LOS ANGELES – One of the great modern hotels, The Century Plaza, is potentially going to be demolished. I say potentially because the owner, developer Michael Rosenfeld, is only applying for permission to tear it down for another real estate development.
The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza is one of those iconic hotels, embodying the spirit of California and the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, he of the World Trade Center, and opened in 1996, it was the site of so many great events.
Above that, it is a very solid building, and a place that is pretty universally appreciated.
A bit from the National Trust’s press release:
The hotel, which fueled the development of Century City and forged its reputation as a world-class destination, has been a gathering place for celebrities, politicians and world dignitaries since its opening day. Once nicknamed the “West Coast White House,” the Century Plaza was a favorite of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nixon hosted a celebration for the Apollo 11 astronauts here, while Reagan presided over two presidential victory celebrations in the hotel’s vast ballroom and conducted much of his business in the hotel’s Presidential Suite while in California.
Actress Diane Keaton is fighting to save the hotel, and has a good chance at saving this one. Here are the reasons why it can be saved:
- The economy stinks and while some in the city administration foolishly think that demolishing the hotel will help the city, they are wrong. When hotels are demolished, even when replaced, every hotel room that heretofore had been producing MASSIVE amounts of bed and other taxes is gone. Hotels are some of the most taxed amenities in every city, and three years of missed revenue, minimum, will hurt tourism and prepared food taxes. Meanwhile, the attention the hotel gets in upcoming years with the preservation battle will bring attention and visitors to the hotel now. Is Rosenfeld doing a New Coke strategy on us?
- It’s connected with conservatives. People think that that conservatives don’t like historic preservation, but the whole definition of conservatives is to conserve things, and they won’t let something connected to Reagan go that easily. Who do you think saved all the historical monuments and houses over the years? Liberals involved in the effort appreciate the history too, irrespective of party. At the Century Plaza, the Presidential Suite is a real presidential suite, not a pretend one. While conservatives aren’t as hip on Dick, Ron is another story. The hotel helps tell the story of Reagan in California.
- California is going to be in the doldrums for awhile. Who knows how long, but things seem so much worse there than the rest of the country, and the high taxes are a challenge to small business. There is a great saying, namely that “poverty is the best preserver.” Charleston and Savannah were preserved through poverty, and so shall the Century Plaza.
- The National Trust is in battle mode. Only recently has the National Trust been involved in saving modern structures, but they now have a smart and tenacious point person on modernism, Chris Madrid French. Her appointment, part of the Trust’s west coast office, gives full-time national support to saving significant modern structures. The effort is backed by the Henry Luce Foundation. Don’t do battle with Luce!
- Minoru Yamaski’s buildings are now precious and connect us to something we lost in New York on that day. Yamasaki’s surviving buildings connect us directly to the optimism that the country felt when the hotel was constructed. In Richmond, Virginia, I would look often at the Federal Reserve, designed by Yamasaki, and think how nice it is to look at his buildings in the wake of September 11. Preservationists fought to save the Vesey Street Staircase of the World Trade Center. They did save it, but the state of New York missed the point when they moved them. (What was interesting about them was that they needed to be preserved in place.) History will judge our generation poorly if we lose this.
- Destroying an iconic hotel confuses travelers. When people come to your city every other year or intermittently, they look for certain brands and hotel names. When the hotel is lost, they get confused. The Century Plaza has a “brand” that is unique to itself, and separate from the Hyatt brand. That would be lost in the demolition.
- The developer doesn’t get it. Yet. One reason why people own hotels, other than to make money, is to be connected to famous people and influential events, and invite them to his hotel. If the hotel is demolished, that allure is lost. No one cares about coming to a new hotel. It takes time to build the history. Being owner of the hotel, and the West Coast White House, is power. Having Hollywood love you for saving something is power. The power at The Century Plaza comes from the history.
- Hyatt’s brand is dependent on architecturally significant, minimalist modern hotels. Think Portman’s Hyatt in Atlanta. Hyatt customers are not used to fake Italian lobbies, or any other of the decorating schemes offered up in Marriotts. The Pritzker legacy still lives, and they need The Century Plaza for their brand.
- That pool. The pool is amazing.
- The minimalist design is actually easier to keep fresh looking than an ornate hotel. A good hotel needs what hoteliers call a “scrape” every few years. I think in a decent hotel lobby, you need new carpeting every TWO years. So having a simple, classic design brings attention to those changes of fabrics, carpets and interiors. Here in Sarasota, the modern-style Hyatt has a Lilly Pulitzer interior, just added. In two years when other colors are in fashion, it can change again. But the strong bones of the hotel survive.
About the author: Writer and editor Garland Pollard is a former board-member of Historic Richmond Foundation in Richmond, Virginia and has led numerous successful preservation efforts in Richmond.