The Arc of a Los Angeles Hotel
Yamasaki's Century Plaza Faces Demolition.
By Elizabeth McNamara | Online Only | Sept. 21, 2009
The Century Plaza Hotel, one of the most significant landmarks in Century City in west Los Angeles, may soon be lost.
The 740-room hotel TIME magazine once hailed as a "modern Acropolis" was purchased for $366.5 million in May 2008 by real estate tycoon Michael Rosenfeld and his company, Next Century Associates. Rosenfeld declared the 1966 hotel "the jewel of my hometown" at the time of the acquisition; however, less than six months later, he modified his position.
"The world changed in October ," says Barbara Casey of Casey & Sayre, Inc. spokesperson for Next Century Associates. "We had the big meltdown, the big economic drop. The whole economics of the hotel changed. People haven't been traveling." Rosenfeld could not be reached for comment.
Next Century has proposed a plan to demolish the 19-story hotel to make way for 21st Century Plaza—a mixed-use development of office buildings, a 220-room hotel, and green space designed by Harry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed Partners.
In April, the National Trust added Century Plaza to its 2009 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and public figures such as actress Diane Keaton began speaking out about the importance of saving the historic structure.
Casey says that a greening plan implemented by Century City officials in May 2007 inspired Rosenfeld's expanded development. His new project foresees pedestrian-friendly walkways, green roofs and environmentally sensitive building materials as part of a $2 billion design.
Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says it "boggles the imagination" that the demolition of a fully functioning building that underwent a $36 million restoration fewer than two years ago could be touted as environmentally responsible. According to the Trust, even the most highly efficient building would take decades to conserve the same amount of energy exhausted in the demolition and construction processes of Century Plaza. "Because historic preservation inherently involves the conservation of energy and natural resources, it has always been the greenest form of development," Moe says.
Century City was designed in the 1960s by Welton Becket as the centerpiece of what was once 20th Century Fox's back lot. Becket envisioned "super-blocks" of office, retail and residential structures, soliciting the help of world-renowned architects to design the look and feel of the 176-acre development. Charles Luckman, I.M. Pei, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Albert C. Martin Associates were among those involved. But it was Minoru Yamasaki (later known for designing the World Trade Center Towers in New York) who was the architect behind the Century Plaza Hotel.
Yamasaki pioneered a new age of hotel design with Century Plaza, first known as Century Park Hotel. For one, the hotel's distinctive curved shape was the architect's effort to eliminate endless vistas along straight boulevards. He also placed the hotel's shops, ballrooms, restaurants and parking underground and out of sight—a revolutionary idea when the hotel was completed in 1966. The effect was impressive: The balconied hotel seems to ascend from the ground in a graceful, monumental arc.
In a statement released in April 2009, Michael Rosenfeld said "[Century Plaza] is not considered one of the more significant Minoru Yamasaki buildings and is not characteristic of his style." But Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, counters that "Yamasaki was a tough critic of his own work, and he himself selected the Century Plaza as one of his 30 best designs—out of more than 250 projects in his career—having featured the hotel in his 1979 monograph, A Life in Architecture."
"The great thing about [Century Plaza's] history is that it's so broad and cumulative, encompassing both architectural and cultural significance," says Dishman in an email. "It's been a popular destination for political leaders, particularly Nixon and Reagan."
Because Century Plaza is fewer than 50 years old, Rosenfeld and New Century claim it does not qualify for consideration under stringent criteria for historic designation. However, the Los Angeles Conservancy has received more than 200 letters of support to save the building since July, and councilmember Paul Koretz initiated the process to designate the hotel as a city landmark.
The environmental impact report for Rosenfeld's proposed structure has just begun and will take several months to complete. "The whole process could take two years, maybe more," Dishman says. "The hotel is its own architectural statement, but it's even better that it remains—as originally intended—as the centerpiece of Century City."
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