Can NYC Hotelier Revamp Notorious Nightmare LA Hotel That Inspired American Horror Story?
The Cecil Hotel in Downtown LA has a notoriously sad and awful history: a nightmarish tableau of serial murder, bloated corpses, and overdoses. Its reoccurring theme of death is so rich, producers of the show American Horror Story based this entire season on the hotel. When it comes to true crime stories guaranteed to give you the heebie jeebies, the Cecil Hotel is in a league of it’s own. It’s also been a real estate nightmare, with a history full of lawsuits, shady conversions, and neglect. But now a New York hotelier is intent on sweeping out the Cecil’s nasty past and gentrifying the hotel as part of Downtown LA’s all-consuming resurgence, Details magazine reports. Good luck. This place has a heavy curse upon it.
After decades of deterioration, the Cecil found itself in 2008 operating as half budget hotel ($40 to $50 a night), half low-income housing ($470 a month). Things were going ok like that until the city stepped in, enforcing an ordinance that said the Cecil had to pay to relocate residents when their apartments were converted to hotel rooms. Lawsuits kept the property in limbo until 2011, when it was reverted back to the lender. Plans to turn it into supportive housing were shot down in 2014.
Image via Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Meanwhile, in 2013, a woman was found decomposing in the hotel’s water tower. For 19 days her remains contaminated the Cecil’s drinking water before she was finally found floating in a rooftop cistern. The coroner ultimately declared it an accident, but details of her death were fuzzy at best—only some grainy elevator footage of the woman acting erratically was left behind to explain the bizarre events.
But that was just the latest macabre story to come out of the Cecil. Quickly after the hotel’s 1924 opening, the Great Depression swept in and transformed the elegant hotel into a hovel for transients. Prostitutes and junkies occupied rooms meant for traveling businessmen, and along with them came unsavoriness. There were murders, suicides, overdoses, and even a reported sighting of the Black Dahlia just before she was murdered in 1947. She allegedly had her last drink at the Cecil Hotel bar.
In 1985, the hotel became the home base for one of the most notorious serial killers in history. For two years, Richard “Nightstalker” Ramirez would retire to his room in the Cecil after committing each of at least 13 murders. Allegedly, Ramirez would shed his bloody clothing in the alley behind the hotel, walking up the stairs to his room naked without any hotel residents or staff questioning the act. Just another night at the Cecil.
Despite all this, developer Richard Born thinks the Cecil can be reborn as a place for the see-and-be-seen crowd, rather than the down-and-out. Born, who runs the very hip New York hotels the Mercer, the Maritime, the Bowery, the Greenwich, the Ludlow, and the Jane, bought the Cecil back in 2014 for $30 million dollars and has plans to turn it into “reasonably priced residences catering to young professionals.” It’s a tall order to be sure, but he has experience in this field—the Jane, for instance, has its own sordid past, but has been fully transformed into a gentrified beacon of urban renewal. (Details says “If you’ve stayed someplace cool in New York, Born is probably at least partly responsible—for both the property and the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood.”)
Image via benjamin page
Born expects to hold off another two years on the rebranding (the Cecil is now called Stay on Main and rooms rent for about $45 a night). The hotel will remain budget conscious, with that definition shifted for an entirely new demographic: for about $150 a night, young professionals will be able to stay in “fully renovated, fully furnished, intelligently designed micro-residences.” It might not be enough room to stash a body, but for a hotel room Downtown, the price is pretty good. Born plans on bringing new amenities to the hotel like bars, a restaurant, and a shared work space. He even has plans for a rooftop wading pool just feet from the hotel’s infamous water tower. Read more > > >