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For Architects, Century City in ’57 Set Standard for ‘Big’

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The architects at Welton Becket Associates had designed the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Capitol Records Tower and the Nile Hilton.

But never before had they received an assignment remotely comparable to the one handed them by 20th Century Fox in 1957--preparing a master plan for the most lucrative use of 176 acres of prime Westside real estate.

For the next three years, the ideas flew hot and heavy. At one point, the late Becket announced plans to name the main thoroughfare the Champs Elysees and to place a hotel (which would later become the Century Plaza) in the middle--sort of a 1,000-room Arc de Triomphe.

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The scheme at one point also included a series of lagoons, with gondolas on underwater tracks providing transportation between the hotel and a series of shops, restaurants and apartment houses.

There was also a short-lived concept from 20th Century Fox to place plaster sculptures of film stars along the main drag, which had by then been renamed Avenue of the Stars.

“It didn’t seem like the best idea,” recalls Becket design principal Louis M. Naidorf. “We figured some developer might get unlucky and find themselves with a building in front of Popeye or something.”

To stress space-age rather than show-biz glitz, the firm named two of the side streets Constellation Boulevard and Galaxy Way. A final change was the ratio of housing to office space. As originally conceived, Century City was to house 35,000 residents (there are now about 4,000) and 5 million square feet of office space (there is now twice that much).

One thing, however, never fluctuated--the then-innovative concept of placing a self-contained, mini-city on the prized plot.

Today, Becket’s nephew, McDonald Becket, says: “The basic spine of the master plan has been achieved. It’s completely mixed-use, even to the degree that there’s a hospital and a medical center there.” Becket is chairman emeritus of the Santa Monica-based firm, which has since changed its name to Ellerbee Becket Inc.

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“It was never going to be downtown Los Angeles, much less downtown New York or Chicago . . . it’s not as dense, not as noisy, not as congested, not as polluted as downtown. . . . But there isn’t the interaction of people and the animation that you get in a downtown,” Naidorf says.

“Yet there’s a lot more than there is in the suburbs. So there is that choice. So for the businesses and the people who want to strike that balance, they come here. The ones that want something else go elsewhere.”

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