Kathie Sees: Hotel Cecil – California

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A vacant yet grand building in the Downtown LA (2018)

Another American city rich with architectural history is none other than Los Angeles. Some buildings are more notorious than others, and Hotel Cecil tops the list of most notorious.

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Day opening advertisement (1)

The once lavish hotel began construction in 1924 with the original name to be the “Metropolitan Hotel”. It was designed by architect Loy Lester Smith and constructed by the Weymouth Crowell Company and operated by William Banks Hanner. 2.

Costing $1 million to complete, the hotel is a 14-story Beaux Arts style reinforced concrete build with 700 rooms, a marble lobby, stained-glass windows, and alabaster statues to appeal to businessmen and tourists alike. On December 20th 1927, the Cecil opened and fast became a travel destination. Because being conveniently located near railway lines along Main Street, it catered to both businessmen traveling to the Spring Street Financial District, as well as theater patrons and others associated with the Broadway Theater and Commercial District. 2.

Within five years of its opening, the United States sank into the Great Depression. Although the Cecil still flourished through the 1940s, the decades beyond saw the hotel decline, as the nearby area known as Skid Row became increasingly populated with transients. The Cecil’s fate changed once more in the last decade, when it was transformed as part of the gentrification of downtown, and was re-branded as “Stay on Main” in 2011. 3.

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Upon my visit to the hotel in 2018, I found the doors to be unexpectedly closed.

“The hotel turned to 299 low-budget hotel rooms and 301 small residences. However, with only 30 of the latter occupied in 2014”. 3.

In 2014, the hotel was sold to New York City hotelier Richard Born for $30 million, and another New York-based firm, Simon Baron Development, acquired a 99-year ground lease on the property. Matt Baron, president of Simon Baron, said he was committed to the preservation of architecturally or historically significant components such as the hotel’s grand lobby, but his company planned to completely redevelop the interior and fix the “hodgepodge” work that had been done in more recent years. Beyond renovating rooms, the developer also plans a rooftop pool, gym, and lounge. Construction is projected to be complete by 2019″  4.

In February 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted to deem the Cecil a historic-cultural monument. 4.

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During it’s recent operation (5)

Even with it’s architectural significance, many people recognize the hotel due to it’s violent history.

“As the area where the Cecil Hotel is located began to decline, suicides and other violent deaths on the premises became more frequent. The first documented suicide at the Cecil was reported in 1931, when a guest named W.K. Norton died in his room after taking poison capsules. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, more suicides at the Cecil occurred. By the 1960s, longtime residents had begun to call the Cecil “The Suicide” or “Suicide Hotel”.

In addition to suicides, the Cecil’s history includes other kinds of violent happenings. It also became a notorious rendezvous spot for adulterous couples, drug activity, and prostitution.

In 1947, Elizabeth Short, dubbed by the media as the Black Dahlia, was rumored to have been spotted drinking at the Cecil’s bar in the days before her notorious and, to date unsolved, murder.

In 1964, a retired telephone operator named “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, who had been a well known and well liked long-term resident at the hotel, was found dead in her room. She had been raped, stabbed, and beaten, and her room ransacked. A man named Jacques B. Ehlinger was charged with Osgood’s murder, but he was later cleared; her death remains unsolved.

Perhaps most infamously, in the 1980s the hotel was rumored to be the residence of serial killer Richard Ramirez, nicknamed the “Night Stalker”. Ramirez had been a regular presence on the skid row area of Los Angeles, but, according to a hotel clerk who claims to have spoken to him, is rumored to have stayed at the Cecil for a few weeks. Ramirez may have engaged in part of his killing spree while staying there. Another serial killer, Austrian Jack Unterweger, stayed at the Cecil in 1991, possibly because he sought to copy Ramirez’s crimes. While there, he strangled and killed at least three sex workers, for which he was convicted in Austria. He hanged himself shortly after his conviction.

In 2013, the Cecil (by then re-branded as the “Stay on Main”) became the focus of renewed attention when surveillance footage of a young Canadian student, Elisa Lam, behaving erratically in the hotel’s elevator, went viral. The video depicts Lam repeatedly pressing the elevator’s buttons, walking in and out of the elevator, and possibly attempting to hide from someone. It was recorded shortly before her disappearance; her naked body was subsequently discovered in a water supply cistern on the hotel roof, following complaints from residents of odd-tasting water and low pressure. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled her death accidental due to drowning, with bipolar disorder being a “significant” factor.” 4.

It’s violent and jaw dropping past became inspiration for television show, “American Horror Story,” season 5, “Hotel”.

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Emergency personnel gather on the roof of Hotel Cecil, where the body of Elisa Lam was discovered by hotel worker responding to a complaint about low water pressure (6)

During my visit to Los Angeles in 2018, I found the hotel to be closed.

“In 2016, developers announced a major renovation planned for the historic and notorious Hotel Cecil, but the Downtown LA hotel has been gathering dust since then. City records reveal that developer Simon Baron Development plans to secure financing for the project by the end of the year (2019), with construction beginning shortly after. Work is expected to be complete by October 2021” 7.

I hope you enjoyed the article! Let me know what you think of this place and if you have any additional information you want to share!

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Info and Photo sources:

  1. https://laist.com/2016/10/18/cecil_hotel_historical.php
  2. https://www.scpr.org/news/2016/10/21/65703/notorious-hotel-cecil-will-be-considered-for-landm/
  3. http://www.theoccultmuseum.com/american-horror-story-dark-history-cecil-hotel/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Hotel_(Los_Angeles)
  5. http://www.joeydevilla.com/2008/11/04/the-cecil-hotels-management-company-responds/
  6. https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/02/residents-disgusted-after-womans-body-found-in-hotel-water-tank.html
  7. https://la.curbed.com/2019/9/3/20847705/hotel-cecil-reopen-skid-row-housing-trust-hotel

 

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