Culver City, Calif.: A Movie Town Gets a Remake

Amazon, Apple and HBO are helping to fuel a revitalization, while the city grapples with high rents and home prices.

Taking in the Sights of Culver City, Calif.

Culver City, Calif.: A Movie Town Gets a Remake

Beth Coller for The New York Times

Culver City is home to Sony Pictures Studios, Culver Studios and the fast-growing Amazon Studios, so it has seen its fair share of memorable Hollywood endings. Last year, it offered one to Chanel Dawnée, courtesy of a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow.

Ms. Dawnée, then 36, was going through a breakup, and her boyfriend was getting the home they had shared. She had been living in Los Angeles for 15 years, slowly building friendships and a community on the city’s west side. She had never owned property, and had always thought that buying a home would come with another of life’s milestones, like marriage or a baby.

Culver City, Calif.: A Movie Town Gets a Remake




Venice Blvd.

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Culver City





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By The New York Times

But she was tired of paying rent, and she didn’t want to go far from her current neighborhood, at the border of Los Angeles and Culver City, a five-square-mile city of about 40,000 residents. So she decided to treat her broken heart by putting down roots.

Ms. Dawnée, a narrative designer in Netflix’s interactive division, began looking at online listings and fell hard for a quaint California bungalow near the Ballona Creek bike path, which leads all the way to the Pacific Ocean. She outbid 19 other potential buyers, paying $832,000 and then making a series of small upgrades — adding a dishwasher and ceiling fans, as well as a waterfall, stone mosaic and hammock arch in the front yard.

Culver City, Calif.: A Movie Town Gets a Remake

One hundred years after the silent-film era, Culver City is reclaiming its status as entertainment’s most important campus, and its architecture is evolving in tandem. Sony Pictures Studios sits on one side of Culver Boulevard; Culver Studios, the new home of Amazon Studios, is on the other.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times

“The house gave me my independence, and it taught me how to be on my own as an adult,” Ms. Dawnée said. “I’d always been with a partner before.”

She loves biking to the ocean or heading to a local bar called the Tattle Tale Room for karaoke. Not long after she unpacked her new home, she took the job at Netflix — which requires her to fly weekly to the company headquarters in Silicon Valley, making her especially grateful to be only 15 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.

For Erik Connaughton, 47, the decision to move to Culver City also centered around a major life change — the birth of his son. A digital analyst for media and entertainment companies, Mr. Connaughton had been living with his wife in Brentwood, the upscale west side neighborhood that’s home to Los Angeles’s dazzling Getty Center, for nearly 10 years. After their son was born in 2016, the couple realized that their one-bedroom, one-bath condo was too small, and they were concerned about the quality of the local schools.

Mr. Connaughton, who was born in Mexico City to a white father and a Mexican mother, was also eager for a safe community and more diverse neighbors. The Culver City neighborhood of Fox Hills, which offers the city’s highest density of townhouses and condos, and also a larger segment of nonwhite residents, seemed a good fit. The couple paid $705,000 for a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath townhouse near Fox Hills Park, where their son, who is now almost 3, loves to ride his tricycle.

“There’s people from everywhere, from all walks of life here,” Mr. Connaughton said. “It’s small enough that it feels like a community.”

On a recent walking tour, the Los Angeles Conservancy — a nonprofit seeking to preserve the county’s cultural and architectural treasures — described Culver City’s history as “from the heart of screenland to the heart of streamland.”

Sony Pictures Studios, which houses Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Screen Gems, sits on one side of Culver Boulevard; Culver Studios, one of the first studios to open in Los Angeles, and where many of the classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age were made, sits on the other. Now, a century after the silent-film era, Culver City is reclaiming its status as entertainment’s most important campus, and its architecture is evolving in tandem.

At the heart of walkable downtown Culver City is the storied Culver Hotel, which housed the cast of “The Wizard of Oz” during filming. It’s under new ownership and is restored with an elegant lobby restaurant. The iconic 1918 Colonial mansion of Culver Studios is now home to Amazon Studios, and the streaming giant, whose library includes “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Transparent,” is in the midst of building a new $620 million campus next door.

A half-mile away, HBO is planning to move into the new 5.2-acre Ivy Station development, which is under construction next to the Metro Expo Line’s Culver City Station. And Apple is moving in right across the street, to a new four-story headquarters at the intersection of Washington and National Boulevards.

