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How the film 'Cleopatra' paved the way for LA's Century City

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"Cleopatra" spawned a romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but its spiraling costs pushed 20th Century Fox to the edge of bankruptcy.

Fifty years ago, an epic film with an even more epic budget over-run opened in theaters:

"Cleopatra" spawned a romance between its stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but its spiraling costs pushed the studio that produced it, 20th Century Fox, to the edge of bankruptcy.

Originally budgeted at $2 million, the film ended up costing $44 million. Well before it opened, Fox had entered into a deal to sell its 200-plus-acre back lot, where stars from Henry Fonda to Elvis Presley had filmed hundreds of movies.

The result of that land sale was the development of Century City, the largest privately funded urban development of its time. An architect named Welton Beckett designed a master plan, Seattle architect Minoru Yamasaki created the curved design for the Century Plaza Hotel, and the residential towers came from I.M. Pei.

The project's supporters saw Century City as a transformative development, one that would change the tenor of life in Los Angeles from suburban sprawl to a more dense, urban environment:

Century City Today

From a commercial perspective, Century City was and continues to be a success, but its not exactly a hip destination for Angelenos looking to have a good time. Bob Hale hopes to change that.

As principal architect at the firm Rios Clementi Hale, he's been involved in a project called The Greening Century City Plan to make the development more transit and pedestrian-friendly.  

"Our plan is to inject more amenity and life into the streetscape: Enhance the physical qualities of the sidewalk experience, adding new tries, adding new paving," said Hale. 

Part of the plan is to revive and create a 21st Century identity, all the while increasing and attracting the number of people on the streets in the next five to 10 years. 

"As the Metro comes to serve Century City in the next five to ten years, the amount of people who will be on the street is going to increase enormously – we think and hope. And part of the plan is really to prepare Century City to be in a much better place."

Century City was born during a new era of American planning in the 1950s, when fancy automobiles captured the attention of Angelenos. While Century City was essentially planned with automobiles in mind, it missed a crucial element: catering to pedestrians. 

"American planning was going through a phase of great love affair with the automobile and thinking that people were always going to get into their cars and drive everywhere, even around the block," said Hale. "Century City was planned for the automobile and it worked really well, but in that, they sort of lost sight of having to also deal with people walking in it.” 

Instead of demolishing and tearing down iconic buildings, Hale believes in helping others preserve the identity and history of some of the most iconic buildings like the Century Plaza Hotel. Hale, who is currently involved with the Greening Century City Plan, was one of the many key individuals responsible for persuading others to find a better, long-term and more sustainable perspective on redevelopment. 

"We’re involved with the redevelopment of the Century Plaza Hotel which is one of the most iconic buildings in Century City and the owners, they originally wanted to tear the whole thing down," said Hale. "The configuration is going to allow for the adaptation of the existing hotel into the current sort of marketplace and make it much more efficient, current building, but at the same time, preserve what’s really great about it historically."

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