How to Save a Modern Landmark

Posted on: February 11th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Written by Brian Turner

Century Plaza Hotel

Today, Next Century Associates announced that it will scrap plans to demolish the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, one of America’s icons of modern architecture. The hotel was placed on our list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places last spring after the demolition plan was released, prompting a spirited advocacy campaign by the Los Angeles Conservancy, City Councilmember Paul Koretz, and the National Trust. Late last year the developer sought the preservation groups’ counsel on how it could make preservation of the hotel compatible with adjacent site development. Fundamental to the discussion was how to define and protect the key features that make Century Plaza unique.

Since it opened in 1966, Century Plaza Hotel has been the gathering place for U.S. Presidents and distinguished guests (in fact, just last week, the tabloids gasped when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appeared at the hotel together for the Director Guild of America Awards). But it is most notable for its architectural grandeur. Architect Minoru Yamasaki, who would go on to design New York’s World Trade Center Towers, pioneered a new age of hotel design at Century Plaza. The hotel’s distinctive and graceful curved shape eliminated the endless vistas along straight boulevards that had previously characterized Century City.

The new plan includes several notable protections for the hotel. First, a set of treatment protocols has been developed that contain design development methodologies for the character-defining features of the building. The protocols, developed by Marmol Radziner and Associates, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Conservancy and the National Trust, are based on best practices in preservation and will hopefully serve as a template for future preservation projects for modern buildings. Additionally, a preservation advisory group will be consulted throughout the planning process and be able to comment on new design and other issues as they emerge. Finally, the developer has agreed to prepare a historic evaluation for review by the Los Angeles City Cultural Heritage Commission, which will outline how the new site plan will respect the eligibility of the Century Plaza as a city landmark. That report, as well as a draft Environmental Impact Statement, is expected this spring.

Most importantly, saving Century Plaza represents an exciting victory for defenders of modernist architecture around the world. The National Trust’s  Modernism + Recent Past Program, housed in the Western Office in San Francisco, has led the charge to defend our shared modern heritage, challenging us to change how we view, steward, and preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of the recent past.

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Brian Turner is the regional attorney at the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

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