lowell Farms, grown with organic fertilizer and no pesticides.

Cannabis Cafe (c) Elisa Leonelli

I was there today, as a member of the press but also as a customer. I ordered their avocado toast for breakfast. It came topped with peas and radishes and tasted delicious. I did not sample any marijuana offerings, but I listened to the explanations of a flower host or budtender. She showed me how to operate a giant water pipe called a gravity bong.

Cannabis Cafe. Gravity bong (c) Elisa Leonelli

I was puzzled by the logo of a bull and found out that it refers to William “Bull” Lowell, founder of the company in 1909. My waitress told me it represents a Minotaur, the half bull/half man creature of Greek mythology.

Cannabis Cafe (c) Elisa Leonelli

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

P.S. For more info read these articles in LA Magazine, New York Times, LA Weekly.

Jaffa restaurant

Jaffa Palms

While walking on Venice Blvd today, I discovered a restaurant that just opened in a new luxury apartment building, the Goldwyn. They are not open for lunch on weekdays, so I could not sample it, but plan to go back.  They have a happy hour from 4 to 6pm every day, dinner from 5pm, brunch at 10am on weekends. At 10306 Venice Blvd, it’s a second location of Jaffa at 8048 3rd St. It’s named after an old neighborhood in Tel Aviv, it serves modern Israeli cuisine. Tel 424-298 8180.

roasted cauliflower

As for the Goldwyn, the 1 bedroom apartments with balconies rent for around $3000.

apartment at the Goldwyn

Museum of Weed

The Museum of Weed, at 720 N. Cahuenga Blvd (north of Melrose), is a temporary installation that opened August 3 and will close on September 29. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday. You may check the hours and buy tickets on their website. Admission is $35.

Museum of Weed

I visited it today and I was impressed. The location is a beautiful giant warehouse built of wood, high beam ceilings, luxurious bathrooms, with even a shower. There’s a gift shop, a coffee bar and a dining area. A large staff of two dozen young people offer live explanations in each of the rooms. The exhibits are curated with deep knowledge of the history and the issues around the cultivation of hemp through the centuries until today. I did not know that first US president George Washington grew hemp for industrial use at Mount Vernon, and that it was current president Donald Trump who in December 2018 made it legal again to grow hemp, after decades of prohibition. The funniest quote is from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It’s not a drug. It’s a leaf.”

Neon entrance

First you enter though multicolored neon “doors of perception”, then you start with a room called pre-history, in the second room wall-size posters highlight how the use on marihuana, particularly on the part of Mexicans, was demonized, as causing perversity. In the following room the infamous 1936 B&W movie Reefer Madness is playing, posters of other movies, such as The Devil’s Weed, 1949, line the walls.

Psychedelic swirls on the floor of a room accessed though the doors of a Volkswagen van signal the arrival of the 60s, with its hippie culture, feminism, the Civil Rights movement, anti-war demonstrations, the sexual revolution. “Cannabis turned into a symbol of freedom, love, and rebellion from the establishment.” In the next room I noticed a BW photo of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg holding up a sign saying “Pot is a reality kick.”

Counterculture room

I loved the poster for a Janis Joplin concert in San Francisco in 1967.

Janis Joplin poster

Then came the backlash under Richard Nixon, in 1970 marijuana was declared a controlled substance, like heroine and cocaine. And on the federal level it still is, despite having been legalized for recreational use in many states, like California.

The most heartwarming exhibit was the bedroom as a typical stoner, with a lava lamp and a poster of the 1978 movie Up in Smoke with Cheech and Chong.

Stoner’s bedroom

The most chilling exhibit was a hospital room for AIDS patients. It was during that epidemic in San Francisco in the mid 80s that marijuana was used to alleviate the nausea caused by drug AZT.  That is what started the movement of legalization for medical purposes. The first legal medical marijuana shop in San Francisco is lovingly recreated.

As we used to say in the 60s, “it was a trip,” and I recommend you take it.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Franco Columbu, addio

Franco Columbu lifiting weights in his home-gym. Los Angeles, 1978

Only this morning I read in the Los Angeles Times of the sudden death of Italian champion bodybuilder Franco Columbu, on August 30. He was 78.  While vacationing in his native Sardinia, he became ill swimming in the Mediterranean and drowned.

Columbu’s nickname was “The Sardinian Strongman.” The son of shepherds, he started as a boxer, moved into weightlifting, then bodybuilding, won the title of Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981.  He acted in TV and movies, wrote books, was friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. 

I remember meeting Franco in 1978, at his home in Westwood, where he ran a chiropractor studio with his wife Anita.  He had built a gym in his garage, where he trained.

Franco Columbu at his home in Westwood © Elisa Leonelli 1978

I was conducting a series of interviews and photo sessions with prominent Italians living in Los Angeles.  Here are a couple of quotes from my 1978 article.

About his childhood as the son of shepherds.

“Tending sheep as a child taught me a mental peace that would help me focus on the development of muscles, a tiring, monotonous, painful task.”

About moving to Los Angeles.

“In Europe, Germans hate Italians, Greeks cannot stand Turks, while Americans are happy to find out that you come from a foreign country and they always want to help you if they can.”

Goodbye, Franco…

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

For more photos, click on the series: Bodybuilding, Franco Columbu, in the Elisa Leonelli, Photojournalist collection at Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

Robertson Open House


Today Sunday June 2, we strolled to Robertson from our house, visited the many establishments that were open for the Art Walk, we said hello to friends and neighbors.

Barbara Mendes-Ivan Gallery

Michael, RVNA Co-President, Dan at the Relational Center, Avi at Fred’s Bakery. The amazing artist Barbara Mendes, at Ivan Gallery. The green flyer below was designed by her.

Chris-Letterpress Chocholate

And we met new people. At Letterpress Chocolate, Chris offered us a sample taste.

Trina-Hang Steady Frame Design

Inside a new shop, Hang Steady Frame Design, we spoke with Trina, who was hanging the artwork of the kids that attend her Dancing Crayon Workshop.

Ana and Julian-Mostly Angels

We received a gift of crystals from Julian and Ana at Mostly Angels.

It’s wonderful to live in such a friendly neighborhood, Reynier Village.

Click on this list of Robertson businesses

For places to eat, see them listed in lower caps on the Restaurants page

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Graciela Iturbide, photographer

Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas © Graciela Iturbide 1979

It was not until this morning, while reading a review in the LA Times, Her view of Mexican life, that I found out about an exhibit of photographs by Graciela Iturbide, at the Rose Gallery (D-4), Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica, 2525 Michigan Ave.

Muerte Novia, Chalma-Mexico © Graciela Iturbide 1990

I was intrigued by the work of this photographer, when I heard her speak at the Skylight Studios, in conjunction with the REFUGEE exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Please read my 2016 article in Cultural Weekly.

Heroes de la Patria, Puebla-Mexico © Graciela Iturbide 1993

So I made plans to take the Expo Line from Culver City to the 26th Street/Bergamot Station stop.  There is also ample parking, if you wish to drive. 

It was a treat to see so many BW prints by this amazing woman in a show titled Hay Tiempo (There is Time).  This is what her lifelong mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, used to say to remind her to pause and observe. 

The exhibit closes this Saturday May 18, so don’t delay, if you wish to see it.

Mexico DF © Graciela Iturbide 1972

Text by Elisa Leonelli