Why Culver City Is Finally Having Its Moment in the L.A. Creative Scene

Apple and Amazon made some noise when they moved in

The Culver Hotel in downtown Culver City is the emotional epicenter of the growing area. Omelet / Fabienne Wente
Headshot of Doug Zanger

If recent developments are any indication, it’s Culver City’s time in the Southern California sun. While many agencies and creative companies have called the area home for years, the buzz around it is palpable due, in large part, to the announcements earlier this year that both Apple and Amazon are putting their content businesses there. The former is leasing 128,000 square feet of space in the city’s fashionable art gallery district, and the latter is taking up 75,000 square feet in the epicenter of the area near the historic Culver Hotel.

It’s not that the area hasn’t seen its fair share of growth over the years, but Culver City has been going through its transformation relatively quietly. For the longest time, according to Ryan Harding, a broker who works with creative companies in the area, Santa Monica was the darling of what’s known as L.A.’s Westside until the real estate crash in 2007 and 2008. At that point, companies were looking for someplace new, and nearby Playa Vista was a viable, affordable alternative. Initially, Microsoft and TMZ were drawn to the area due to its affordability. And with the likes of Deutsch, Possible, R/GA, 72andSunny, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Team One and YouTube dotting the landscape, Playa Vista became the favorite of the creative industry.

Culver City, among the creative community, has long had a strong reputation—but it’s been more under the radar. In part due to the higher profile of Apple and Amazon arriving, the balance of power—or at least the conversation—around the area could be shifting.

“Culver City seems to have a little bit more cachet than Santa Monica right now,” said Harding.

The rise of the area, at least among advertising and creative people, isn’t necessarily surprising. Traditionally, Culver City was a hotbed of entertainment, production and had a large number of industrial spaces, especially in an area known as Hayden Tract.

In 2000, Ogilvy was drawn to one of the warehouses—a former appliance factory—but has since moved out of the area. From there, over time, a steady stream of creative companies moved in, including Framestore, The Mill, Muse, Walton Isaacson, WongDoody and Zambezi.

One of the benefits of Culver City, aside from its relative affordability compared to other areas, is that it feels more conducive for creative work. With its cluster of art galleries and other quirky, artistic businesses, it’s a Los Angeles anomaly that has long been a draw.

“I wanted us to be in Culver City because there was a great creative vibe and there was a promise of things to come,” said Susan Franceschini, executive director of ThinkLA who moved there in 2012. “I thought it was a creative force and you could feel it.”

Omelet occupies the Pterodactyl, one of the most unusual buildings in Culver City.

Indeed, the city, as it continues to plan, appears to be more thoughtful in its approach. New services, such as coffee shops and restaurants, are beginning to arrive in droves. Though these developments may seem minor to the layperson, it is a big deal, especially in the quest to attract talent.

“People in the creative community want to be surrounded by others in the creative community,” said Aaron Walton, founding partner of Walton Isaacson, which has been in the area for seven years. “Culver City is starting to own the fact that it would like to be the heart of the creative community in Los Angeles, and this will be great for all of us.”

“L.A. is so spread out, and no one really has a chance to get to know each other,” added Thas Naseemuddeen, chief strategy officer and managing director of Omelet, which is housed in Hayden Tract’s quirky Pterodactyl building. “Culver City has remained a little village unto itself, and it will be a big positive as brands [and other creative companies] continue to move in.”

Platform is a popular gathering point, filled with restaurants, cafes and boutiques.

This story first appeared in the November 12, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.