Cecil Hotel (Los Angeles)

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Stay on Main
Stay on Main Hotel logo.jpg
Stay on Main Logo
Hotel Cecil LA.jpg
Cecil Hotel, photographed in 2013
Cecil Hotel (Los Angeles) is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Cecil Hotel (Los Angeles)
Location within the Los Angeles metropolitan area
General information
Address 640 S. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014
Coordinates 34°02′39.04″N 118°15′01.97″W / 34.0441778°N 118.2505472°W / 34.0441778; -118.2505472
Opening 1927[1]
Technical details
Floor count 19
Other information
Number of rooms 600

Stay on Main (formerly Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil and informally The Cecil) is a budget hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, located at 640 S. Main Street, opened in 1927[1] with 600 guest rooms (originally 700).


The Cecil was constructed in 1924 by hotelie William Banks Hanner, as a destination for business travelers and tourists. Built in the Art Deco style to the designs of Loy Lester Smith, the hotel cost $1 million to complete and boasted an opulent marble lobby with stained-glass windows, potted palms, and alabaster statuary. Hanner had invested confidently in the enterprise, in the knowledge that several similar hotels had been established elsewhere downtown, but he had been unable to predict that within five years of its opening, the United States would sink into the Great Depression. The road on which the hotel stood - Main Street - quickly declined into the area known as Skid Row, with as many as 10,000 homeless people living within a four-mile radius and by the 1950s it had gained a reputation as a residence for transients.[2] A portion of the hotel was refurbished in 2007 after new owners took over.

In 2011, the Cecil Hotel was re-branded as "Stay on Main", and a new Website, stayonmain.com, was created. The old website thececilhotel.com continued online, though, until the end of 2013.[3]

The hotel was sold to NYC hotelier Richard Born for $30 million in 2014, and another New-York based firm, Simon Baron Development, acquired a 99-year ground lease on the property. Matt Baron, president of Simon Baron, announced that whilst committed to the preservation of architecturally or historically significant components such as the grand lobby, his company planned to completely redevelop the interior and make good the "hodgepodge" work carried out there in more recent years[4]

In November 2016, the media reported that the Cecil Hotel could receive special recognition from the city of Los Angeles after the Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to consider the downtown structure as a historic-cultural monument, a status that comes with certain local protections and the possibility of a property tax reduction. Its owner, Simon Baron Development, noted the building’s Beaux Arts exterior in its designation application, according to the L.A. Downtown News.[5]

On February 28th, 2017 the Cecil Hotel was granted historic status by the Los Angeles city council.[6]

Reputation of murder and suicide[edit]

In 2013, the Cecil Hotel (by then, re-branded as the "Stay on Main") became the focus of a 'viral' internet video, which showed surveillance footage of the bizarre behavior of a young Canadian student, Elisa Lam in one of the hotel's elevators, prior to her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her body in a water supply cistern on the hotel roof.

This in turn led to a deeper interest in the hotel's past, which had long been rumored as a place of terrible happenings and recent research (carried out by trawling through the archives of the Los Angeles Times) has revealed a prolific history of suicide, murder or unexplained deaths at the hotel almost since it was first opened.

Los Angeles based author and journalist James T. Bartlett, who has catalogued his findings in a 2016 publication, "Gourmet Ghosts", acknowledges that, "with many thousands of guests per year, hotels are inevitably going to be the scene of accidents, natural deaths, suicides, crime and even pure bad luck". The Cecil however seems to be so disproportionately blighted by tragedy and violence - even when compared to other hotels in deprived parts of the city - that he writes: ".. it really is possible to wonder whether this building is cursed, or that there are negative forces inside" [7]

Elizabeth Short, victim of the Black Dahlia murder, the city's best-known unsolved killing, supposedly made the Cecil her last stop before her death in 1947, though such information is disputed.[8]

The Cecil is also notable for having been the reported residence for serial killers Richard Ramirez in 1985 and Jack Unterweger in 1991.[9][10]

Timeline of suicides, murder or unexplained deaths associated with the Cecil:

