URBAN SUBURBAN : Welcome to Century City's World of Skyscrapers and Walkways

British architectural historian Reyner Banham considers Los Angeles to be the only truly American city. New York and Chicago, like traditional European cities, contain dominant central urban cores. But Los Angeles has many "downtowns," including Warner Center, Hollywood, Westwood, Century City and downtown L.A. Many urbanists call Los Angeles the archetypal polycentric city.

The following walking tour explores Century City, one of Los Angeles' most successful urban centers. While many critics may view this high-rise district as monotonous in its massive scale and modern architecture, many others see Century City as a remarkably safe, surprisingly clean, refreshingly open, and beautifully designed center of skyscrapers and walkways.

This walk explores the massive corporate office towers that serve 50,000 workaday white-collar workers and corporate executives. The route takes you into the thoroughly modern complex of offices, hotels, shops, restaurants, theaters and condos. Finally, the walk explores the neighboring Beverly Hills streets bordering Century City, including Roxbury Park and Beverly Hills High School.

To get to Century City, take the 405 Freeway and exit east on Santa Monica Boulevard. Unfortunately, there is no on-street parking in the district. Three hours of free parking are offered at the newly redesigned Century City Shopping Center, with its pastel-colored tiles, landscaped seating areas and giant latticed gazebos or pavilions. Rather than enclosing its open-air lanes, the new design provides protection under its soaring gazebos, while still reaffirming the Southern Californian passion for air, sunlight and views, making this center one of the region's most inviting.

At the end of the steps, walk straight ahead, past Brooks Brothers and other fashionable shops, to the latticed gazebo at Escalator 4 (Court 4). From here you can observe the overall redesign scheme with its decorative signs, tiled floors and concrete planters.

From Court 4, turn left and walk past Godivas, to Court 3, above which stands the mall's largest pavilion. Turn right to the mall's newest addition: the AMC Century 14 cinema complex with its 14 theaters and the Festival Marketplace.

Together, these new structures comprise a $25-million expansion, intended to bring nighttime business to the mall. The Festival Marketplace, designed by Benjamin Thompson & Associates, will eventually feature five restaurants and an "international food hall" with produce stands, gourmet markets and ethnic foods. By this summer, the new facility should be fully leased and lively with crowds.

Colorful tiles, hand-painted murals, outdoor patio seating and potted plants create an inviting setting around the Marketplace.

Even a new Brentano's, now owned by Waldenbooks, has opened below the theaters, attracting the Westside literati.

Walk north to Yin Yang, a Chinese dim sum cafe, and then turn right through the passageway into the open courtyard. From here you can see the hangar-like interior of the Marketplace, with its varnished wood ceiling and clerestory windows.

Westside Landmark

Nearby is the Stage Deli. The original Stage Deli opened in 1937 on Seventh Street in New York City; its L.A. offshoot has instantly become a Westside landmark since its opening here in November. Along one wall, a colorful mural depicts the New York deli.

Walk into the Marketplace, past the deli displays and out the other end through the Broadway exit.

Walk north past Escalator 2; suddenly the busy shops give way to vast open plazas and monumental slabs of high rises. The planners have embraced the grand schemes of the "Radiant City" envisioned by Swiss urban planner Le Corbusier: massive vertical towers surrounded by parklike plazas overshadow pedestrian paths and broad boulevards. While not encompassing all of Le Corbusier's designs, Century City nonetheless portrays the sharpest case study in Los Angeles of the urban visionary's ideal new city.

Walk to the center of the gracefully arching footbridge and study the dramatic view up Avenue of the Stars. This urbanscape may leave many people cold; some critics see Century City as sterile and antiseptic, as well as alienating with its enormous scale. Others, however, admire its sculptural appearance--uncluttered and orderly, free from chaotic signs, noise and grime.

Twin Towers

Continue walking north over the bridge, following the path ahead. At Century Park East, turn right, passing the twin Watts Plaza Towers.

Cross Constellation and follow the sidewalk to the right into the wind-swept plaza between the massive triangular towers. Note the magnificent design of Fox Plaza Tower before you, the urban core's newest high rise. Public art, potted plants and benches grace the plaza. The landmark twin Century Plaza Towers, rising 44 stories each, were designed by Minoru Yamasaki and built between 1969 and 1975. Flanked by two rectangular, five-story complexes known as the ABC Entertainment Center, this circular plaza with its giant triangular towers reveals a play with massive geometric shapes.

Walk across the white travertine marble plaza toward the elliptical Century Plaza Hotel, passing the neon-edged pedestrian ramps that lead to the Shubert Theatre and the Plitt Cineplex above. The Plaza Promenade with its shops and cafes leads beneath the Avenue of the Stars to the Century Plaza Hotel.

From the open plaza fronting the hotel, walk up the stairs to the street. A huge fountain splashes in the center of the boulevard, creating a dramatic foreground to the landmark Century City Towers. Note the gentle curve of the Century Plaza Hotel, designed in 1966 by Minoru Yamasaki with landscape architect Robert Herrick. Walk east on Avenue of the Stars, noting the new Century Hotel Tower with its grand porte-cochere.

Cross the street to the dramatic Fox Plaza Tower. Designed by Pereira & Associates and opened last year, the new high rise soars with its series of angled setbacks and jagged lines.

A Marriott Hotel is now under construction next to the Fox Plaza Tower. Scheduled for completion this summer, the 375-room hotel's stepped design is by Gruen Associates.

Movie Studio Backlots

Continue walking east. Behind the trees to the south you can catch glimpses of the remaining backlots of 20th Century Fox Studios, including the streetscape of New York's 14th Street from "Hello Dolly."

At Pico Boulevard, turn left. Cross Century Park East and immediately enter the cul-de-sac. Walk uphill, veering to the right of the "V" intersection onto Hillgreen Drive.

You are now in Beverly Hills. Its winding, tree-lined streets and cozy houses are in marked contrast to Century City's monolithic designs. Turn right on Hillgreen Place, left on Beverly Green Drive and left on Roxbury.

On one side of Roxbury Drive is Roxbury Park. Multi-unit apartment and condo buildings--many in the Spanish Colonial Revival style--face the newly relandscaped park. One house stands out, painted Miami-pink with daiquiri-blue tiles. This post-modern tribute is crowned with an elaborately designed penthouse, containing an atrium and mixed materials from corrugated aluminum sheets to black terrazzo, green-tinted glass and colorful tiles.

Cross Roxbury Drive and turn left into Roxbury Park at the Memorial Clubhouse. Magnificent vistas of Century City's towers etch the park's horizons. Follow the path alongside the boccie lawn courts, past the baseball diamond and soccer field, and around the putting green to Olympic Boulevard.

Carefully cross Olympic Boulevard at Spaulding Street and follow to Moreno Drive. Walk along this quiet lane past Beverly Hills High School with its elliptical-faced, Streamline Moderne swimming-pool building and its hillside, Spanish-themed main campus.

Continue walking on Moreno Drive to Santa Monica Boulevard, turn left, and walk back to the Century City Shopping Center, where you can reward yourself with lunch or dinner.

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