Big Step

Big Step

A grand staircase anchors a retail and office project in Culver City.
Courtesy Ehrlich Architects

Culver City won’t be mistaken for Rome anytime soon, but in a victory for public space the city just approved an open air shopping and office complex in its downtown area that many have already compared to the Spanish Steps.

On December 5 the Culver City Council selected the project by Ehrlich Architects, Combined Properties, and Hudson Pacific Properties on 9300 Culver Boulevard from among four proposals for what has been labeled Parcel B. The development, located across from the city’s historic Culver Hotel and next to its still-expanding Town Plaza, expands on the existing public space with more of its own.

Left to right: The first two floors will house retail, restaurants, and a gallery; Two floors of glass-clad offices sit above the retail space; outdoor public spaces are layered on on several levels.

The proposal is highlighted by a large open stair leading to 14,300 square feet of open space on an elevated plaza. To entice pedestrians the space will likely include landscaping, water elements, trees and trellises for shade, and the amphitheater-like stair. From the stairs, visitors can view the surrounding neighborhood, which will look out onto both the Culver Hotel and the nearby Classical Revival-style Culver Studios Mansion. Already, the city has undertaken major efforts to become more pedestrian-friendly, not only making plans for the Town Plaza, but widening sidewalks, providing outdoor dining, and improving streetscapes.

Overall the project will stand three stories tall and contain 115,000 square feet of retail and office space. Not only will the project provide much-needed public space, but it will, said City Councilman Andrew Weissman, “fill a retail hole” in a city already known for its active drinking, dining, and theater scene. Weissman cited the recent renovation of the Westfield Culver City mall as another move in that direction.

The site plan.

Ehrlich’s buildings, clad in a palette of muted, warm materials like brick and wood, are meant to defer to the local context, which firm Associate Patricia Rhee describes as “the heart of downtown.” Their forms step up gradually from an “extroverted” ring of retail on the first floor to a set back group of restaurants and possibly a gallery on the second floor plaza level to the glazed offices on the upper two stories. On the east side, the offices will contain a curving glass wall topped with the historic “Culver” signs salvaged from the old Culver Theater (now known as the Kirk Douglas Theater), a building that Ehrlich Architects previously restored.

To further break down the project’s mass and provide texture, the buildings will include awnings, overhangs, fins, deep recesses, balconies, and roll up doors.

The development replaces an earlier proposal from San Diego-based Rush Pacifica with Gensler, which died in 2009 due to the economic downturn.

For her part, Rhee balks at comparisons to the Spanish Steps or to the High Line in New York. “We wanted to create a good urban space,” she said. “When you’re driving by we want you to say ‘I want to be there.’”