Skip to content

A Los Angeles Primer: Century City

“We’re gonna live in Century City,” sings Tom Petty on his and the Heartbreakers’ 1979 song named after the place. “Go ahead and give in — Century City. Like modern men and modern girls, we’re gonna live in the modern world.” At that time, Century City, 176 acres built up against Westwood and Beverly Hills, may still have looked like a viable concept of the future. Even as recently as 2004, it provided both setting and title for a short-lived CBS science-fiction legal drama set in then then-far-flung year of 2030. Now, at least in my experience, it serves primarily as a navigational aid: if you can see downtown, if you can see the mountains, and if you can see the thirty- and forty-story towers of Century City’s narrow skyline, you can roughly triangulate your location in Los Angeles. Handy though that may sound, I suspect the district’s builders, working in the late fifties and early sixties with a piece of the former 20th Century Fox backlot, had — as that era’s builders often did — something grander in mind.

“Nothing dates faster than people’s fantasies about the future,” said art critic Robert Hughes, standing in Brasília, in an episode of “The Shock of the New”, his television series on modernism. “This is what you get when perfectly decent, intelligent, and talented men start thinking in terms of space rather than place, and single rather than multiple meanings. It’s what you get when you design for political aspirations rather than real human needs. You get miles of jerry-built platonic nowhere infested with Volkswagens.” Each and every one of my trips past Century City — and before now, all of them took me past it, since I never had a legitimate reason to enter — got me thinking about Brazil’s highway-wrapped, monument-studded capital, planned and built whole in the late fifties, officially inaugurated in 1960. Just three years later, Century City’s first building would open. Later that decade, the Century Plaza Hotel, designed by World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki, would have its ribbon cut; his West Coast twin towers of the Century Plaza would open in 1975.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *