“If these walls could talk,” is the first thought that comes to mind when you walk into the glorious entrance of Los Angeles’ Culver Hotel.
Casts from the movies, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz stayed at the hotel during filming, most famously all of the over 100 Munchkins who appeared in the Oz film. Today numerous television shows, movies or commercials still shoot in and around Culver City, with parts of the hotel’s exterior and interior having doubled for a street in London, an apartment in Barcelona or a café in Paris.
From legendary ownership to memorable guests — such as the mischievous munchkins — and high-stake poker games, the hotel is also renown for its secret passageways, and a ghost or two.
Today, the National Historic Landmark is a thriving hotspot. As evening sets in, the Grand Lobby transforms into a piano bar and jazzy supper club. Vintage armchairs, classic movie projections and up-and-coming artists each play a part in the carefully curated ambiance, setting the stage for a wonderful evening of handcrafted cocktails, tasty fare and musical pleasure.
Order one of the classic cocktails — a Good Witch or a Cucumber Mule — and share one of the appetizers, such as the hot olives or sesame green beans.
Upstairs in the Velvet Lounge, you’ll be transported into a 1920’s Speakeasy, that has a dash of Parisian boudoir.
The magic began on September 4, 1924, when Harry Culver (the founder of Culver City, CA), began building the hotel on the site of the city’s first movie theater. The six-story flatiron brick building still houses the offices of the visionary real estate developer and philanthropist.
To design the the Renaissance revival property, Culver chose Curlett & Beelman, the architecture firm behind renowned Art Deco buildings throughout Los Angeles, including downtown Los Angeles’ Roosevelt and Eastern Columbia buildings.
Over the next few decades, ownership changed hands and Charlie Chaplin purchased the property. Legend has it that he lost the property in a poker game to John Wayne, who also owned the hotel for several years before donating it to the YMCA.
As Culver City became a movie-making mecca in the 1920s and beyond, the hotel saw many legendary stars pass through its doors — some maintaining private residences for months at a time, such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, and Ronald Reagan.
The 124 Oz Munchkins are said to have been pretty wild during their stay. Those tales inspired the 1981 Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher movie, “Under the Rainbow,” and, in 1997 six of the original cast returned for a “Beyond the Rainbow” event to share their remembrances with the Culver City Historical Society.
Interviews were conducted as the Munchkins reminisced about the costumes, makeup and lights, as well as what it was like to work with Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton and Billie Burke.
Unfortunately, the property fell into disrepair and was boarded up for a time in the 1980s. It was at risk for demolition until the mid-90s when the hotel was partially restored and reopened, joining the prestigious National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
The Culver Hotel’s modern comeback began after a hotelier family bought the ailing property in 2007. Since then, its plumbing and electrical systems have been upgraded, each of the guestrooms and public spaces have been redone, all 140 handmade windows in the guest rooms have been replaced, and the public spaces have been entirely re-imagined all the while maintaining the property’s architectural integrity. The Culver Hotel has also become one of Los Angeles’s go to venues for nightly live jazz and special events.
Located just a few blocks from the legendary Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, now Sony Pictures, the iconic hotel has also appeared in a wide array of films and television programs throughout its history, including the “Our Gang” short film “Honkey Donkey,” “The Wonder Years,” “Party of Five,” “7th Heaven,” “Stuart Little 2,” and “Bones.”
So is the hotel really haunted?
Eclectic clientele, a vibrant history and the passage of time have fostered a belief in other dimensional elements within the walls of the Culver Hotel.
Amateur ghost seekers often delight themselves in wandering the hotel late at night, investigating thoroughly and fishing for stories of spiritual happenings.
So far the midnight apparitions have not made themselves available for candid photos or tape recordings, yet the question remains: Are the halls truly filled the echoes of the past? Or are our imaginations merely longing for a connection with the deep and mysterious soul of the Culver Hotel? You be the judge.
The Culver Hotel
9400 Culver Boulevard, Culver City, CA 9023
Call: 310-558-9400 • Reservations: 1-888-3 CULVER
Online at culvercity.org