Friday, April 24, 2009

Demolishing an Angel

Today's Lost L.A. article (linked above) in the L.A. Times by Sam Watters was a shocker, especially for this native angeleno. Now being run by Hyatt, the Century Plaza Hotel is facing demolition in a city that has (unfortunately) a reputation for demolishing its landmarks. Designed by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki (yes, the very same person who designed the World Trade Center), it has been the cornerstone of the city within a city, Century City, since the mid-60's.

Though it wasn't the first building to be built in Century City, it soon became anchor for businesses and buildings to grow around, and for visitors (either in- or out-of-towners) to congregate within. And you could say, its birth and livelihood has been tied to the local movie industry. In fact, a case can be made that it came into being because of certain infamous movie flops (cough... Cleopatra). If 20th Century Fox studio, which borders CC, hadn't suffered losses from a string of unsuccessful movies, they may not have had to sell off 180 acres from its backlot to developers by 1961.

It's been the host to several past U.S. Presidents and foreign dignitaries who came to Los Angeles. It's been one of this city's VIP destinations for decades now. Directly across the street from this grand hotel there used to sit the ABC Entertainment Center--sadly, another recent victim of demolition. Whether you were a fan of movies or the stage, for many it was the place you'd go to enjoy a night out on westside. Many of the big movie releases were judged to be blockbusters by how long ticket-holder lines wrapped outside of the theater (they were clearly visible to anyone driving by on the main drag, Avenue of the Stars). And if you were a stage fan, the former Shubert Theatre in the same complex, was where you'd catch some of the biggest plays to make it out west. It's where I saw A Chorus Line, Cats, and Beauty and the Beast, among others.

As you can see, the place has left an impression. If you look at the second image of the venerable hotel of this post, you'll spot another famous location in the background, two buildings over. The Fox Plaza is well known to those who've seen either Die Hard, Speed, or Fight Club. I can happily recall going to the movies one weekend in Century City, ages ago with an old girlfriend who shall remain nameless (hey, give me credit for knowing how to prevent parts of my anatomy from going missing), and standing on the sidewalk while traffic was held up for one of the better action sequences filmed in our area. I speak of the spectacular night-time rotary action scene where the two FBI agents ascent up (in Huey's) to the top of the Nakatomi Plaza. Man, that was a blast to watch up close.

But, all of that fun and all of those memories don't happen if the Century Plaza Hotel didn't get built by a great architect. Luckily for the city, and those that either live or visit here, it was. Now it seems, developers are asking us to forget for their own profit. Grand structures have memory--they are a repository for them. The hotel emblematized a region and an design ideal. Since I don't Twitter (yet), I'm spreading the word the only way I have--through this blog. As well, I sincerely hope the L.A. Conservancy, which has placed this hotel on its list of endangered buildings, can save this wonderful piece of romanticized modernism. And reporter Watters, says it best:

"In December, a press release quoted Rosenfeld as saying, "The opportunity to redefine an urban center in one of the great international cities comes along once in a lifetime." What also comes along once in a lifetime is the chance to sacrifice profit to preservation. International cities become great by preserving their cultural achievements. They refurbish, recycle and expand noted buildings, creating unique urban experiences that define for the world what makes Paris Paris and Prague Prague. Great cities do not trash the past. They use it to enrich the future."

"The hotel cannot defend itself, so call the city now. If New York can keep its historic Plaza Hotel, why can't we keep ours?"
Well said, Sam. Well said.


  1. I hope the building can be saved. I've not been to LA, but the photos of the hotel remind me of another famous hotel I have seen, one in Miami called the Fontainebleu, built in 1954.

  2. And I forgot to add, I admire the title of your post. Nicely done.

  3. As soon as I looked it up, I recognized it. Any Bond fan would. It was featured in Goldfinger. Some great architecture. I hope both hotels remain standing for a long time.

    And thanks, Corey. I'd knew you'd get the RC reference ;-).

  4. With a title like that, how could I not read the post? I hope they save the hotel. I hate to see grand old places give way to tawdry malls and featureless skyscrapers.