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What's In a Name?

What's In a Name?

Joe and I were sitting zombie-eyed and motionless in front of our computers the other day, clearly wrestling with mutually acute cases of writer’s block, when I suggested we make a break from the whole lot of nothing we were accomplishing. 

Zombie Joe . . .

Zombie Joe . . .

“Let’s take a hike,” I suggested.

“Where?” came the expected response. Because that is what Joe and I do. One of us makes a suggestion of something to do and then, oddly, the other of us expects the suggestor to fill in the details as if he or she actually thought beyond the impulsive idea. We are THAT crazy indecisive couple. We’re working on it . . .

In other words, I didn’t know where to go. I just knew I needed to get outta that chair.

We live in Venice Beach/Marina del Rey (technically a part of Los Angeles) and our usual hiking go-to is Topanga State Park about 30 minutes north of us. But it was already 2 p.m. when this inspiration hit, so I whipped out my buddy Google in search of a green space closer in. 

Fifteen minutes later we stood at the bottom of the more-brown-than-green Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook staring up a very steep set of stairs (500 feet straight up). Joe and Lucy took the stairs. I need my knees, so I took the mile-long zig-zagging trail through native habitat to meet them at the top. What we found there was, indeed, a breathtaking scenic overlook. 

Joe and Lucy BH (Before Hill).

Joe and Lucy BH (Before Hill).

Strangely my first thought was not: “Phew! We did it!" (Did I mention IT WAS VERY STEEP?).

Restored native plants at Baldwin Hills.

Restored native plants at Baldwin Hills.

My first thought was: “Wow, this is in Culver City?”

Culver City. . . Culver City. . . you may be scratching your head. It sounds familiar, I know I've heard it before, but where is it? 

If you are a movie fanatic like Joe, you might recognize Culver City as the home of Sony Pictures, and also the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz (the movie). But most of you, I'll wager, have no idea where Sony lives. Like me, you may have assumed the Wizard was filmed in Hollywood and that Sony Pictures is headquartered in Japan like so many other truly “American” enterprises.

Yup, right here in Culver City.

Yup, right here in Culver City.

But if you’re reading this, it’s also likely you and I have a few like sensibilities. I want to assume one of them is National Public Radio.

And that dear readers — our beloved NPR — is likely your first (and possibly only) connection with Culver City. It was certainly mine before Joe and I bought a house about 10 feet from Culver City's western boundary.

As Washington Post writer Paul Farhi put it, Culver City “may be the longest running on-air plug for an unremarkable suburban town since Johnny Carson referred to their broadcast home as “beautiful downtown Burbank.”"

So how did little ol’ Culver City, population 40,000, get itself mentioned thousands of times on national radio shows like “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition”

Smart thinking by one of the more borning municiple entities: the city Planning Commission. Really, really smart. Turns out the city cut a critical deal with NPR when it moved its NPR West studio to Jefferson Boulevard in 2002.

As the Post article explains:

The particulars are spelled out in a 2004 resolution by Culver City's planning commission. In exchange for exempting NPR from city ordinances regulating the size and number of satellite-transmission dishes on the roof of its building, NPR agreed to a series of conditions. Among them: "The City of Culver City shall be identified over the airwaves during those periods when programming produced at this site is broadcast."

Whoever thought that gig up deserves a big yearly bonus. I can't think of a more lucrative horse trade in terms of brand awareness pay-back. 

Anyway, standing at the top of Baldwin Hills and marveling at both the 360 views and the well-planned and restored park below, it occurred to me that there’s a lot more to Culver City than NPR and Sony (and YouTube and Google Cloud which are also headquartered here).

There are numerous parks in the city and a sweet almost old-fashioned downtown with actually good restaurants. And Culver City is the starting place of The Ballona Creek bike path which goes west all the way to Marina Del Rey where it connects to the Marvin Braude costal bike path. Marvin Braude covers 30 miles of beach from Torrance to the Pacific Palisades. So, altogether, Culver City is the start of one of the longest unencumbered scenic bike rides in Los Angeles County.

Ballona Creek Bike Path goes by some really cool murals.

Ballona Creek Bike Path goes by some really cool murals.

Culver City is also host of the annual LA Film Festival, one of the world’s hottest showcases for new works from independent filmmakers. If you love indie film, mark your calendars for June 14-22. Next month little Culver City and its Arclight Theater will be brimming with new and innovative films and the people who love and make them.

Mark your calendars indie film lovers!

Mark your calendars indie film lovers!

Who knew Cat's Cradle had such a fascinating history?

Who knew Cat's Cradle had such a fascinating history?

Finally, no post about Culver City would be complete without a mention of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, my hands-down favorite cultural experience in the greater Los Angeles area. The museum is an homage to museums of old. It’s hard to explain. I mean, there's an entire exhibition devoted to the children's string game Cat's Cradle and a rooftop dove sancturary with a strolling minstrel. You just have to go.

I’d like to say that our sweaty climb up Baldwin resulted in a furious flurry of words on the page when Joe and I got home. But I’ve vowed never to lie again. We took a nap. The dog curled around my knees. Our butt muscles ached. 

But at least I’ve convinced myself and maybe one of you that Culver City is a nice place to visit if you happen to be coming to the Greater Los Angeles Area, or even if you already live here. 

And at least now when I hear Culver City on NPR I know why.  

The Drums of World Peace Play on Venice Beach

The Drums of World Peace Play on Venice Beach

I Breathe, Therefore I Need Political Asylum

I Breathe, Therefore I Need Political Asylum