  • On 19 November 1931, the Los Angeles Times reported that a search for 46 year-old Manhattan Beach resident W.K Norton was over. He had checked into the Cecil as "James Willys of Chicago" a week earlier and, once in his room, had taken a number of poison capsules. This appears to be the earliest known suicide at the hotel.[7]
  • Less than a year later, the LA Times reported another suicide at the hotel: Benjamin Dodich, 25, had shot himself in the head in his room and his body was found the next morning by a maid named Carrie Brown, though there was no suicide note.[7]
  • In late July 1934, a 53 year-old former Army Medical Corps sergeant named Louis D. Borden slashed his throat with a razor in his room. Mr Borden left a note mentioning his ill health.[7]
  • In March 1937, it was reported that Grace E. Magro had fallen from a ninth story window. Police were unsure as to whether this had been an accident or suicide, and her fall had been broken by suspended telephone wiring which was "entangled about her body". Ms Magro died later in hospital.[7]
  • In January 1938, Roy Thompson, a 35 year-old marine fireman took "a suicide leap" from the hotel's top floor. He had been registered here for several weeks and his body was found on the skylight of a building next door.[7]
  • In May 1939, another sailor, Erwin C. Neblett, 39, of the USS Wright died in his room after taking poison, and in January of the following year it was reported that teacher, Dorothy Sceiger, 45, had employed the same method and was said to be "near death".[7]
  • In September 1944, Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, threw her newborn son from a window. Apparently unaware she was pregnant, Purcell hadn't wanted to wake her sleeping partner, shoe salesman, Ben Levine, 38, when she woke with stomach pains, so she went to the nearby rest room and delivered the baby herself. Believing the child to be dead, she threw it from a window and the tiny body was later found on the roof of an adjacent building. After hearing testimony, a juror declared her account to be "almost beyond belief", and it was determined she be charged with homicide. However, matters were finally concluded in January of the following year, when Purcell was found not guilty by reason of insanity.[7]
  • In November 1947, it was reported that 35 year-old Robert Smith of Long Beach had met his death after falling from the Cecil's seventh floor.[7]
  • On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, stepped from her window, also on the seventh floor, and landed on top of the hotel’s marquee. She had registered as Margaret Brown a week before.[7]
  • On February 11, 1962, Julia Frances Moore, 50, climbed out of her eighth floor room window and landed in a second-story interior light well. She left no note, just a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800.[7]
  • On October 12, 1962, Pauline Otton, 27, had been arguing with her estranged husband Dewey in a room on the ninth floor when he decided he’d had enough and went out to get some dinner. In his absence, she decided she too had had enough and jumped from the window, landing on top of a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65. Both were killed instantly. Since no one saw Pauline jump, police initially thought that there had been a double suicide, but on closer examination, it was found that George had his hands in his pockets and was still wearing shoes, which would have been unlikely if he’d fallen ninety feet.[7]
  • On June 4, 1964, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, a retired telephone operator was found dead in her ransacked room by a hotel worker distributing phone books. Ms Osgood, who had earned her nickname due to the fact that she befriended and fed the birds in nearby Pershing Square, had been stabbed, strangled and raped and near her body were found the Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Soon after, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested, but cleared of the crime, for which no one was ever arrested.[7]
  • On 19 February 2013, the naked[11] body of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student, was found inside one of the water supply tanks on the hotel roof. Lam had gone missing almost three weeks earlier, on January 31, 2013, and her decomposed body was discovered by a maintenance worker in one of the rooftop water tanks, after guests had complained about low water pressure and water that "tasted funny".[12][13] Authorities later ruled Lam's death as an accidental drowning. Video surveillance footage taken from inside an elevator shortly before her disappearance showed Lam acting strangely, pressing multiple elevator buttons, hiding in the corner of the elevator, and waving her arms wildly, causing widespread speculation about the cause of her death.[14] After the elevator video was made public, many started to believe in a more paranormal explanation, some even going to the extent to claim Lam was possessed. Lam was thought to have had bipolar disorder, which could have contributed to her death as well as her strange behavior in the elevator.[15]
  • On 13 June 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that the body of a twenty-eight year old male had been found outside the hotel. Some conjectured that the male may have committed suicide by jumping from the hotel, though a spokesperson for the county coroner informed the newspaper that the cause of death had not been determined and that his name would not be released until his family could be notified.[16]

Thus it would appear that there have been at least 15 deaths at the Cecil, resulting from non-natural causes: either as a result of suicide, accident or murder. This excludes the case of Dorothy Sceiger (1940) who was reported to be in a critical condition after ingesting poison at the hotel, but with no further reportage as to whether she died as a result.

Cultural references[edit]

On 27 March 1987, the band U2 performed an impromptu live concert on the rooftop of a one-storey building on the corner of 7th and Main in Downtown Los Angeles, next door to the Cecil Hotel. The performance, with the hotel featuring as a backdrop, was filmed and commercially released as a music video for the release of the band's song "Where the Streets Have No Name".[17]


  1. ^ a b "Body found in LA hotel water tank may be missing Canadian tourist". Yahoo! News. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Condé Nast Traveler, article 14 December 2012
  3. ^ Wallace-King, Donna (October 29, 2014). "True tales of terror to keep you up at night". KSLA News. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ LAist.com: article by Juliet Bennett Rylah, 31 May 2016
  5. ^ http://therealdeal.com/la/2016/11/08/hotel-cecil-could-get-historical-cultural-status/
  6. ^ "Downtown LA's notorious Hotel Cecil named historic-cultural monument - MyNewsLA.com". MyNewsLA.com. 28 February 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "James T. Bartlett, "Gourmet Ghosts 2: More Ghosts, Murders, Suicides and L.A. Weirdness", 2016. Research sourced from Los Angeles Times newspaper archives.
  8. ^ https://ladailymirror.com/2014/01/29/black-dahlia-and-the-cecil-hotel-another-good-story-ruined/
  9. ^ Duke, Alan (22 February 2013). "Hotel with corpse in water tank has notorious past". CNN. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Hamilton, Denise (2007-12-10). "Serial Killer Central - Native Intelligence". Laobserved.com. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  11. ^ "Body Found Inside Water Tank Atop Hotel Identified As Missing Canadian Tourist". CBS Los Angeles. February 19, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2014. 
  12. ^ "'We thought the water tasted funny': Los Angeles hotel guests drank and bathed in water from tank where dead Canadian tourist decomposed for two weeks". Daily Mail UK. February 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ Melissa Pamer and Lolita Lopez (20 February 2013). "Body Found in Water Tank at Hotel is Missing Canadian Tourist: LAPD". NBC 4 Southern California. 
  14. ^ William M. Welch (2013-06-21). "Elisa Lam's death ruled accidental". USA Today. 
  15. ^ Nair, Drishya (June 21, 2013). "Elisa Lam Death: Canadian Tourist's death an accident, rules LA coroner's office". International Business Times. 
  16. ^ Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times, 13 June 2015.
  17. ^ 'Flashback Monday: U2 performs on a roof-top in down-town L.A.', LAist.com, 23 September 2013, http://laist.com/2013/09/23/flashback_monday_u2_performs_on_a_r.php

External links[edit]