Culver City, which celebrated its centennial last year, is undergoing a phenomenal renaissance fueled in part by the many tech and entertainment companies choosing to call the city home.
At the frontline of its booming changes is Filipino-American Thomas Aujero Small who on Monday, April 30, became Mayor of Culver City.
“We have a lot of cranes right now,” said Small laughing. “We’re like the westside version of what’s happening in Downtown Los Angeles.”
A successful architectural writer and consultant, Small worked on numerous projects around the world from the U.S., Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. These projects include the development of Azerbaijan’s White City in Baku, the design and modern services of China’s ancient water-town Zhouzhuang, and the restoration of the Japanese House and Gardens in Southern California’s Huntington Library among others.
His expertise eventually brought him to Culver City’s local government. Before becoming mayor, the Yale alumnus served as Culver City’s vice mayor after having been elected to city council in 2016. Before that, Small served as a Cultural Affairs Commissioner in the city.
Among his main goals for Culver City is improving its mobility and transportation.
“Our business community is very vibrant and successful, but that brings its own problems, particularly in regards to mobility,” he said.
Culver City is already the Southern California home to Sony Pictures, Amazon Studios, NPR West, Apple Music, and soon Apple Studios. With more developments coming, Small is thinking ahead and working on seeing how mobility will fit into the city’s overall blueprint for the next 25 years and counting.
“We have a lot of traffic congestions so in order to continue to have this growth and have it be sustainable, we need to figure out alternative forms of transportation to the car,” he added.
Small shared that he’s also excited to get started again on the city’s famous Jazz Bakery. Founded in 1922, the historic space has been dubbed “the most prestigious jazz space in Los Angeles” — a haven for many world-class musicians and locals alike.
Small said that they’re working on creating a new concert hall for them that will be designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry whose iconic and recognizable work includes the Gehry Tower in Hanover, the Dancing House in Prague, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and of course the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
And then there’s the 8.8-mile-long Ballona Creek which features a popular bike path that takes people from Culver City to the beach. Small said they’re looking to turn into a great linear lark that will go across the whole city, similar to the famous High Line park in New York City.
“It makes for a very exciting time,” said Small.
Small’s installation ceremony also so happened to take place on his Filipina mother’s 93rd birthday.
“She met a lot of people that night and was very much adored,” said Small who is half Filipino, half American.
At the afterparty, he said they had a giant cake for her and the whole city sang her happy birthday.
Being half Filipino, many are unaware of Small’s Filipino background which he said is very important to him and his family.
“As a child, we would go back to the Philippines in the summer — particularly where my mother is from which is Iloilo in the Visayas,” shared Small. “Those were very, very important and formative parts of my youth and I think a lot of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans here in the states have similar experiences.”
Referring to the number of other elected officials of Filipino background, he said that those significant trips and cultural experiences were something they all shared as having been impressionable.
“Whether it’s seeing our parents as immigrants, seeing ourselves as immigrants, or many of our family of our family members as having immigrated from the Philippines, it’s very much something that forms a key part of our identity — of my identity,” he added.
On his parents’ humble beginnings, Small shared of how his father, despite being poor as a child, was eventually able to send him to university. Small’s mother, was the first in her family to come from the Philippines.
“This moment of my having become mayor was really a wonderful experience for my mom, and for my whole family,” he said.
Commenting on today’s generation of Fil-Ams, Small said he was proud to see Fil-Ams working hard, reaching the peaks of their respective careers, and coming together.
“The thing that’s exciting to me about this generation of Filipino Americans is that we’ve kind of been able to rise to certain level in American society where we really have an opportunity to help each other and help our community,” he said. “It’s a wonderfully different opportunity.” (Rae Ann Varona / AJPress)