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Glittering high-rises and splashing fountains mark the heart of Century City, home to more than 1,500 upscale residences and 2,500 businesses. It was developed as a master- planned community in the early 1960s, carved from the Twentieth Century Fox back lot, where Shirley Temple pouted and the movie "Peyton Place" was filmed.

Epic beginning

In the late 1950s, Twentieth Century Fox had fallen on hard times. A string of expensive flops had depleted its finances. "Cleopatra," an epic film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was the last straw, costing about $40 million to produce.

The studio's then-president and chairman of the board, Spyros P. Skouras, desperate for cash, called his favorite niece's husband for ideas. Edmond Herrscher suggested a solution, literally in the studio's backyard. By selling off a portion of its back lot, the studio could collect much needed capital.

With 176 acres to spare on the northern side, Fox sold the area to developer William Zeckendorf, who dubbed the project "an oasis in the midst of a great city." Bordering Beverly Hills on the east and Westwood to the west, Century City stretches between Santa Monica and Pico boulevards, about five miles from the Santa Monica Pier.

It looks today like a small-scale Manhattan and covers about 1 square mile of the Westside with more than 10 million square feet of office space and half a dozen condominium communities.

Drawing card

The architecture firm Welton Beckett & Associates was hired to design Century City as a self-contained, mixed-use mini-city. Created as "a city of the future," streets were named Constellation Boulevard, Galaxy Way and Empyrean Way. (Empyrean means "highest heaven.")

Housing consists largely of high-security condominiums and townhomes. Streets are kept immaculate and landscaped through the combined funding of homeowner dues and Chamber of Commerce members. Brilliantly colored flowerbeds are replanted frequently, and waterfalls are professionally maintained.

Parking, or even stopping, on any of the streets is prohibited. With private parking only, Century City appeals to businesses seeking security. Well over a dozen banks and investment companies cater to the residents, whose median income exceeds $74,000 annually.

Insider's view

"Living in Park Place is like living in a resort," said longtime condominium resident Bess Hockman.

Park Place is one of the six condominium communities in Century City. All are within walking distance of two dozen restaurants, several spas and a 150-store shopping center. A mile east is famed Rodeo Drive.

Hot spots

Just above Constellation Boulevard, Westfield Shoppingtown Century City is a popular destination, featuring Macy's, Bloomingdale's and about 150 other retailers. The center is home to a 14-screen AMC movie theater and more than 20 dining and snack choices.

There are a number of luxury hotels along Avenue of the Stars. Several hotels and buildings include VIP amenities, such as private helicopter pads and private elevator entry, appealing to visiting dignitaries and politicians. For years, President Reagan kept a private office in Century City.

Commercial space

The recently completed $150-million MGM tower, clad in granite and glass, rises 35 floors above Constellation Boulevard and Century Park West. Landmarks include the Century Plaza Towers, designed by renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki, and Fox Tower, showcased in the movie "Die Hard."

On the market

About 17 units were for sale at the beginning of the year in Century City. On Century Park East, an 815-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit was available on the sixth floor for $379,000. A pool and other amenities are included, but as a condominium conversion, the communal laundry room is a drawback, making it the least expensive unit in the area.

A unit in Century Woods topped the listings at $4.25 million. The residence, with four bedrooms, six bathrooms and five fireplaces, includes an elevator. Tennis courts and clubhouse, along with guards and gated security, add monthly homeowner dues of about $1,800 for the unit.

Overall, sales are brisk, with units selling in about 30 days.

Good news, bad news

"We're still growing and improving," said Jim Lynch, president and chief executive of the Century City Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, Century City Hospital, leased by Tenet Healthcare Corp., has announced its departure. The 186-bed facility, at Olympic Boulevard and Century Park East, also contains a 500-plus-physician facility and 24-hour emergency room. Unless another health-care group steps in, the hospital may close its doors when the lease expires in December, leaving Century City without a neighborhood hospital.

Report card

Century City is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Westwood Elementary students scored 877 on the 2003 Academic Performance Index. Scores for Emerson Junior High were 638, with Hamilton High scoring 636 out of a possible 1,000.

Historical values Resales:

Year...Median Price 1995...$285,000

2000...$399,500

2001...$455,000

2002...$491,250

2003*...$575,000

*through November


Sources: Dataquick Information Systems; Jim Lynch, Century City Chamber of Commerce, http://www.centurycitycc.com ; Westfield Shoppingtown Century City, http://www.westfield.com ; The Multiple Listing Service, http://www.themls.com ; L.A. Unified School District, http://www.lausd.k12.us ; U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.factfinder.census.gov ; Bess Hockman, Coldwell Banker.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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