Originally published in Western Art and Architecture
If a vivid imagination is a prerequisite for transforming a dilapidated, neglected property into a brilliantly revitalized destination, then Maya Mallick, owner of the Culver Hotel, possesses an abundance of artistic moxie.
Built by businessman Harry Culver and opened in 1924, the hotel is situated in the heart of its namesake city, located halfway between the Pacific Ocean and downtown Los Angeles. Heralded as a “skyscraper” at the time, the six-floor flatiron structure was designed by local architecture firm Curlett and Beelman in a Renaissance Revival style.
Considered a visionary during the 1920s, Culver promoted his mantra “All roads lead to Culver City,” and the expression rings true again today. The Los Angeles neighborhood is booming with new restaurants, art galleries and shops, and in the middle of this urban rejuvenation sits the Culver Hotel.
As a National Historic Landmark, the hotel is steeped in Hollywood history. It was once owned by legendary actor Charlie Chaplin and later by Western movie icon John Wayne.
The Culver was also home to the cast of the Munchkins during the filming of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” Other movie icons lived at the property, including Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Over the years, however, the Culver Hotel fell into disrepair. Shabby and abandoned, it was boarded up in the 1980s and underwent only a partial and short-lived renovation during the 1990s.
Mallick, who purchased the property in 2007, immediately saw the hotel’s bright future. “What truly inspired me was that the Culver Hotel, even in its neglected state, had such a strong presence and the potential to become so much more than just a hotel,” she says. “I fell in love with the space and wanted to be the one to make it happen. I saw it as a unique opportunity to combine all the things I loved — art, design, food, music and travel — with my entrepreneurial background [to make] one single neat little package. It was thrilling.” Enchanted with the property’s character, Mallick decided to forgo an architect and personally handle the details. Working with her sister, Angela, they reimagined the hotel, while maintaining the building’s integrity. The $4-million project took about six years to complete, and the Culver reopened in 2012 as a dashing destination.
The revived hotel breathes with new life, yet invites guests to take a step back in time. All 46 of the sunlit guestrooms, with varying layouts and sizes, are replete with 1920s-inspired bathrooms and updated wood and tile floors. The hotel’s décor is sophisticated and eclectic, with handpicked vintage pieces, custom furniture and cabinetry, and design elements that provide surprising, whimsical touches. Even the hotel’s 150 windows were replaced with handmade panes that meet historical specifications. “There is an instinctive European flavor in the way I see hospitality,” Mallick says. “I have a longstanding love affair with French culture — it’s romantic, aesthetic, musical, historic and artisan; it puts the gourmet in everything.” Mallick added an artsy speakeasy-style bar on the mezzanine level, overlooking the posh dining room with its original black-and-white marble checkerboard floor. Above the dinning room, a multitude of shimmering crystal chandeliers hang at varied heights. Modern meeting and event spaces were built nearby on the second floor and incorporate artistic touches, including detailed crown molding. In addition to structural changes and cosmetic redesign, the electrical and plumbing systems underwent a complete overhaul, including the replacement of the elevator.
The grand lobby, with soaring 20-foot-high ceilings and an inviting fireplace, features several stained and painted columns surrounded by an array of wooden tables and jewel-hued couches and cushions. The lobby also serves as a second restaurant and bar, with an adjacent patio garden offering casual fare for al fresco dining throughout the day. Featuring live jazz music at night, the refreshed property has regained its luster, attracting an energetic crowd of locals and guests. Today, with fresh bouquets of flowers placed throughout the public spaces and guestrooms, the hotel once again embodies the soul of founder Harry Culver.
Revitalized by a woman who shared his vision for vibrancy, the Culver Hotel sparkles with classic Hollywood glamour and remains a true icon.