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Culver / Kirk Douglas Theatre

9820 Washington Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232
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The Culver Theatre, now reborn as a legit playhouse, the Kirk Douglas. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Website: www.centertheatregroup.org

Opened: August 13, 1947 as the Culver Theatre with the film "Red Stallion." 

Architect: Albert R. Walker was the architect of record. Carl G. Moeller was the design consultant. Steven Ehrlich was the architect for the 2004 renovation into the Kirk Douglas.

Moeller was involved in a number of Fox West Coast projects. The interior of the Culver was a "Skouras Style" confection. At a time when much design was getting the modern look, the head of Fox West Coast Theatres, Charles Skouras, had his architectural team in the late 40s and early 50s take a different tack towards a lush neo-baroque feel.

The program was an attempt to create a program so theatres could be remodeled (or constructed from scratch) in an economical fashion while creating a new sumptuous feel for post-war audiences with new expectations of luxury.

Seating: 1,091 -- with the rear of the house in a stadium style configuration.

The Culver was operated by Fox West Coast and its successor companies National General Corporation and Mann Theatres. It was later an independent operation after being dropped by Mann.

The auditorium was triplexed in the 70s with all three theatres served from the original projection booth. It closed in 1989 and was gutted in 1994 after some of the triplexing work suffered damage in the Northridge earthquake.



The auditorium of the Culver in 1947. It's a photo from the Ken Kramer collection appearing in the 1987 Preston J. Kaufmann publication "Skouras-ized for Showmanship - Skouras' West Coast Theatres."  It's available on Amazon. This 1987 Theatre Historical Society annual (#14) is packed with photos of theatres that Fox West Coast gave the moderne "Skouras look" in the 40s and 50s. THS website: historictheatres.org | THS on Facebook



 A light fixture at the Culver. Photo: "Skouras-ized for Showmanship" - Ken Kramer collection



Drapery at an auditorium exit. It's a photo from the Ken Kramer collection appearing in the THS annual "Skouras-ized for Showmanship."

While many of the Fox West Coast Skouras-style buildings ended up quite different from each other, you could always spot certain prefabricated elements: lush red draperies, exotic gold plaster swirls encompassing the proscenium, etched aluminum surround panels at the snack bar and drinking fountains, etc. The basic program was applied to hundreds of theatres. While the components differed, the consistent style was unmistakable. Fox maintained its own huge assembly plant to produce many of the decorative elements.

In a remodel it might be just a shiny "padded-looking" gold and aluminum snack bar and a few Skouras swirls below the proscenium like the Palace downtown. Or it could mean gutting the building and ending up with a totally new creation in an old shell like the Crest in Sacramento.



A 1950s photo by Nate Singer of the Culver's snackbar. It's in the Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection.

The Culver in the Movies:


A look at the Skouras-style boxoffice of the Culver Theatre in John Berry's "Tension" (MGM, 1949). Thanks to Ronald Schwartz for the screenshot, a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

Status: Interior remodeling began in 2002 for a 317 seat legit house operated by the Center Theatre Group, the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The venue reopened in 2004.



A look at the inside of the Kirk Douglas that was once on the website of Theatre Projects, the firm that was the theatre consultant for the renovation.



A lovely 40s photo looking west taken from the top of the Culver Hotel that gives us a view of the side of the Culver Theatre. The vertical sign and marquee of the Meralta Theatre can be seen on the far left of the photo. That's Washington Blvd. veering off to the right, Culver Blvd. to the left. Thanks to Tyler St. Mark for the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



The city's website, CulverCity.org, once had a very nice "Then and Now" page that included this 1947 pre-opening view of the Culver from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives. The section seems to be a victim of a re-build of the site. The photo has also been seen on Vintage Los Angeles.



A closer look at the marquee before the theatre opened. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the photo.



A 1963 photo taken from the Culver Hotel looking west along Culver Blvd. The side of the Meralta Theatre is visible on the left just beyond the next intersection. City Hall, with the "Culver City" roof sign, can be seen beyond. It's an L.A. Times photo in the UCLA L.A. Times Photographic Archive. It makes an appearance in "Culver City: From Barley Fields to the Heart of Screenland," Nathan Masters' fine KCET article about the city's history.



A 1969 view of the facade from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



Looking east on Washington Blvd. toward the Culver in a nice 70s view from the Sean Ault collection. That's part of the Sony (old MGM) studio complex on the right.



A 1977 photo by John Margolies taken when the theatre was operating as a triplex. It's in the Library of Congress collection. Julia Wick, in a 2017 article about the photographer on LAist, calls him "the King of Roadside America." The Library also has 146 additional photos of California theatres by this photographer. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting the photo and doing the other research. Check out Mike's own great theatre photos on the Historic Theatre Photography section of his website.



An American Classic Images photo of the marquee in 1983. Also in the collection: 1982 view | 1983 dusk view from higher up



A c.1987 look at the Culver's tower on the Theatre Historical Society Facebook page. It's a photo by Robert Finucan. Thanks to Jason Vega for spotting the photo on the THS page.



A shot of the Culver Theatre as a triplex. John L. Rouse took the photo in 1988. He had posted it on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles but it seems to have gone missing from there.



A undated view of the Culver Theatre taken after closing by Gary Graver.  Gary (1938-2006) was a noted filmmaker and cinematographer. More theatre photos by him can be seen in two compilations on You Tube:"Second Run - part 1" and "Second Run - part 2." Thanks to Sean Graver for the use of the photo.



A construction view from the unstoppable L.A. architecture fan Martin on his great site You Are Here



The Culver's boxoffice. Thanks to Ikurnarsky on Flickr for the 2008 photo.



A look at the 1946 terrazzo at the Culver. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



More terrazzo. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
 


A view up the tower and facade. Photo: Craig Schwartz for Center Theatre Group - 2004.
 


A facade photo taken during the first season as the Kirk Douglas. Photo: Craig Schwartz for Center Theatre Group - 2004.
 


The theatre's grand reopening. Photo: Craig Schwartz for Center Theatre Group - 2004.



An evocative 2005 look at the Culver Theatre neon at night thanks to world-wide cinema explorer Ken Roe on Flickr.
 


A 2007 photo by Steve Lyon on Wikimedia.
 


A 2008 view of the facade by T N Jones on Flickr. It's part of his Culver City set. More from Mr. Jones: boxoffice | tower | exterior looking west | other theatres |



A night view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



Thanks to George Chialtas for this lovely shot of the Culver's neon, a 2016 post on Photos of Los Angeles.



A detail of the marquee. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



Thanks to Mark Smith for this 2014 photo from his collection. 



A view of the rear of the theatre. Photo: Bill Counter - 2011


 
Another look at the back of the building. Thanks to Martin for his photo on the site You Are Here.



The top of the Culver's sign by drone, one of many treats on "Los Angeles," Ian Wood's 6 minute 2015 video. It includes flyovers of Capitol Records, the Griffith Observatory, City Hall, the canals of Venice, Lake Hollywood and more. Don't miss it!
 
More information: See the Cinema Treasures page for lots of stories about the Culver. The Cinema Tour page has 26 photos of the exterior, boxoffice and lobby. There's a Culver City Historical Society with information to share.

Debra Jane has several nice photos of the Culver on her immense site Roadside Architecture. See  California Theatres page 6.

See the pages here on this site about two other nearby theatres, the Meralta and the earlier Culver City Theatre. The page on the latter has a few more Culver City history resources listed.

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