Saving Century Plaza Hotel takes a whole village


When the space-age planned community of Century City displaced much of 20th Century Fox’s backlot in the 1960s, the centerpiece of the office, retail and residential complex was an elegantly curved luxury hotel designed by a rising architect named Minoru Yamasaki.

Now, plans to level the Century Plaza and erect two 50-story mixed-use towers have galvanized neighborhood groups and preservationists, whose determination to rescue the hotel has led to quiet negotiations with its owners.

“I’m optimistic at the end of the day that we can work together with everyone to save the hotel and at the same time find some things to do to make that property more profitable for the owners,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents Century City and supports preserving the hotel.


Real estate investor Michael Rosenfeld’s Next Century Associates revealed in June 2008 that it had bought the hotel for $366.5 million, or about $500,000 per room. Rosenfeld called the purchase a “rare opportunity to buy a jewel in my hometown.”

But in December, amid the bruising economic downturn, Rosenfeld changed direction and said he planned to demolish the 19-story hotel -- now known as the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza -- and replace it with two 600-foot towers that would feature condos, shops and a boutique hotel.

Preservationists moved quickly. The Los Angeles Conservancy successfully lobbied to have the structure named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of America’s 11 most endangered historic places. The trust said the listing demonstrated that preserving “recent past and modern buildings” was as important as saving architecture from the Victorian period or Art Deco era.

Actress Diane Keaton, a trustee of the National Trust, said she rued the loss of the Ambassador Hotel and would work hard to save the Century Plaza. Demolition of the Ambassador, a grand Los Angeles hotel that opened in 1921, was completed in early 2006.

Since opening in 1966 on Avenue of the Stars, the 726-room Century Plaza has welcomed U.S. presidents, rock stars and business moguls and has been the location for innumerable galas and social functions. In 1967 during the Vietnam War, it was the site of a clash between thousands of antiwar protesters and police that injured dozens, foreshadowing the looming national upheaval.

The place thus has significance beyond its architecture, proponents say. But its design is definitely eye-catching. In the Century Plaza, Yamasaki created a building emblematic of his desire to inspire through shape.

“The hotel is one of Yamasaki’s most notable works,” said Mike Buhler, the conservancy’s director of advocacy.

Century Plaza construction began in 1964, with Alcoa supplying its new gold-anodized aluminum to allow for maximum glass and light. To eliminate the gloomy straight halls of early hotels, Yamasaki swept the Century Plaza in a broad arc across the hilltop at the development’s center. He later gained fame for designing New York’s World Trade Center towers and Century City’s twin Century Plaza Towers.

In July, Koretz proposed that the City Council recommend the hotel be designated as a city historic-cultural monument, with the understanding that the listing would temporarily forestall demolition or substantial alterations.

The City Council has repeatedly postponed a vote on the motion, primarily because talks among the hotel owners, the conservancy and homeowners groups have shown signs of progress, Koretz said.

One suggestion was that the developers expand the size of and cut the number of rooms, perhaps converting some into condos. Fewer hotel rooms would free up development “credits” that would make it feasible to build something else on the 5.75-acre site.

“It looks like you could plop a second Century Plaza right behind the first,” Koretz said.

Mark Armbruster, an attorney for Rosenfeld, would say only that “the developer is exploring all possible options.”

Jan Reichmann, president of the Comstock Hills Homeowners Assn., just north of Century City, said she was encouraged. Like other residents, she is concerned about traffic, density and the strain the development would put on streets, schools and emergency services.

“It’s kind of looking like we may be able to keep the building,” she said. She added that she and others seeking to preserve the hotel understand that “the economic feasibility of keeping the building is what the owner cares about.”

“He wants to make money,” she said.

Koretz too expressed cautious optimism. “I think they recognize,” he said, “the building will be torn down over my dead body.”