If any good came of Prohibition, it’s the parties celebrating the end of it.
While over half the states in the US had gone dry way before the Volstead Act went into effect, the “prohibition of alcoholic beverages” officially kicked off on January 16, 1920. This meant that the “manufacture, sale, transportation, importation, possession or distribution” of any beverage of at least .5% alcohol was illegal–except under specific circumstances, such as religious ceremonies and medical necessity. It’s safe to say the 1920’s saw an uptick in reported backaches and insomnia…
When many folks went looking for a good time, however, it wasn’t the local doctor they consulted, but rather a gentleman behind a door, waiting for a password. If granted entry to one of these “speakeasies” (so named for the necessity to “speak easy,” relaxed, softly, inside and about such places, so as not to draw the attention of authorities), one might expect to find a glorious den of iniquities. Girls, gambling, gangsters—all those dangers that appealed to the types of desires the nation’s moral authority was desperate to eradicate.
While speakeasies were not as abundant as movies and television tend to portray today, they were popular in cities like New York and Chicago. They were also prevalent on Washington Blvd., in burgeoning Culver City, where three movie studios were feeding America’s love affair with glamour. Behind the scenes, the blind pigs were feeding the entertainment industry’s desire for hooch and high times.
Amidst this sea of enterprise and extravagance, Mr. Harry H. Culver opened the Hotel Hunt, in 1924. The flatiron, “wedge-shaped Renaissance revival-style beauty,” boasting “150 modern apartments for everyone to enjoy” was built by the LA-based architectural firm, Curlett and Beelman. This was the same team behind Los Angeles’ Park Plaza Hotel and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Like these, Hotel Hunt—later renamed the Culver Hotel–was also a luxury property.
While the rest of the United States suffered through a financial downturn that would become the Great Depression, within Culver City, the 20’s roared gayly on. Like “the Heart of Screenland,” itself, the Culver Hotel was right in the middle of the action.
On Saturday, September 6, the Culver Hotel—now with only forty-six rooms…but upgraded from one washroom per floor to a bathroom in each guestroom—celebrated their 90th anniversary. Needless to say, as a hotel born into the Golden Age of Hollywood, located on a street of free-spirited speakeasies, there was one heckuva birthday party.
Double Cross Vodka, Selvarey, Plymouth Gin, Chivas, Kappa, Ketel One, Nolet’s Silver, Johnnie Walker, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, Templeton Rye, Antica Formula, Avion Tequila, American Harvest Organic Spirit, Marquis, Peroni, Absolut and Coastal Vines sponsored the alcohol. The only bathtub gin around would’ve been poured from the bottle into one of the actual, newly remodeled bathtubs; certainly there was enough of it for a soak. Nine different passed hors d’oeuvres, like spring petite lamb-chasseur, crab-stuffed mushrooms, lobster a la Newberg and boeuf terrine en gelee were plentiful and only the first course. An anniversary cake by Jamaica’s Cakes, plum pudding, key lime mini tarts and sweet rice fritters appeared after an hour or so, and the third shift began around 10pm, featuring an assortment of sliders and fries. One presumes the pub grub was intended to dry out those partygoers who weren’t planning to go home via their own private livery. Guests were provided with a special Uber offer, just in case.
For the most part, partygoers seemed happy to fully immerse themselves in the experience. Flapper dresses and fedoras abounded, and even the mixologists were in costume. Guests were welcome to explore the first three floors of the hotel, with a different craft cocktail in every bar and ballroom. Modern Cocktail Society Band, and Sylvia and the Rhythm Boys were there to play everybody’s Jazz Age favorites, as folks Lindy Hopped, Charlestoned, and Fox Trotted the night away. A few burlesque performers even came out to show how it’s done. On the third floor, the Culver Hotel’s rooms and suites were open for guests to tour on their own.
Although the Culver Hotel has a reputation for being one of the most haunted spots in the city, the only ghosts around appeared to be the specters of history, mingling with the hotel’s present incarnation and hints of a thriving future.