4178 COMMONWEALTH AVENUE | A three-bedroom, one-and-one-half-bath house, built in 1942 on 0.1 acres, listed for $1.285 million. 310-230-7373Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times

Meanwhile, other area businesses are capitalizing on the momentum. Platform, a nearby design-forward cluster of shops and restaurants, is open to long-term tenants as well as pop-ups. And the revitalized Helms Bakery District houses furniture and design shops in a historic building.

As for the city’s homes, the priciest are in the hilly neighborhood of Culver Crest, while the most affordable are in Fox Hills, home of the sprawling shopping mall of the same name.

Culver City, as the area furthest east on Los Angeles’s west side, once offered a semblance of affordability in a much-inflated market. That’s changing.

So far in 2019, 167 single-family homes have been sold in Culver City, at a median price of $1.245 million, according to data compiled by local firm Cavanaugh Realtors. That’s a modest rise over 2018, when 179 homes sold at a median price of $1.22 million. The median price for a condominium or townhouse is currently $520,000, up from $502,500 in 2018.

9008 POINSETTIA COURT | A one-bedroom, one-bath cottage, built in 1922 on 0.04 acres, listed for $899,000. 310-395-7090Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times

Rental prices run around $1,400 for a studio apartment and $3,000 to $4,000 for a two-bedroom, and can climb into the $7,000s for a three-bedroom house.

Meghan Sahli-Wells, the mayor, said the City Council is concerned that in Culver City, as in California generally, homes are overvalued, and rising costs — both mortgages and rents — are putting a strain on citizens. In August, Culver City passed a 3 percent annual cap on rent increases for certain apartment complexes, and the city also is in the process of building 700 new apartment units, most of them clustered near public transportation. Ms. Sahli-Wells said a portion of these (she would not specify how many) are earmarked for affordable housing.

“Housing is the short- and long-term challenge that we face as a city,” she said. She also hopes to update the city’s business taxes to generate additional revenue from the corporations moving in. That initiative will likely go on the ballot in next November’s elections.

4068 JACKSON AVENUE | A two bedroom, one-bath house, built in 1926 on 0.05 acres, listed for $1.025 million. 310-777-7800Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times

With a revitalized downtown, its own police and fire departments, and an independent school district, Culver City offers a family-friendly community with easy access to Los Angeles’s major landmarks. That’s precisely why Julio Leyva, 49, a realtor with Cavanaugh Realtors, and his wife, Michelle Leyva, 42 and also with Cavanaugh Realtors, have stayed for nearly a decade.

The couple live in the Veterans Park neighborhood, and when they had a recent emergency at home and had to call 911, the police arrived in under three minutes. It made them grateful to be in Culver City. “We pay to have our own police, and we always boast about it,” said Mr. Leyva. “But when you actually need it, they show up so fast.”

Ms. Leyva said that Culver City also strikes a balance: good schools and parks, with plenty of life after sundown. “The walkability is really good and there’s a nice sense of community,” she said. “But even if you don’t have kids, there’s great night life here, and with the parks you can get outside and enjoy the weather without having to get into your car.”

The Culver City Unified School District operates five elementary schools, one middle school and both Culver City High School and Culver Park High School, a specialized continuation school for students aged 16 to 18 who graduate with their Culver City High peers.

On state proficiency exams during the 2018-19 school year, 75 percent of Culver City High School students met proficiency standards in English language arts, compared with 50 percent countywide; and 40 percent met proficiency standards in math, compared with 39 percent countywide.

On SAT testing, during the 2017-18 school year, 89 percent of Culver City High students met readiness benchmarks for English and language arts, compared with 71 percent statewide; 56 percent met benchmarks for mathematics, compared with 51 percent statewide.

Culver City offers easy access to both the 405 and 10 freeways, and destinations on Los Angeles’s west side are within 30 minutes. LAX and Los Angeles’s beaches are less than 30 minutes away, while Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles can take an hour to reach.

The Metro Rail’s E (Expo) line offers access to both Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles, with a fare of $1.75 each way.

Culver City, named for its founder, Harry Culver, was incorporated in 1917 and almost immediately became a hub for the motion-picture business. Thomas Ince built Culver Studios there in 1918; silent-film producer Hal Roach added his studio in 1919; and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer arrived in 1924. During World War II, Culver City was a nerve center for aircraft production, with the Hughes Aircraft Company producing critical parts for bombers and other combat jets. Suburbanization and development in the 1960s led to the area’s decline before a revitalization effort beginning in 1990 jump-started Culver City and led to its renaissance today.

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