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URBAN SUBURBAN : Welcome to Century City's World of Skyscrapers and Walkways

January 30, 1988|ROBERT JOHN PIERSON

British architectural historian Reyner Banham considers Los Angeles to be the only truly American city. New York and Chicago, like traditional European cities, contain dominant central urban cores. But Los Angeles has many "downtowns," including Warner Center, Hollywood, Westwood, Century City and downtown L.A. Many urbanists call Los Angeles the archetypal polycentric city.

The following walking tour explores Century City, one of Los Angeles' most successful urban centers. While many critics may view this high-rise district as monotonous in its massive scale and modern architecture, many others see Century City as a remarkably safe, surprisingly clean, refreshingly open, and beautifully designed center of skyscrapers and walkways.

This walk explores the massive corporate office towers that serve 50,000 workaday white-collar workers and corporate executives. The route takes you into the thoroughly modern complex of offices, hotels, shops, restaurants, theaters and condos. Finally, the walk explores the neighboring Beverly Hills streets bordering Century City, including Roxbury Park and Beverly Hills High School.

To get to Century City, take the 405 Freeway and exit east on Santa Monica Boulevard. Unfortunately, there is no on-street parking in the district. Three hours of free parking are offered at the newly redesigned Century City Shopping Center, with its pastel-colored tiles, landscaped seating areas and giant latticed gazebos or pavilions. Rather than enclosing its open-air lanes, the new design provides protection under its soaring gazebos, while still reaffirming the Southern Californian passion for air, sunlight and views, making this center one of the region's most inviting.

At the end of the steps, walk straight ahead, past Brooks Brothers and other fashionable shops, to the latticed gazebo at Escalator 4 (Court 4). From here you can observe the overall redesign scheme with its decorative signs, tiled floors and concrete planters.

From Court 4, turn left and walk past Godivas, to Court 3, above which stands the mall's largest pavilion. Turn right to the mall's newest addition: the AMC Century 14 cinema complex with its 14 theaters and the Festival Marketplace.

Together, these new structures comprise a $25-million expansion, intended to bring nighttime business to the mall. The Festival Marketplace, designed by Benjamin Thompson & Associates, will eventually feature five restaurants and an "international food hall" with produce stands, gourmet markets and ethnic foods. By this summer, the new facility should be fully leased and lively with crowds.

Colorful tiles, hand-painted murals, outdoor patio seating and potted plants create an inviting setting around the Marketplace.

Even a new Brentano's, now owned by Waldenbooks, has opened below the theaters, attracting the Westside literati.

Walk north to Yin Yang, a Chinese dim sum cafe, and then turn right through the passageway into the open courtyard. From here you can see the hangar-like interior of the Marketplace, with its varnished wood ceiling and clerestory windows.

Westside Landmark

Nearby is the Stage Deli. The original Stage Deli opened in 1937 on Seventh Street in New York City; its L.A. offshoot has instantly become a Westside landmark since its opening here in November. Along one wall, a colorful mural depicts the New York deli.

Walk into the Marketplace, past the deli displays and out the other end through the Broadway exit.

Walk north past Escalator 2; suddenly the busy shops give way to vast open plazas and monumental slabs of high rises. The planners have embraced the grand schemes of the "Radiant City" envisioned by Swiss urban planner Le Corbusier: massive vertical towers surrounded by parklike plazas overshadow pedestrian paths and broad boulevards. While not encompassing all of Le Corbusier's designs, Century City nonetheless portrays the sharpest case study in Los Angeles of the urban visionary's ideal new city.

Walk to the center of the gracefully arching footbridge and study the dramatic view up Avenue of the Stars. This urbanscape may leave many people cold; some critics see Century City as sterile and antiseptic, as well as alienating with its enormous scale. Others, however, admire its sculptural appearance--uncluttered and orderly, free from chaotic signs, noise and grime.

Twin Towers

Continue walking north over the bridge, following the path ahead. At Century Park East, turn right, passing the twin Watts Plaza Towers.

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