Welcome back to #TravelTuesday, a summer series on Spooky Little Halloween where we put a spooky twist on this popular hashtag and travel to haunted destinations across the globe.
This week I am excited to welcome back Sarah Jahier, aka The Spooky Vegan, for another summer. Last year, Sarah gave us a tour of her favorite haunts in Orange County. This summer, she returns for our #TravelTuesday series to share the history of LA’s most notorious haunted hotel…one that includes a story as recent as 2013 that will make your skin crawl.
The Dark History of the Most Notorious Hotel in Los Angeles, the Cecil Hotel
By Sarah E. Jahier, aka The Spooky Vegan
The Cecil Hotel, now renamed Stay-on-Main, looms over downtown Los Angeles, its stone façade crisscrossed with old fire escapes, a few faded yellow overhangs shading some windows, and its front entrance framed with grand columns and gold, recalling its glory days. You may experience a chill walking past the 14-story building, for it has a notorious reputation as the location of an unprecedented number of suicides, murders, was the host of serial killers, and the site of one of the most mysterious deaths in Los Angeles’ recent history. Due to its dark history, The Cecil Hotel is one of the eeriest and cursed hotels in Los Angeles and it even inspired American Horror Story: Hotel.
When the hotel was built in the 1920s, hotelier William Banks Hanner had grand, glamorous plans for The Cecil. The downtown area back then was the bustling epicenter of Los Angeles, and with his new hotel, he hoped to attract business travelers, well-to-do tourists as well as affluent permanent residents. The hotel opened in 1927 to glowing reviews for its opulence and style, but unfortunately, the Great Depression hit a few years later and the hotel, along with the downtown area, deteriorated into an area known for its high crime rate, Skid Row, and attracted those down on their luck.
Instead of becoming a destination for refinement and glamour, The Cecil Hotel succumbed to the hopelessness of the ‘30s, and while many still checked into the hotel, some never checked out. Starting in the early ‘30s, the hotel experienced a rash of suicides and other violent crimes that never seemed to stop. The first recorded suicide occurred November 19, 1931 when a man was found dead in his room after taking poison capsules. After that, the suicides became frequent for both men and women of all ages and the suicide methods varied from taking poison, to self-inflicted gunshot or knife wounds, to the most popular one of all – jumping from the uppermost stories of the hotel down to the pavement or roofs of other buildings below. The Cecil was even nicknamed “The Suicide” due to the high number of suicides that occurred there.
As The Cecil Hotel’s reputation continued its decline, other grisly incidences occurred. A young woman gave birth to a baby in her room at the Cecil in 1944 – she hadn’t known she was pregnant and threw the baby out the window to not upset the older man she was with. She was charged with murder but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Another incident in 1962 involved a suicide victim that jumped to her death, only to land on an elderly pedestrian on the sidewalk below – both were killed. In 1964, a well-liked retiree who enjoyed feeding the birds in nearby Pershing Square was found dead in her room at the Cecil – she had been raped, stabbed, and beaten. To this day her brutal murder remains unsolved.
In addition to the deaths, The Cecil Hotel has witnessed it has also been linked to several high-profile murder cases and serial killers. In 1947, The Cecil Hotel bar was supposedly one of the last places that Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, was seen before her shocking and unsolved murder. In 1985, serial killer Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez was rumored to have stayed at the hotel during the summer of his notorious reign of terror in Los Angeles. Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed at The Cecil in homage to Ramirez in 1991, strangling three sex workers during his stay.
Of course, the most infamous incident occurred in 2013, when guests at The Cecil Hotel began complaining of low water pressure and foul, brackish water. A few weeks later, the naked body of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam (who had been missing for weeks) was found rotting at the bottom of one of the water tanks on the hotel roof. Guests had been bathing and drinking her putrefied remains since she had gone missing weeks before. The death was ruled as an accidental drowning, but a surveillance video was released showing what appears to be an agitated Lam in an elevator, pushing buttons and making strange hand signals – like she was scared of someone just out of frame. If you’ve seen it, you know just how chilling the video is (if you haven’t seen it, Google it for one of the most unsettling things you will ever see). Also odd is where she was found – how did she manage to get up to the roof, scale the water tower and close the lid behind her? And why was she naked? To me, it seems foul play may have been a factor in her death. Whether accidental or not, it is a horrifying and unusual death that only adds to The Cecil’s notorious reputation.
All of the violent deaths that surround The Cecil Hotel have sparked speculation that the hotel is haunted or inhabited by a dark presence. Guests and residents have reported hearing mysterious footsteps, doors slamming, and there have been several eerie photographs that seem to capture spirits. To this day, strange events and grisly deaths are still happening at the hotel, including the case of a 28-year-old man who was found dead outside the hotel in 2015 from a fall (it was unclear whether this death was the result of a suicide, accident, or otherwise).
The Cecil Hotel is now a historic landmark and despite its recent renovations it can’t seem to shake its sordid, violent past. After serving as the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel, interest in the hotel surged and attracted many lookie-loos hoping to catch a glimpse of its infamous history, so much so that security was hired to keep the curious out. Much of the hotel is closed for renovations, but a few permanent residents and guests remain – would you dare spend the night in such a haunted location?
Sarah E. Jahier is The Spooky Vegan, an Orange County-based blogger who wanders the night in search of vegan options and spooky things. She writes about the vegan lifestyle and her other two obsessions, Halloween and horror, on her website, The Spooky Vegan. You can follow her haunted happenings on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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