The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

A Hole in the Heart of Screenland

5158 The big hole in the middle of Culver City’s downtown redevelopment just got bigger: over the next year, the empty lot will become a new pile of architecture called the Culver Steps (just a few steps away from the Center’s headquarters). But first they are digging a hole (for burying cars in an underground parking structure). CLUI photo
THE FINAL HOLE IN THE downtown development plan for Culver City, an empty lot known as Parcel B, is finally being filled. The development rights were sold to a new company that just closed the deal, and now construction has begun. 
The site, a block from the Los Angeles headquarters of the CLUI, has long been an empty lot caught in the complications of the city’s extensive public/private downtown redevelopment project. As the pivotal empty lot in the city’s plan, Parcel B was the site of the Center’s 2013 exhibit about office trailers in an office trailer.
5168 Construction fence in downtown Culver City. CLUI photo
Established a hundred years ago by Harry Culver as a crossroads community, where “all roads lead to Culver City,” the key to the city’s downtown redevelopment over the past 20 years was based on closing these major thoroughfares that once converged in downtown. The reclaimed space has created public plazas that link formerly isolated properties. New parking garages house an inflow of visitors, and former parking lots became multiplexes. Restaurants moved in, followed by more restaurants, and downtown became a destination again. 

Parcel B is the last piece of this urban puzzle to fall into place, and in many ways is the center of it all. The new structure will have 75,000 square feet of offices above 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus a 35,000-square-foot public plaza. The development is called the Culver Steps, as it will have a set of wide steps from the ground to the first level, evoking Manhattan’s elevated High Line, Rome’s Spanish Steps, and Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial steps. Though the steps are part of the building, and not technically public space, they will be open to the public.
The building and plan, designed by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, was selected and approved by Culver City in 2011. It took all these years to execute it because the governor of California dissolved the state-supported Community Redevelopment Agency, which owned real estate at many formerly needy downtowns, including Culver City’s, leading to a bit of a legal ownership mess. 
As of a few months ago, the mess was sufficiently cleared up for the property’s development rights to be sold by the previous developer, Hudson Pacific, to the new one, Hackman Capital Partners, for an undisclosed sum.
The new developer, Hackman Capital, is the same company that bought the Culver Studios, a 14-acre movie studio, adjacent to Parcel B, in 2014. The main studio building facing Parcel B was built to resemble a Southern mansion, kind of like George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and is familiar to many because it was part of the trademark for David O. Selznick Pictures when that company owned the studio. 
A few months ago, Hackman announced that Amazon Studios will be pulling up stakes in Santa Monica, and taking over 280,000 square feet at Culver Studios. Apple is looking at space nearby, and Google has taken over much of the former Howard Hughes airport at the other end of town. It seems the redevelopment of Culver City is now complete. The Heart of Screenland (the official city motto) has been retooled for the new digital screenscape. ♦
5169 Construction fence showing how the new Culver Steps structure will look, filling the last hole in the Heart of Screenland. CLUI photo