Cecil Hotel

Cecil Hotel was scheduled to begin construction on rebuilding as a hotel with apartments until COVID-19 put plans on the back burner. 

Cecil Hotel’s future remains uncertain, adding to the intrigue of its mysterious past. 

The E-shaped hotel sits on Seventh and Main and is one of Downtown Los Angeles’ oldest buildings. The long list of deaths, murders and suicides that took place within its walls throughout the decades has caused the Cecil Hotel to become a point of fascination for people across the entire globe. 

A portion of the Cecil Hotel was refurbished and rebranded under new ownership with a new name “Stay on Main’” to distance itself from its notorious past. It had a separate lobby and reception area during the day but shared facilities with tenants staying in the Cecil Hotel portion.

However, the hotel closed in 2017 for renovation after being purchased by New York City hotelier Richard Born for $30 million in 2014. This came after the widely publicized death of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, whose body was found in a water tank on the roof of the hotel in 2013.

Developer Simon Baron subsequently acquired a 99-year ground lease in 2015. However, its doors will remain closed for hotel guests for the unforeseeable future. 

“We have no intention right now of reopening the hotel,” said Matthew Baron, president of Simon Baron Development.

“Originally, we were going to rebuild the whole thing and build a hotel with apartments,” he said. 

However, right as construction was scheduled to begin, COVID-19 started sweeping through the nation and entire globe, “so we never really started,” he said. 

It’s “tough to build a hotel during COVID,” Baron said. “There are a lot more difficult things going on in the world than that decision.”

It didn’t have a set design plan before, and the entire project has been placed on the back burner, with no expected timeline for opening, he said. There may be some new updates once summer rolls around, but “for now it’s tabled,” Baron added. 

“There’s some repair work going on at the building,” as it still houses some long-time tenants with protections from the city, but “there’s really nothing happening with it right now.”

This news may come as a bummer for those who have sparked an interest in its eerie history. 

A new Netflix docu-series, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” shines a light on the story of Lam, the Canadian student who traveled to Los Angeles and stayed at the hotel, where she subsequently went missing.

Maintenance workers checked these water tanks after guests complained about brown water and a sweaty taste, one of the most talked about parts of the documentary series.

After she first went missing, the authorities released video footage of a video showing Lam acting strangely, appearing paranoid or afraid, frantically pushing buttons and walking in and out of the elevator. It was released to the public in hopes of finding information on her disappearance.

This video spread across the world, and “web sleuths” or amateur online “investigators” speculated that she may have been running from someone or something, and perhaps was the victim of a murder.

It was later discovered that this paranoid behavior could’ve been a result of a bipolar episode, as the toxicology report on Lam’s body stated she wasn’t taking her medications in the prescribed dose.

Her death was ruled accidental due to drowning, with bipolar disorder being a “significant” factor, according to the investigators featured in the series.

While Lam’s death was the most recent and widely publicized, she is only one of many who died at the hotel, as explained by in the docu-series.

In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the gruesome events including suicides as well as solved and unsolved murders that took place at the notorious hotel. The page is dubbed “Lists of deaths and violence at the Cecil Hotel.”

The first death occurred in 1927, a suicide by gunshot, which took place not long after the hotel opened its doors for guests. 

In following years, more suicides occurred within the Cecil Hotel’s rooms, prompting locals to nickname it “suicide hotel.”

 

The Cecil Hotel’s dark history

 

The Cecil Hotel was built in the 1920s during a prosperous time in Los Angeles.

Its Beaux Arts-style architecture, opulent art-deco style lobby and iconic exterior sign advertising its high occupancy and low rates attracted many business and leisure travelers who stayed as guests in the Cecil Hotel’s 700 rooms. 

The 19-floor hotel saw a few prosperous years — then the stock market crashed. The once alluring hotel quickly became a place of despair. 

Its low daily, weekly and monthly rates became even lower, and as many around the city found themselves jobless, they sought refuge in the hotel, the documentary explains.

As the years went on, the low rates attracted travelers, transients, prostitutes, serial killers as well as people on the run, as stated in the documentary series. 

LA historian Kim Cooper was featured in the documentary series, where she explained that the Cecil Hotel is “well known for this type of crime.”

“The Cecil is a place where serial killers would let their hair down,” she said. 

Prolific American serial killer Richard Ramirez, also called the “night stalker,” reportedly resided on the 14th floor, paying $14 a night for his room in the 1980s.

“After committing some of the most brutal murders that happened in Southern California ever, he would come back to the Cecil. In the middle of the night, he would be in the back alley covered in blood, taking off his clothing.”

“(Ramirez) would walk in his blood-stained underwear, barefoot, up to his floor and into his room. Repeatedly,” said Richard Schave, another LA historian featured in the series.  

“And that’s cool, and no one’s got a problem with that, because it’s that kind of heavy place,” Cooper added. 

Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger, allegedly inspired by Ramirez, stayed at the Cecil Hotel in the early 1990s and is believed to have murdered three Los Angeles sex workers. 

Kenneth Givens, who resided in the Cecil Hotel in the 1980s, was also featured in the documentary series. He described the building as “lawless,” saying he’d never go up further than the sixth floor, as people were more likely to get killed in the higher floors. 

“Once they got a guy in the room, they would rob him, beat him up and threw him out the window. So, if you didn’t watch yourself, you would come flying out of there with no wings.” 

 

More recent past

 

Upon the “Stay on Main” rebrand attempt, the developer tried to evict some of the long-time tenants. However, this plan came to a halt when the city issued a stop-work order, the documentary series states.

A city ordinance was passed that stated hotels with over 50% permanent residencies are exempt from evictions, said Barbara Schultz, who oversees the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), in an interview with Los Angeles Downtown News. 

“Residential hotels are extremely valuable housing stock because they cannot be taken off the market,” she said. 

LAFLA came to a settlement agreement in 2006 that provided even stronger protections to the residential hotels and the tenants residing in them, and the city’s residential hotel ordinance was put in place around this time. 

This agreement was “to ensure that as Downtown gentrified, there was still housing stock that was affordable to low-income people,” she said. 

The city settled to keep the Cecil Hotel as a residential hotel while allowing half the units to be turned into a tourist hotel and the rest to remain as low-income housing. 

However, LAFLA wanted the entire hotel to be reserved for residential housing, she said.

Schultz said she is “vehement about protecting residential hotels, because they can be truly protected, and not just the tenant that’s in there but the unit itself.”

There are an estimated 20 people who still currently reside in the building, she said. The settlement agreement was just about to be finalized when COVID-19 hit, she said. 

Depending on how the case is ruled, there is a possibility it could be designated as 100% low-income housing, she added. 

Baron wasn’t able to comment. However, he did provide remarks about whether its notorious past was a consideration while signing the 99-year lease. 

Some may have been apprehensive to purchase a hotel with such a despairing history, as there is perhaps a possibility that it won’t be successful; however, this was not the case for Baron “at all,” he said. 

Baron hadn’t seen the Netflix documentary series, but he said “don’t believe everything you see,” as shows were made to entertain. 

“Certainly, there may have been some unsavory characters that have lived in the building”; however, this is the case in many downtown areas, like Chicago and New York City. It’s “just kind of what it is.”