Landscapes of the Month: Maintaining a Historic Hollywood Studio - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Maintaining a Historic Hollywood Studio

Photo: Ray Gallardo

Among the movie studios of Culver City, California, you’ll find a historic place known as the Culver Studios. Over the years, several popular movies have been produced here, including Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, and E.T. With so much history on this site, the owners desired to have a landscape that matches the iconic buildings of this property and helps preserve the studio’s legacy.

Julissa Phillips, a production manager for LandCare, and her team maintain this unique landscape with lush green lawns, hedges, walkways, and roses. For Phillips and her team, winning a Gold Award in the 2023 Award of Excellence is satisfying.

Photo: Ray Gallardo

“It feels good, and I mostly give credit to Rodolfo and Valentin, who are working on site each day,” Phillips says. “We’re proud because it’s a unique property, and we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. We’ve been doing our best to maintain the original look, and the owners appreciate it.”

In addition to Culver Studios, the property is home to Amazon Studios, which features a modern building with xeriscaping. LandCare is responsible for maintaining both these landscapes, which takes a lot of finesse with the differing needs of each site.

“Since Amazon became more involved on the property, they have more control of the historical parts of Culver Studios too, so we also have to adhere to their day-to-day requests,” Phillips says.

Noise is another concern on the property, as high-profile guests often visit, so LandCare starts work early in the morning to ensure noise won’t be a problem during filming. Going a step further, they’ve transitioned from gas-powered equipment to electric, which has made a difference as well.

Photo: Ray Gallardo

“It’s better for us because we store our equipment underneath the mansion, and we can’t have any gas-powered equipment in that area, so we used to store everything offsite,” Phillips says. “Now that we have the electrical equipment, we can charge our things underneath the building. And when the team arrives onsite, the equipment is readily available.”

LandCare has two team members who work full-time on this property, allowing them to become familiar with the owner’s desires and the landscape.

With the restrictions on water use, LandCare works to be efficient as they manage a sprinkler system at the Culver Studios while using drip irrigation at Amazon Studios. One thing they’ve done to conserve water is to install reservoirs on both sites that collect rainwater to be used for irrigation.

“The property has a rain-capturing system that will capture rainwater, store it, and then draw from that system before it goes back to using potable water,” Phillips adds.

With the historical nature of Culver Studios, trimming is a continuous task, especially for the 100-year-old cedar trees in front of the main building. However, the owners of Culver Studios have become more open to a natural look in recent years.

Photo: Ray Gallardo

“Around the mansion area, they have a lot of boxwood and ligustrum,” Phillips says. “We used to always box the shrubs and have them nicely manicured. But they wanted a more natural look ever since Amazon came in. So we can go in there and do a touch-up with our loppers if needed. Before, it was like, how will we do this?”

Maintaining the turf can be challenging with the high volume of events onsite.

“Amazon will have a lot of company events with tents, their turf gets destroyed, and then we have to go back out there and try to get it looking as nice as possible as quickly as possible,” Phillips says.

To speed up the healing process for the turf, they’ve begun using Rhizomatous tall fescue.

“They have rhizomes going underneath, so it fills in those bare spots after a while if you fertilize and take care of the grass really well after the events,” she says.

They also keep the turf slightly taller in these areas to manage the additional stress.

A new security system requires the team to monitor for branches and leaves that could interfere with the sensors. One example is the ivy walls, which are checked daily to ensure nothing is blocking the sensors.

Areas of white flowers are mixed into the existing plantings to match the buildings and provide contrast to the dark green landscape. The white blooms create an opportunity for new plants and a fresh look, while dark green preserves the property’s original design. Azaleas and Iceberg roses are commonly used to add color and texture. An underground parking structure is directly beneath the studio, which restricts the plant pallet in certain areas to shallow-rooted plants, like jasmine.

Photo: Ray Gallardo

An interesting feature of the property is the transition zone between the lush green Culver Studios and the modern xeriscape at Amazon Studios. To make this area cohesive, various short and tall plants are used.

“We have a mixture of California natives, like ferns, sage, and carex in that zone, along with aloe trees and cactus,” Phillips says.

The landscape around Amazon Studios is mainly succulents but includes oak, sycamore, and grasses to add more height while remaining drought tolerant.

LandCare has maintained this property for over a decade, leading to a great partnership with the owners.

“The partnership is a nice two-way street, and we have two outstanding guys who maintain this historic studio,” Phillips says.“Rodolfo understands their expectations and works with Valentin and the customer to deliver on them. And it’s a unique experience for us since Culver Studios is a cool, old part of the Hollywood scene, and you don’t come across those properties often.”

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your projects when entries open on Feb. 5, 2024.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a freelancer for NALP.