Century Plaza Towers

Photo Essay

By Sean Prophet

Back in the early 1980's my parents used the services of the then prestigious Century City law firm Memel Jacobs Pierno & Gersh. My mom's church organization was defending itself against a lawsuit by a man named Gregory Mull. The organization eventually lost the case, but what I remember most was a couple of visits to the attorney's offices in the Century Plaza Towers.

I was impressed then by the towers, but since September 11, they've taken on a new significance. Not only do they resemble the destroyed twin towers of the World Trade Center--they were actually designed by the same architect, Minoru Yamasaki. Their skin is an aluminum alloy developed by Alcoa specifically for the World Trade Center. These buildings also share WTC's clear core architecture, allowing for large interior open spaces.

These buildings were capped at 44 stories due to the height restriction of 500 feet based on the approach to the Santa Monica airport. But even as such, they are eerily reminiscent of the WTC. They serve as a living memorial to those who died in New York, and the spirit and intent of Yamasaki, which was to create spaces for the conduct of peaceful commerce.

Century City was once part of the 20th Century Fox studio backlot. It was sold off in 1961 to the Alcoa corporation, which developed it. Today, Fox television and other subsidiaries still occupy large portions of Century City. For the last few months, I've been working in the promotions department of FX networks, promoting the March 12 premiere of the new original dramatic series The Shield. So I've had the pleasure of taking lunch in the shadow of these magnificent buildings. On a warm day, sitting in the plaza, the sun's intensity is doubled by the reflection off the glass and aluminum facade.

I've endured the good-natured ridicule of my colleagues because of my continual staring at the buildings. I look up and try to imagine how it might have been to eat at the Atrium, a glass-ceilinged concourse below the World Trade Center, which I'm told offered not only food but lunchtime musical entertainment. Sadly, I'll never know.

A final but striking detail about the Century City Towers. They are triangular not just in plan but also in elevation: each of the three corners of each building slope slightly inward, narrowing the buildings perhaps 10 or 15 feet at the top. They are actually trapezoidal, not enough to disturb the monolithic impression they create, but enough to signal almost imperceptibly, subconsciously, that these are very different structures.

View of Century City from the Getty Center museum - downtown Los Angeles is to the far left
Between the buildings
Corner detail
Security is tight at the towers, vehicles are inspected, drivers asked the nature of their business.
I was accosted by security and my camera almost confiscated while taking these pictures.
I guess I can take comfort that these measures might prevent another tragedy.
Hollywood is directly east of the towers. In fact, the famous Hollywood sign can be seen in these progressively magnified images shot between the two buildings.
Plaza level at 2029 and 2049 Century Park East, two of Century City's premier addresses.
Yes' 1977 "Going for the One", a striking departure from Roger Dean's surrealistic cover art that dominated Yes' albums for most of the 1970's.