The Sordid Past of the Hotel Cecil
William Banks Hanner had grand plans when he started construction of the Cecil Hotel in 1924. They just didn’t work out! Designed in a Beaux Arts style, the hotel featured a luxurious marble lobby, stained glass windows and statues.
The hotel on Main Street opened in 1927, just ahead of the great depression. Skid Row developed nearby and the hotel became home to transients, adulterous couples, prostitution and drugs. It was all downhill from there and Cecil Hotel has since become the most notorious hotel in Los Angeles.
The deaths date back to the 1930, but the most notorious of them all was the death of Elisa Lam in February 2013. She was a guest at the hotel and reported missing at the beginning of the month. Security footage video of her in the elevator looking confused and frightened was released by the Los Angeles Police Department.
There was no clue to her whereabouts until hotel guests began to complain about poor water pressure and a horrible taste in the water. Lam’s body was found naked in the water cistern on the roof of the hotel, with her clothing floating in the water near her. Months later the police ruled it an accidental death… although it seems quite unlikely she would remove her clothing and throw them into the water tower before accidentally falling in herself.
The first known suicide at the hotel was in 1931 when a guest died in his room after taking poison capsules. Through the fifties at least sixteen suicides occurred at the hotel. So many that long term residents nicknamed the hotel “The Suicide.”
Elizabeth Short of the Black Dahlia murder is said to have stayed at the hotel by some and to have been drinking in the hotel bar by others. Though the was actually last seen at The Frolic Room in Hollywood.
And it gets more gruesome. In 1944 a woman that was sharing a room with her boyfriend gave birth to a baby. Apparently she didn’t know she was pregnant! She threw the baby from the window and it landed on the roof of the neighboring building. She was charged with murder, but found not guilty by reason of insanity.
In 1962 a woman jumped from her window and landed on a pedestrian, killing both herself and the man she landed on. In 1964 a retired telephone operator who was a long term resident of the hotel was found dead in her room. She had been raped, stabbed and beaten.
If that’s not enough to give it a sinister reputation, the Hotel Cecil was also home to two serial killers. In the eighties, Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker lived in a room on the top floor of the hotel while he went on a killing spree that took the lives of 13 people. It’s said that after a kill, he would throw his bloody clothes in the dumpster at the hotel and walk through the lobby naked or only in his underwear.
Serial killer Jack Unterweger, known for strangling prostitutes with their own bras, lived in the hotel. It has been said he stayed there because Ramirez had lived there.
The Cecil has tried to shake off its tarnished past. In 2011 it renamed itself Stay on Main. This was not successful. Despite the hotel’s history, the Los Angeles City Council named it a Historic Cultural Monument in 2017.
Currently the hotel is closed. It’s scheduled to re-open in 2021 as $1500 per month “micro lofts”, something the Rosslyn Hotel of the same vintage and style up the street successfully did.
We wish them the best of luck. Not only does the hotel have a disturbing reputation to live down, but we found a good sized homeless encampment across the street from it when we took these photos. It just isn’t the kind of place you would want to call home no matter how much they renovate it.
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