Elizabeth Taylor starring as Cleopatra in the 1963 epic is one of Hollywood history’s defining moments. And yet, thanks to costly production issues, the blockbuster almost brought the curtain down on 20th Century Fox. The studio had been reeling from a series of expensive flops, and it agreed to sell its backlot to developers. In its place rose the Century City neighbourhood of Los Angeles.
US architect Minoru Yamasaki, who would go on to design the original World Trade Center in New York City, created its focal point, the Century Plaza Hotel. But if you want to keep making it in this town, you’ve got to stay fresh. In September of last year, under its new owner, the Fairmont hotel brand, the Century Plaza did just that by reopening as the centre point of a $2.5bn redevelopment.
Yamasaki’s mid-century modern facade remains with its sweep of operatic balconies. But inside, the space has been opened up. In the lobby, the escalators, once symbols of such modernity, have been shunted out of the way. In their place, you will find the bar, while out front, a huge mesh head sculpture, Laura, by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, welcomes guests.
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Every US president since the hotel’s inception has passed through its doors, including Richard Nixon, who celebrated the 1969 moon landing in the ballroom. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan made the Century Plaza his “Western White House”. Grammys, Emmys, and this year’s Oscar nominees’ luncheon have been held here.
The Century Plaza was conceived as “the hotel of the future”, and it still is. In the spa, you will find a “biohacking” menu of treatments that combines infrared technology in an anti-gravity chair with meditation. It’s playful too. In the bedrooms, you will find those little cardboard notes, asking whether you want the towels or bed sheets changed, in the form of classic film quotes and cartoons. This is La La Land after all – and nothing is ever quite as it seems.
I sat down for dinner in the Lumière Brasserie, at a table in 1920s Paris. The white tiled floor, grand bar, and leafy metallic chandelier recalled the années folles. I ordered a C.P. (Century Plaza) Old Fashioned to kick things off. The bourbon that goes into it is a single-barrel blend that the Kentucky distillery Woodford Reserve produces exclusively for the hotel. But on to the food.
I was urged to try the chicken liver mousse, served with an olive oil jam. It is something of a house speciality and it was certainly rich and creamy. Next came a beautiful seared halibut, while a moussey chocolate cake concluded the meal. “Encore”, I cried. My shirt buttons cried “no”, and in truth, it was time for a lie down.
A slice of Paris in LA
The Century Plaza isn’t all that’s new in Los Angeles. Late last year, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened, providing visitors with a fascinating look at the history and process of film-making. The museum is awash with shiny Oscar statuettes, costumes and props, including ET himself. It also takes an unabashed look at the role, reception and depiction of black and ethnic minority actors in cinema over the last 100 years. It’s worth a visit, and you’ll be following in some recent famous footsteps. Earlier this month, the museum played host to the second star-studded annual Academy Museum Gala.
Also new is the extended Warner Bros. two-hour Studio Tour Plus. Guide Christina, with all the infectious enthusiasm that comes from a side-hustle as a background actress, took us all over the backlot in Burbank, on the other side of the hill from the Hollywood sign. We explored “the jungle”, created to resemble Cuba for the 1956 film Santiago, and repurposed for Jurassic Park (1993). Sheds, spooky barns (as featured in Annabelle: Creation, 2017) and fake houses are dotted around the 110-acre property.
The props department resembles a weird and wonderful junk shop. Labels hang from lamps, stuffed animals and other curios, bagged by productions for use on their sets. The backlot is still very much in use, and the day I visited was a busy day. Sitcom spin-off Young Sheldon was filming in one of the huge iconic hangers, while the comedy writers of Shining Vale, starring Courtney Cox, had hung a slapdash sign outside their fake house on a pretty fake street, alerting us that they were inside scribbling away on season two. We strolled through the set of All American, past the “Geller house” from 1990s fan favourite Friends (filmed here, not in New York City), to a town in the American Midwest, as seen in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). It was enough to make me pinch myself.
Chris was a guest of the Fairmont Century Plaza. From $700 a night plus tax, fairmontcenturyplaza.com. Warner Bros. Studio Tour Plus, $149 for adults, wbstudiotour.com; Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, $25 for adults, academymuseum.org. For what’s on in Los Angeles, see discoverlosangeles.com.
Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.
Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.
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