Sunday, May 10, 2009

Growing up: Culver Center

Culver City was a nice little town in Southern California to grow up in during the early 60s. Tucked in between the Pacific Ocean and downtown Los Angeles, and in the sunny part of the state, what's not to like about it.

We had so much freedom then and I can remember, at age 10 or so, walking by myself to friends houses or to the big shopping area, Culver Center, about a mile and a half, to meet friends. During the summer we rarely wore shoes and when we'd cross the hot blacktop street we'd either run or walk on the painted white crosswalk lines. I guess I got fed up with this and bought myself a pair of Zorries, that's what we called thongs, and wore them home only to rub a nasty blister between my toes.

Culver Center was one of the first shopping centers in Southern California and the strong merchant's association, with the help of the city council, kept May Company, a large department store chain, from moving in. The block had a long narrow street with businesses on both sides and large parking lots in the back. At one end was a Bank of America and a Market Basket, a chain super market. There were a few shoe stores and both men and women's clothing stores, all privately owned. At the other end was Hellmans Hardware and a toy store where I bought a hula hoop when it was such a craze. I paid one dollar in 1959 and that was a few weeks allowance.

Mom worked at Torrey's, a jewelry store in Culver Center so if I stopped by she'd give me a quarter. When she was almost 16 my sister worked across the street at W.T. Grants, the five-and-dime store. Her job was to dip up ice cream cones and sell candy and we all fell in love with Jordan Almonds when she had that job. You could go in and buy a nickel's worth of candy in a little white bag. Most of the time my money was spent on a Drum Stick ice cream or root beer Popsicle at Thrifty Drug Store. We never had enough money to go to Curries so that experience was reserved when adults were paying the bill and it was a treat. Their "Mile High" ice cream cones were wonderful and there was a giant replica of it outside. It was the pole to hold up the front of the building painted like a huge ice cream cone. Fascinating to a ten-year-old.

Culver Center had a music store, Martin's. There was a little soundproof booths, only big enough for two people, with turntables so you could listen to a record to make sure you liked it. My sister remembers seeing a young Johnny Mathis come to Martin's Music to sign autographs. What a heartthrob he was.

A big favorite with my sister's friends was Wellingtons. This was a drug store but they had a soda counter and a magazine rack. What teenager didn't love Wellingtons. They made hamburgers but I loved the grilled cheese sandwiches, that was my treat. I can remember listening to the big kids talk about the scandal of the day, Payola.

Since my mom worked on Friday evenings Daddy would often take his two daughters to Ships for dinner. Ships was a coffee shop and though it wasn't on Culver Center street it was on the next corner. Everyone went to Ships with it's 50s modern deco and coffee shop fare but it was too expensive to be a teen hangout. Being a small town you would see many familiar families in line for a table. Fried shrimp and a baked potato I thought that was the best. My sister loved the boysenberry deep-dish cobbler. They came out hot with a scoop of ice cream. They had toasters at each table. Who knows, it was the 50s.

During Christmas they decorated all the store fronts and the street and parked Santa's Sleigh in front of the toy store. You could just walk up and sit on his lap to tell him your holiday wish, no photographers waiting to take your photo but mom or dad could snap one if they had a camera. I was in third grade when I realized a teacher from our school was Santa. I never told anyone for fear of not getting any presents but when I sat on his lap I saw it was him. To me he looked like a sad Santa and as an adult I'm sure there was some humiliation taking this part-time job. Teachers have never been paid what they deserve.

Most of Culver Center is gone now. A Ralph's market took over the Market Basket and Ships has gone the way of most 50s coffee shops. It was torn down and it's now a Starbucks and a juice stand. Grants and Wellington's are gone too and the Thrifty's is a Rite-Aid but I can't help thinking that it was there when I needed it and I'm glad for that.

1 comment:

  1. just saying Ships deep dish boysenberry cobbler makes my mouth water.

    And I remember a very young Johnny Mathis maybe 19 when he came to Martins.

    Great memories seester