My family got its start in Culver City in the early 1920s when my grandparents bought their first parcel and built a small house. There was a goat farm across the way, an elementary school a couple blocks down, and soon afterwards, the Rollerdrome went up.
It was a sleepy little neighborhood full of single family houses, duplexes and Spanish style apartments.
My grandmother got busy and planted fruit trees, kept chickens and even had her own goat for fresh milk. My mother and her siblings grew up during the Roaring 20s and the Depression. They were enterprising kids picking beans for the Japanese farmers who paid them in both beans and nickels.
Then WWII came and the face of the neighborhood changed. The farmers and their fields were gone. Boys, including my uncle, were sent off to war, and the Rollerdrome became the new center of the social scene, because its black-out windows allowed my mom and the neighborhood youngsters to socialize when they had an off night from Douglas Aircraft Company, where most of them worked.
The 1950s arrived, and the huge trees that had lined the street with a rich canopy of shade, were replaced by magnolias that gave very little shade, but had beautiful white flowers.
Large boxy apartments went in where there had been empty lots, right beside 1920s Spanish style fourplexes. Those bigger units brought in younger families with kids of all ages. That meant playmates for my older sister and my cousin. It was a grand thing to have kids on our street to play with, because our school was close to a mile away. If those apartments hadn’t gone in, there would have been a lot of lonely afternoons.
That growth spurt fizzled by the late 70s, with most of the neighbor children grown and gone, me included. I didn’t move back to our street until 1990, when I returned to move into one of my grandmother’s other houses. When I started having children, there were only a few kids on the street. Like I had gone to a different local school, my kids went to El Rincon Elementary, a mile away instead of La Ballona. We had to actively make play dates with kids from their school because at that time there were only a handful of kids their age on our street. It felt like our particular street had aged out.
Then, a decade later when my brother married, condos went in where duplexes and triplexes had stood, and young couples moved in. My brother and his wife and all the new couples all got puppies at the same time. Pugs, Shih Tzus and Pomeranians arrived while their owners talked about dog parks, computers and craft beer. BBQs and then babies followed. It was as if a baby boom happened on our very street.
There was a vitality that had been missing when my kids were toddlers, but now was obviously in full bloom. I think what resonated most was watching my brother pump up a huge blow-up pool in his front yard and all the kids wearing water wings and splashing around. I have a picture from the early 60s of my parents doing the same thing with my six year old sister. Our street was again full of promise.
When the condos and more apartments went up, there was a newness, a freshness to the people who moved in. And, there was diversity too. From the Brazilian and German couple, the Bosnian couple, to Indonesian and Japanese families and so many multiracial neighbors; diversity in experiences, race, and ethnicity made the neighborhood more vital.
There are still duplexes, triplexes and single family houses alongside the condos and apartments in the Clarkdale neighborhood.
I hear people in Culver City insisting that upzoning from single family housing to multi dwelling units ruins neighborhoods. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Having RMD zoning (residential medium density multiple family residential zoning) has continually strengthened the street and the entire neighborhood.