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Those Just Wild About Harry Culver Set Reunion

September 17, 1987|SHELDON ITO | Times Staff Writer

Next July marks 75 years since smooth-talking Harry H. Culver plunked down $2,000 for 93 acres of barley fields between Los Angeles and the seashore and started a city.

Culver, a real estate developer, saw the area where the old train tracks crossed Washington Boulevard as "the neck of the bottle where everything had to come through," according to a local history.

Even undeveloped, the fields were worth $370,000, but Culver persuaded four large landowners to option the land to him for a couple of thousand dollars.

Using Gimmicks

As skeptics looked on, Culver used gimmicks such as a giant searchlight, a marathon race to Los Angeles and a polo game with Fords instead of horses to attract home buyers and businesses.

In three years, Culver had sold enough people on his city to increase the value of the barley fields to $20 million.

About 300 members of the Culver clan are expected to gather in July in the city that Harry Culver built to celebrate its 75th anniversary and to honor their late kinsman.

Culvers from across the United States will attend a banquet, tour the city and get acquainted with one another, said Charles G. Colver, a councilman and former mayor of Covina who is organizing the reunion.

In addition, Colver said he is having silver and bronze coins minted to commemorate the anniversary and reunion. The coins will feature the city seal on one side and a portrait of Harry H. Culver and the words I will build my dream city on the other.

Descendants Galore

There are about 5,000 Culvers and Colvers (the different spellings are the result of sloppy copying of church records) in the United States, Colver said. Almost all of them are descended from Edward Colver, a Puritan who immigrated to Massachusetts from England in 1635.

This is the third reunion in as many years, Colver said. The first two, in Culver, Ind., and Mystic, Conn., where Edward Colver eventually settled, drew only about 100 Colvers and 65 Culvers.

Colver said he expects better attendance at this gathering because "there are a lot of Culvers in California . . . (and) everyone likes to come to Southern California for summer vacation."

Pat Battle, Harry H. Culver's only child, said she is looking forward to her first Culver reunion.

Battle, a teacher who lives in Glendale, said she remembers her father, who died in 1946, as a determined and friendly man who cared very much about the people who moved to Culver City.

"He preferred people with children, because he definitely was family-oriented," she said.

He also enjoyed skating and formed a hockey team, the Harry Culver Club, that competed locally, she added.

"He was a wonderful skater," she said. "He was born in Nebraska and the lakes freeze over there. He was an excellent skater."

Her mother, Lillian, a former movie and television actress, will be honored at the reunion banquet, but she is probably too infirm to attend, Battle said.

Syd Kronenthal, director of the city Human Services Department, said he has already blocked off rooms at the city's hotels and reserved the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and park for the reunion.

While the reunion has not yet received the official endorsement of the City Council, Kronenthal said his department is putting together a proposal asking for support from the city.

Kronenthal, who said he met the city's founder when he was a GI stationed in Santa Ana during World War II, called the planned reunion "delightful" and said it would distinguish Culver City's 75th anniversary from similar observances in other cities.

Culver City was officially incorporated on Sept. 20, 1917, but Charles Colver said its creation actually occurred four years earlier when Culver bought the option on the land and announced plans for his city.

"I guess you could say the difference is between the conception and the birth," Colversaid. "We're celebrating the conception."

A native Californian, Colver said he was always aware that he was related to Harry H. Culver, but they had never met. He said he had not even met Battle until last year.

Colver, a research technician for the U. S. Forest Service, said he has researched the family tree and found that Harry was not the only Culver to make history.

Colver said his great-great-uncle Nathaniel was one of the founders of the University of Chicago in the 1870s and, early this century, a Culver was one of the pilots on the first air mail route from Washington, D.C., to New York City.

More recently, John Culver served from 1974 to 1980 as a U. S. Democratic senator from Iowa. Colver, a Republican, said Culver would be invited anyway.

Besides allowing family members to acquaint themselves with one another, Colver said he hopes that the reunion will result in a more complete picture of the family history.

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