Culver City's unremitting makeover from bland suburbia to pedestrian-friendly destination with upscale restaurants, gastropubs and cutting-edge businesses is picking up speed with the Expo Line now zipping through town.
The 15-year transformation has already turned the formerly insulated bedroom community into more of an urban hub, but even bigger changes are coming as developers stake claim on more than $1 billion worth of projects that will rise close to the light-rail tracks.
That work is getting started with one of the region's biggest transit-related projects — the $300-million Ivy Station complex, which will house apartments, a hotel, an office building, shops, restaurants and underground parking for commuters heading either to downtown Los Angeles or to Santa Monica.
Because it stands midway between those cities where the line terminates, its builders hope Ivy Station will be a Goldilocks housing option for people who find downtown and Santa Monica too intense or too expensive.
"We're a lower price point for people who don't want to live in urban downtown," said developer Tom Wulf, "or folks who work in Santa Monica."
Wulf is senior vice president of Lowe Enterprises, the Los Angeles real estate company that won a competition held by Culver City officials to build the 500,000-square-foot Ivy Station project on land the city assembled for redevelopment at Venice and National boulevards.
It is the centerpiece of a $1-billion transit-oriented cluster covering about 20 acres surrounding the station that Culver City officials expect will take several years to complete. Nine projects are already entitled for development or are in the pipeline, including an office and retail building on Washington Boulevard expected to house premium cable service HBO.
At Ivy Station, riders will encounter 200 apartments for rent, a 148-room boutique hotel and a 200,000-square-foot office building. The complex will have 1,500 underground parking spaces, 300 of which will be dedicated for use by Metro passengers.
Apartment and office rents won't be set until Ivy Station is finished in late 2019.
Lowe expects the complex to be a busy waystation on the Expo Line, which arrived in Culver City in 2012 and has gotten busier since the line's extension to Santa Monica was completed last year.
It now carries 64,000 riders each weekday, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority — and Culver City is encouraging commuters to take not just a car to the station.
"People can arrive at Ivy Station by car, bike, skateboard or train," said architect Jonathan Watts, who is responsible for the design.
The station is also served by multiple bus lines, and there will be a bike-sharing outpost and a staffed, enclosed bicycle station where nearly 400 cyclists at a time can safely park their own two- wheelers or have a bike mechanic repair them.
But Lowe's winning concept endeavors to establish a new public space where people come to hang out and savor the outdoors, not just rush to and from work.
"We're creating an experiential place where the community and transit riders mix," Wulf said.
In addition to shops and cafes with outdoor dining, Lowe will run programs and events in the public spaces such as dance classes, jazz performances and movie nights where shows will be projected on an inflatable theater screen. The park-like public space could hold as many as 800 people for a concert.
Designing the three-level subterranean garage was particularly tricky because it needs to accommodate six different uses, said Watts of Santa Monica-based Killefer Flammang Architects.
There will be dedicated space for Metro riders, who need to get quickly underground and into a parking stall. There will be special parking for the hotel valets and short- and long-term parking for the stores and restaurants.
The office building designed by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects will have its own parking area and another section of the garage will be called "guest parking" for people who come to the park. For big events such as concerts for as many as 800 people, guest parking will expand into other designated areas after regular commuting hours.
Culver City originally planned to limit the height of Ivy Station to 45 feet, but the architects got approval to go as high as seven stories to free up more courtyard space.
"This is really as much a public amenity as a private one," Watts said. "And for the city of L.A. it's an important example of what we can do around train stations."
The name "Ivy Station" is one of the oldest relics of Culver City.
An early 20th century map of the Los Angeles Pacific Co. electric railway connecting Los Angeles with the coast shows a junction of two lines at Ivy Park, where Culver City now lies. A Mission Revival-style electrical substation was built in 1907 that converted alternating current to direct current for the railway and it still stands on Venice Boulevard, where it is now used as a theater.
Culver City spent more than a decade and about $43 million acquiring 39 parcels of land to put together the triangular 5.2-acre site for the Ivy Station project, Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld said.
"It used to look like Tobacco Road," he said of the vacant and abandoned buildings in the former industrial district that were razed to make way for the development. The city also underwrote more than $3 million worth of structural improvements to Metro's station platform to facilitate development.
Although Culver City was always home to a prominent movie studio, it was more broadly an industrial center, he said. Today it is emerging as a destination for entertainment-related technology firms and media companies, including advertising software provider SteelHouse and online video company Maker Studios.
"Culver City is now a center for creative businesses," he said.
To Lowe's Wulf, changes in Culver City reflect how greater Los Angeles is maturing from a sprawling suburban model into a more dense, urban place in many parts of the region that will have the scale necessary to house the people who keep coming.
"There are growth pains that come with that" densification, Wulf said. "We're in that tweener stage, but we can create a great urban environment in suburban locations."