Week 138: North Culver City

July 15, 2018

Walking L.A. #7, North Culver City: Hidden Treasure on the West Side, 2.25 miles.

What Barbara and I thought would be a circular, neighborhood hike to the nostalgic Helms Bakery building and some fun furniture stores turned out to be a discovery-filled adventure! We didn't know. The Walking L.A. directions we followed were written in 2008, and a LOT has happened to this neighborhood since then. We began where Washington Blvd. becomes Higuera Street, the north entrance to Rancho Higuero, a quaint neighborhood of ranch and mission-revival homes built during the housing boom in the 1920s-30s. Sweet, but very serious about parking restrictions (had to take a pic of one of the more insistent signs.) Bordered by Baldwin Hills in the SW, when we reached the Debbie Allen Dance Studio at Hayden Ave. in the distance we caught a glimpse of today's hikers on one of our favorite Secret Walks hikes—#39, the 282 Baldwin Hills Stairs. With a promise to attack the steps again soon, we turned north on Hayden Ave. and into the day's biggest surprise: what our directions described as industrial warehouses in 2008 is now a mecca for architectural pilgrimages. Collectively known as Conjunctive Points or Hayden Tract, the three blocks along Hayden Ave. to National Blvd. are lined with experimental buildings designed by award-winning, L.A. architect Eric Owen Moss, Director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. UCLA is reopening its razed/refurbished School of Arts & Architecture expansion on the block in 2019, and the existing buildings are eye-poppers of contemporary industrial architecture. The 2-story Waffle Building at 3939 houses the elite Vespertine, a reservation-only, $250 per, tasting menu. (If you've been there, please share!) Then there's the Cactus Tower, 28 Mexican Fence Post cacti planted in steel drums atop an office building. The Pterodactyl building and so many more. The street ends with Samitaur Tower, a landmark information tower on Washington Blvd. that lights up in colors at night. It felt like we were (and we might have been) walking through the hippest place to work in L.A., and certainly in the midst of contemporary architectural history. Hard to top that, but leave it to L.A. architectural history to cap off the hike. We made our way back to the iconic Helms Bakery complex on Venice, now home to furniture/accessory shops and restaurants with a taste of Helms nostalgia. Built in 1931 by baker and sports philanthropist Paul Helms, the o&o Helms Bakery was a model for mass production (2 million eggs/month; 780 train car loads of flour/year). Helms was the official bread for the 1932 L.A. Olympics and in 1969 supplied Apollo 11 with the "first bread on the moon." Never sold in stores, by 1950 Helms trucks traveled 950 sales routes ("daily at your door!") from Fresno to SD. Barbara told me about her rough decisions in choosing the best doughnut from the back of the Helms truck on its Burbank route when she was a kid. (I feel you.) The Helms building and Beacon Laundry buildings have each been designated a "significant cultural resource" by the city of Culver City. We love when hikes turn out to be much more than we expected and this one was a gem. Truly worth doing if you're into architecture (or bakery)!

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  1. I'm so envious. I want to shoot those buildings--with my camera, of course. I'm not making threats. So what was Barbara's favorite donut? Or did it change?


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