Century Plaza Is Being Sold

Times Staff Writer

The Westin Century Plaza Hotel & Spa, a 1960s-era landmark that has played host to several U.S. presidents, is being sold for $293 million.

Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc., a real estate investment trust in San Clemente, is buying the 728-room hotel on Avenue of the Stars in Century City from Pivotal Group and plans to convert it to a Hyatt hotel.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 11, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 11, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 94 words Type of Material: Correction
Century Plaza Hotel -- An Aug. 26 article in the Business section about the pending sale of the Westin Century Plaza Hotel & Spa said the film studio 20th Century Fox bought the land on which the hotel now sits from cowboy movie star Tom Mix in 1928. In fact, 20th Century Fox did not exist as a company until 1935; filmmaker William Fox bought the approximately 200-acre site from Janns Investment Co. in the 1920s, according to Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. Mix did keep a small ranch on the property in the 1920s.

Sunstone also plans a $22.5-million renovation of the Century Plaza, which has the largest ballroom in the city. The sale is expected to close in October, said Robert Alter, the REIT’s chief executive.


Alter called the Century Plaza “one of the great hotels in Los Angeles.”

The arc-shaped, 19-story structure was built in 1966 as the centerpiece of Century City, an office, retail and residential development carved out of the former back lot of the 20th Century Fox film studio. The land previously belonged to silent-film cowboy star Tom Mix.

In the 1920s, Mix owned a horse ranch between what were then the country roads of Pico and Santa Monica boulevards and adjacent to the small community of Beverly Hills. Faced with increased production schedules and rising land costs, 20th Century Fox purchased Mix’s 200-acre ranch in 1928 and moved its operations from Western Avenue to the hinterlands of West Los Angeles.

In 1961, after Fox suffered a string of expensive flops, culminating in the box-office disaster “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the film studio sold about 180 acres to developer William Zeckendorf and Aluminum Co. of America. The new owners conceived Century City as “a city within a city” with the hotel as a magnet.

When the Century Plaza began operating, its doormen wore red beefeater costumes. The hotel’s ballrooms became the center for numerous high-profile events, including an opening charity gala emceed by Bob Hope, who with singer Andy Williams entertained the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Walt and Lillian Disney.

A year later, 1,300 club-swinging police clashed with about 10,000 Vietnam War demonstrators as President Lyndon Johnson spoke at a Democratic fund-raiser at the hotel. Johnson left without staying overnight.

In 1984, the complex added a 297-room hotel tower. President Reagan was one of its first guests and a penthouse was named after him.


Japanese investors sold the hotel complex to Pivotal Group in 1999 for $260 million. At the time, Pivotal spent about $70 million to upgrade the entire complex and re-branded the tower the St. Regis, a separate hotel.

Pivotal closed the St. Regis in January and sold it for $123 million to Related Cos. Related, a New York-based developer, plans to raze the St. Regis tower and build a condominium high-rise with 147 units with prices starting at $3.5 million to $4 million. No construction date has been set.

In June, a 14-month-long dispute between hotel workers union Unite Here Local 11 and a group of seven hotels, including the Westin Century Plaza, ended with a tentative contract. Room rates at the Century Plaza range from $189 to $299 per night.

The Westside hotel market remains the strongest in the state, with an average room rate of $179, up 10% from a year ago, said consultant Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group.

Several hoteliers in the area have been improving their properties and raising room rates. Hilton has nearly completed an $80-million renovation in Beverly Hills, and owners of the Sofitel Los Angeles announced this month that a $35-million upgrade at their hotel at Beverly and La Cienega boulevards was underway.

With its acquisition of the Century Plaza, Sunstone will own 61 hotels with 17,411 rooms, including the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach and the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel.

Shares of Sunstone closed down 18 cents Thursday to $25.