It has been hailed as the city's most interesting architectural event, the first large step toward downtown redevelopment and a key to restoring the "golden age" of the film industry in Culver City.
The Filmland Corporate Center has drawn enthusiastic reviews from most observers and opposition from a few as it takes shape on the block bounded by Culver and Washington boulevards and Madison and Duquesne avenues.
The concrete-and-steel frame of the eight-story building rises over neighboring City Hall and the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. Crews last week installed the first slabs of red and pink granite on the terraced front of the building, but construction will not be complete for another eight months.
When it opens, the $80-million Filmland will be an "entertainment trade mart," according to Carol Mallen, vice president of the developing Filmcorp Group Inc., who hopes rent office space to motion picture, television and music executives.
"Entertainment people like to be near other entertainment people," said Steve Iyama, leasing agent. "They can meet in the elevators or in the lobby and talk business."
The building will include a health club, a restaurant and screening rooms, as well as commercial outlets on the ground floor, according to Iyama. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, across the street, and Laird International Studios, just two blocks away, have production facilities.
The Filmcorp Group plans to rent the fourth floor to out-of-town producers and companies that need temporary office space. None of the other floors have yet been rented.
Rents will range from $2.30 to $3 a square foot, according to Iyama.
The focus of the building, and the feature that causes pedestrians to gape at a conceptual drawing at the construction site, is a 10,000-square-foot skylight that will cover the vast landscaped lobby.
Architect Shree Mate, the principal designer of Filmland, said he wanted a building that would "recall the golden age of Hollywood" and called it a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.
He said he was fortunate to work with a developer with money and the desire to construct an unusual building.
Mate, the firm of Maxwell Starkman Associates of Beverly Hills and Filmcorp won a merit award for design from the Southern California chapter of the Society of American Registered Architects this January.
Despite the accolade, some neighbors of the 360,000-square-foot building had concerns at first.
"Early on I think the consensus was that it was a concrete jungle," said Fred Ellis, a 30-year Culver City resident who lives two blocks from Filmland. "I'm looking at it now and saying, 'This isn't going to be so bad after all.' "
Ellis said the unusual design makes the building more acceptable to neighbors, although they still worry about traffic. "I think the design softens the blow," he said. "They seem to be trying to make it nice."
B. T. Burgess of Los Angeles stops by the building occasionally to watch construction. "I think it is going to be a beautiful building," Burgess said. "I don't believe there is another building like it anywhere."
Most residents and passers-by share the enthusiasm, although some are still not sold on the idea.
"I think it's ugly," said Dennis Clancy, who lives less than a block away. "It does not blend with the community. This would be more at home in Century City."
The Spanish-style Meralta Office Plaza, a recently completed building one block north of Filmland, is more suited to the community, Clancy said. Meralta was the first large project in the downtown redevelopment area.
"I think (Filmland) is going to be a great asset to the community," said John Landis, who lives a block away. "I hate to say it, but right now there's nothing to bring people to Culver City."
City officials hope Filmland will bring other improvements downtown, where many buildings date back to the 1920s.
"It is a major project that will stimulate additional regeneration and growth in the downtown area," said city Councilman Paul Jacobs. "And more importantly, it also symbolizes the history of the city. We are particularly pleased to have it as part of the community because it fits with the strong movie heritage."
Culver City residents like to recall the boom days of the motion picture industry. The city grew up around the studios of David Selznick, the Cecil B. DeMille Picture Corp. and MGM.
The city seal still bears the motto, "The Heart of Screenland."