There exists an enchanting location that housed an impressive roster of Hollywood heavyweights like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Douglas Fairbanks and the cast of The Wizard of Oz. This place is Culver Hotel. The historical property has existed since 1924 and remains as a charming attraction in Culver City. Maya Mallick, the owner of Culver Hotel, tells us more about the bewitching and glamorous Hollywood establishment.
Hi, Maya tell us a little about your background.
My parents’ first business was a historic restaurant on the Potomac River, an old farmhouse which used to be part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. I was raised around hotels and restaurants and was engrained with the spirit of service since my childhood, learning many other aspects of the hospitality business growing up. My German mother always taught me that a successful hotel is how happy your guests are and shaped my understanding of what hospitality was all about, adding her European touch.
I went to school in the French part of Switzerland and my family would go on road trips during the holidays. We often didn’t have a specific destination so we would stop along the way and stay in smaller boutique properties with a unique architectural charm.
There is so much to draw from people’s creativity around the world, especially in hospitality. I love to travel and hotel hop because each new place inspires me in a unique way and I often blend these travel experiences into my design process.
There is an instinctive European flavor in the way I see hospitality and I have a long standing love affair with the French culture – it’s romantic, esthetic, musical, historic, artisan, and puts the ‘gourmet’ in everything. (By the way, I also married a Frenchman!)
I have also learned that where we choose to stay when we travel can often make or break a trip. Hotels should provide a special experience because people deserve to have a certain emotional comfort when they are away from home.
My father is Indian and was a sculptor and painter in his earlier years which is most likely where I inherited my creative side, my love of color and eclectic nature. From a young age I enjoyed painting until late in the night and would often find myself with a hammer and nails working on little projects on the week-ends. Later on during college, my sister and I were inspired to work together and started our own clothing brand called Loveletters Loungewear. This 10 year entrepreneurial adventure gave me great insight and experience -whether it was design, production, sales, accounting or management, I was able to bring that experience with me into the realm of hospitality and build on it.
How did you end up as owner of Culver Hotel?
There were a few things that came together which led to the purchase of the Culver Hotel. I had recently transitioned out of the fashion industry and into the family hotel business. My first project was a large franchise hotel renovation and during the process I realized how much I enjoyed construction and the whole architectural process of re-creating space. At that time we were also selling a beautiful 1950’s hotel we had owned for 35 years and found ourselves in a 1031 exchange. We were searching for something with historic charm and kept landing on the doorstep of the Culver Hotel, even though it was not for sale. It was a rundown hotel in a depressed yet interesting neighborhood, a risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome.
What gravitated you towards Culver Hotel initially?
The Culver Hotel’s landmark architecture, legendary ownership, rich movie history, proximity to the studios and great location as the only hotel in the immediate downtown area would be the obvious reasons. 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. I fell in love with the space, imagined all that it could be 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, travel –into one single neat little package. As I was just transitioning out of the fashion industry, I was ready for the challenge and it was the perfect next step, it was thrilling.
Culver Hotel has a fascinating Hollywood history, can you tell us some intriguing facts?
The hotel indeed has an amazingly rich history. It was built by city founder Harry Culver in 1924, a few years after Mr. Culver incorporated his own city and later owned by Charlie Chaplin who – legend has it – lost the hotel to John Wayne in a poker game. It is also believed that Red Skelton owned the hotel at one time. Since the Culver Hotel was the only hotel in the area and in the middle of a studio town, it hosted many legendary movie stars some of which maintained part-time residences at the hotel. Some of these include Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan. Our most infamous guests however, would be the 124 Munchkins who stayed at the hotel during the filming of the Wizard of Oz in the 1930’s. If only the walls could talk!
Many people are not aware that Culver City is a major movie production town and has had two major studios producing feature films and television shows for the last 100 years. This is how and why the city got the name “The Heart of Screenland. The celebrity history continues to this day as the Culver Hotel and its surroundings still host many television and film productions.
Did overcome any adversity as an entrepreneur? If so, how?
When we first bought the hotel, the mechanics and infrastructure were not properly operational and the interiors were shabby and unappealing. As is the case with many older properties, you don’t know what you are getting into until you get started. With a 1924 national landmark once heralded as the “first skyscraper’’ in the area along with its many other historical attributes, there were big shoes to fill. We used to joke around in our old empty lobby and daydream of what it would feel like to have every guestroom and every space in the hotel buzzing with people. Throughout the process, I made sure to stay in line with the architectural integrity of the property as I wanted to make sure the Culver did not to lose its historic cache like many places do when they undergo extensive renovations. I wanted to bring back the Culver Hotel as the jewel of downtown Culver City in the way it deserved, and I was serious about getting it right. The economy tanked right after we purchased the hotel so the first few years were tough and the neighborhood was nowhere what it is now. There were many obstacles and at times gloomy days. With persistence and positivity, the vision I had when I first walked in was able to come to life, and then some. I am proud that we have built a great team, many of which who have been with the hotel for a long time. It is a pleasure to work with people and meet guests everyday who appreciate what a special place the Culver Hotel is and I am fortunate to experience that gratitude every day. Without a daring imagination, it’s hard to get anywhere.
Many want to know – is Culver Hotel haunted?
As I always say, the Culver Hotel has a great presence and a big soul. Yes it is spirited, all in a good way! Mr. Culver would be proud and I do believe he’s keeping a cheerful eye on us….with a smile.
Any forthcoming announcements for Culver Hotel?
Yes! We are proudly hosting the Culver City Centennial Finale in the form of a lavish black tie masquerade ball on September 23rd, 2017 – almost 100 years to the day that Harry Culver incorporated his namesake town. This year also happens to be the 10th anniversary of owning the Culver Hotel and we are excited to celebrate two very important and meaningful happenings. The evening will be filled with wonderful entertainment, great food, signature cocktails, live bands and of course some unexpected surprises. We will be highlighting ‘THEN and NOW’ of Culver City by partnering with other imaginative businesses and also doing a retrospective of the city. Tickets and information are available on our website at http://www.culverhotel.com.