Movie star Burt Lancaster had a condominium in Century City, as did Ruth and Elliot Handler, co-founders of the Mattel toy company. Ronald Reagan, while he was president, maintained his “Western White House” there. Today, celebrities including actor Matthew Perry and chef Nobu Matsuhisa look over Los Angeles from their Century City properties in the sky.

For most, luxury living in Los Angeles evokes visions of sprawling estates. But since the 1960s, Century City has offered an alternative, exemplifying each decade’s notion of the ultimate in high-rise living. Today, with billions of dollars of investment coming to the area, developers are attempting to sell Century City’s glamorous past even as they launch new properties with lavish amenities, views and prices.

“My grandparents saw the apartment and bought it on the spot,” said Joshua Flagg, of the late Edith and Eric Flagg, who purchased a penthouse in Century Towers in 1976. Ms. Flagg was a Holocaust survivor and fashion designer whose eponymous company made women’s sportswear. Mr. Flagg, today estate homes director of Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills, said he grew up visiting the building and remembers neighbors like the Handlers.

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A rendering of the Century Plaza Hotel Residences and Tower Residences, a redevelopment of the Century Plaza Hotel by developer Woodridge Capital Partners.
ILLUSTRATION: DBOX/NEXT CENTURY PARTNERS

Century City, a roughly 180-acre neighborhood between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, was designed in the 1960s as a showcase for high-rise construction and modern, urban living. In 1960, movie studio 20th Century Fox sold land used as back lots for movie sets to the Aluminum Company of America, now two companies, Alcoa and Iconic.

Alcoa wanted to demonstrate aluminum’s utility in high-rise construction, according to a book about the area from 1959 to 2009, published by the Century City Chamber of Commerce. The goal, the book said, was a “glimmering Alcoa showpiece,” with high-rise office and residential buildings, wide boulevards, pedestrian bridges and landscaped plazas, which is precisely how Century City looks today. There are 21 office high-rises and five residential high rises today, said Nancy Wood, Chamber president.

Alcoa’s first residential high rises, the two Century Towers, were completed in 1964. Designed by architect I.M. Pei, the towers attracted people with their proximity to the Hillcrest Country Club and amenities such as a pool, gym and tennis court. Over the years, many entertainers, including singer Karen Carpenter, actor Michael Douglas and David Janssen, star of the 1960s television show “The Fugitive,” lived there. Mr. Janssen’s widow, Dani, lives in the building to this day, she confirmed.

Burt Lancaster, who died in 1994, purchased two units in 1974 and combined them, according to records provided by Orange Coast Title Company. He hired architect Hal Levitt to design the property in Moroccan style, said Diana Cook, president of California Dreaming Realty, who is listing it as a $7,850-a-month rental.

The onetime home of Burt Lancaster, who died in 1994, is listed as a $7,850-a-month rental.
PHOTO: ART KHACHATOUROV
The current owner, investor Michael Rosen, put the property on the market last year for $2.995 million. After it failed to sell following a price reduction to $2.65 million, he decided to rent it for a year or two, Mr. Rosen said, adding that he never altered Mr. Lancaster’s finishes.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan lent glamour and power to Century City by frequently staying at the Century Plaza Hotel, part of which later became the St. Regis Hotel, said Joanne Drake, chief administrative officer at the Reagan Foundation. He hosted his two victory parties at the Century Plaza, which the press dubbed the “Western White House,” said Ms. Drake.

Ronald Reagan in his Century City office in 1989.
PHOTO: CARLOS SCHIEBECK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
In 2005, the St. Regis was purchased by the Related Companies, a New York-based developer, which tore it down and put up the Century, completed in 2010.

Sales, which commenced at the height of the real-estate crisis, were initially slow. In addition, Mary Ann Osborn, who was the director of sales for the Century when it opened, said buyers were so nervous about high-rise living she saw some of them 12 or 14 times before they made an offer.

Some early buyers in the building have now seen their investments nearly double, said Bachir Oueida of Douglas Elliman, who said he has sold 24 units and rented out 14 in the building. Last year, Mr. Oueida listed a 9,300-square-foot penthouse; it sold in June to the actor Matthew Perry for $20 million, according to people familiar with the transaction. Representatives for Mr. Perry declined to comment.

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Candy Spelling, widow of television producer Aaron Spelling, lives in an 18,000-square-foot duplex penthouse. She paid $34.8 million in 2010, according to public records.

Commercial real-estate executive Gary Weiss, 60, and his wife, Tari, 57, a software-company founder, moved from a large home in the San Fernando Valley to the Century in 2014. They paid $4.33 million for a 3,250-square-foot unit, which they renovated.

Gary and Tari Weiss in their 3,250-square-foot unit in the Century.
PHOTO: MICHAL CZERWONKA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Weisses walk their Maltese, Chloe, to Beverly Hills, and stroll Century City for shopping and dining. Mr. Weiss eats a couple of times a week at the Century’s ground-floor restaurant, Hinoki & the Bird. At lunch, three-quarters of the clientele are talent agents at Creative Artists Agency, which is around the corner, said the restaurant’s manager Chris Cutjapan. Their typical order: kale salad with salmon, he said.

From their apartment, the Weisses look out onto the site of the future Century Plaza Hotel Residences and Tower Residences, a redevelopment of the Century Plaza Hotel by developer Woodridge Capital Partners. The $2.5 billion project will include a 394-room Fairmont Hotel, which will also house 63 condos. Behind the hotel will be two 43-story towers with a total of 268 condos, said Ms. Osborn, now managing director of sales and marketing for the residences. The project should be complete by mid-2021, and prices per square foot should exceed those at the Century, Ms. Osborn said. The Century runs at about $1,800 per square foot, said Mr. Oueida, which means a 1,000-square-foot unit at the Century Plaza would theoretically cost over $1.8 million.

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Century City still suffers from a reputation for being a collection of cold skyscrapers lacking neighborhood amenities like public parks, street life and nightlife.The Century high-rise as seen from the Century City Westfield Mall.

PHOTO: MICHAL CZERWONKA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNALWestfield, one of the world’s largest shopping mall owners, has recently invested $1 billion in an effort to change that reputation. It is in the final stages of a redevelopment of its Century City Westfield Mall, originally built in the 1960s, said Bill Hecht, chief operating officer in the U.S.

The mall has “smart parking,” where cars are tracked and billed via their license plates, and private lounges; and will have a branch of Mario Batali’s Italian food market, Eataly.

Betting on growing acceptance of ultraluxury vertical living, Miami-based developer Crescent Heights built and opened a 40-story rental building in January called Ten Thousand. Rents range from $9,000 to $65,000 per month said Jennifer Monir, regional director of business development. Ms. Monir said the building is “not fully leased but close.”

The building offers amenities including a robot “butler” named Charley that brings items up to the apartments, and resident-tracking beacons. As a resident moves toward the bar, for example, the bartender is alerted and can start mixing up their favorite dirty martini, Ms. Monir said.