Knickerbocker hotel
LA Urban Legends

The Sordid Past of the Haunted Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood

haunted knickerbocker hotel

As I have been writing about all the cool places in Los Angeles, more and more urban legends have been bubbling up. I think the first was when I wrote about the Suicide Bridge along the historic Route 66 and the ghosts said to appear there frequently.

It was like I opened Pandora’s Box with that post.  I then learned how the Hollywood Pacific Theater is said to be haunted by one of the Warner Brothers.  Of how the architect of the historic Bradbury Building needed to consult an Ouija Board to take on the project, of murders and ghosts, more ghosts and more ghosts.

There are enough of them that I feel the need to start a new section to cover them all and I suspect that I will never run out of them!  I’ll begin with the Knickerbocker Hotel, which is now a senior living facility, near Hollywood and Vine.  The building has caught my attention every time I have been down in that area.  Perhaps now I know why!  The Knickerbocker Hotel has housed some of Hollywood’s most brilliant stars, and played host to some of its most dramatic and tragic events and played witness to some of the rowdiest brawls.

Located at 1714 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood, the Kinckerbocker Hotel opened in June 1929.  It catered to Hollywood’s blossoming film industry.  In its early years Rudolph Valentino is said to have spent much time there during his last year of life, lounging around the lobby, and dancing the tango in their bar.

Here we come to an oddity.  Per Wikipedia the hotel opened in June 1929.  Valentino died in 1926 at the age of 31 to the dismay of all young women of the era.  In attempting to verify which of the “facts” is wrong I find dates listed for the Knickerbocker’s opening as being in 1923, 1925 and 1929.  When I have a chance I’ll stop by City Hall and pull the property records to find out which is correct.

The hotel also hosted Dick Powell, Bette Davis, Mae West, and Frank Sinatra. It retained its glamor through the 1950s and Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio often met in the hotel bar. Elvis Presley stayed at the hotel (Room 1016) while making his first film, Love Me Tender (1956). For many years, it was the residence of actor William Frawley. Laurel and Hardy stayed in room 205. Graham Nash lived there in 1968.

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But the glamorous events were also mixed with the tragic and bizarre.  Here is a list of some of the events that occurred at the Kinckerbocker:

  • For ten years, Harry Houdini’s widow held seances on the roof of the hotel in an effort to contact here departed husband. The tenth attempt was on Halloween 1936.  It’s said the attempts were never successful which comes as no surprise.  Though Houdini was a magician, he frowned on the mystical and occult and it is not likely he would be more inclined to embrace them in the afterlife than he was previously.
  • On January 13, 1943, the beautiful and then successful actress Frances Farmer was arrested in her room at the hotel after failing to visit her probation officer when scheduled.  Though the probation was due to a minor auto related ticket affairs quickly spiraled out of control and Farmer ended up under involuntary commitment to a mental institution (and others afterwards) where she was subjected to barbaric and inhumane “treatments” including insulin shock “therapy”, ice baths in the name of “therapy”, being chained a majority of the time, raped by Doctors and orderlies and given a lobotomy (there are conflicting accounts on whether or not she actually had the lobotomy).  Seeing her almost overnight transition from being a successful actress with Paramount Pictures and on Broadway one day and then suddenly living out the remaining portion of her life being tortured in the name of “treatment” one is left to speculate who wanted to have Francis Farmer removed from the picture (pardon the pun).
  • July 23, 1948, filmmaker D. W. Griffith died of a cerebral hemorrhage after being discovered unconscious in the lobby of the hotel.
  • In 1962 celebrated Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz committed suicide by jumping from her 11th floor room window.
  • March 3, 1966, actor William Frawley was strolling down Hollywood Boulevard when he suffered a heart attack. His nurse dragged him to the hotel where he died in the lobby. Frawley had lived in the Knickerbocker for 30 years, but had moved out a few months prior to his death in the lobby.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Frawley did not live in the hotel at the time. Although Frawley had spent nearly 30 years living in a suite upstairs, he had moved to the nearby El Royale Apartments several months before.
  • On a positive note, Graham Nash was living there In 1968 the night Cass Elliot picked him up to go to a party. That is where he met Stephen Stills and David Crosby, hence the birth of the famous band Crosby, Stills and Nash (also known as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young when joined by Neil Young).

The Ghosts of the Knickerbocker Hotel

As for the ghosts of the Kinckerbocker, Rudolph Valentino is said to haunt the bar. The silent film star’s ghost has somehow managed to appear in many Hollywood locations including the Alexandria Hotel, Roosevelt Hotel, Montmartre Cafe, San Fernando Mission, and other places throughout Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Downtown Los Angeles.

Marilyn Monroe supposedly hangs out in the ladies’ room and there have been a number of supposed other sightings.  Of course during the late 1960s, the neighborhood had deteriorated, and the hotel became a residence primarily for drug addicts and prostitutes and who knows what things they may have seen in the hallways at night!

Unfortunately you won’t be able to go inside and see for yourself anymore.  In 1970, a renovation project converted the hotel into housing for senior citizens and I don’t believe they allow local Angelenos or tourists to come and hang out in the lobby anymore.


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