Urban Fold

Preserving A Modernist Hotel in LA

A debate over preserving the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City is a question of not just a building, but the historic preservation of an entire model of planning, says Christopher Hawthorne.

"In Los Angeles, (...) more than a few modernist buildings are part of their neighborhood's original architectural fabric. Nowhere is this more true than in the heart of Century City, a landscape of crisp, well-tailored office blocks and broad avenues laid out by Welton Becket and a talented group of collaborators in the early 1960s. The new district didn't replace a tight-knit group of Victorians or apartment houses. It rose on 176 acres that had been part of 20th Century Fox's sprawling back lot.

In that sense, the Century Plaza, a 19-story, 726-room hotel that traces a graceful arc along Avenue of the Stars, has a connection to place, context and planning history rare among buildings of its relatively young age. In its architecture as well as the way it takes advantage of the Century City plan, it is an unusually effective example of the attitude -- more optimistic than utopian, more Camelot than Stanley Kubrick -- that marked so much 1960s development in Los Angeles."

Full Story: Century Plaza as L.A. statement




I worked in one of the towers - for Gensler - about 18 years ago, and while I would miss a small part of my past, I have to say, "A white travertine marble plaza in Southern California?!" I'm not sure how greened the place is now, but that's what it was when I was there. That's what monumental, modernist, commercial architecture (starchitecture?) gets you. One absolutely could not survive without sunglasses out there. Even so, I was always half snow-blind when I came back inside after lunch - everything was green.

Sorry, but this "place" was only ever an overbearing office park, with high-style, yet plain, elements of a period. The point of historic preservation is not to turn every city into a museum of every half-baked architectural fad, especially when it's just so-o-o much space that isn't commercially viable. Push the whole thing down and build a real neighborhood, I say.

History as a Pretext

This debate is really about traffic and self-interest, with historic preservation as a pretext for preserving a building that locals would rather have than a denser mixed-use project.

Historic preservation is nice, but it's a luxury. LA (and particularly Century City if I'm not mistaken) needs housing badly and it needs dense mixed-use projects that open up the possibility of alternative transportation badly.

Luxury versus necessity.

Maybe the hotel could be converted to housing instead of being torn down. Maybe the ground floor could be re-designed as street-engaging retail.

There are always more than two options.

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