The Strange History of the Cecil Hotel

Updated on August 16, 2019
Em Clark profile image

Em is an armchair detective who falls asleep listening to true crime podcasts.

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Is the Cecil Hotel Open?

In a word, no. The Cecil Hotel is no longer open and neither is the Stay On Main Hotel & Hostel. So what exactly is going on with the building and when did it close? The answer is complicated.

First off, I'm just going to say that my dates are as approximate as possible. That's because you can look up The Cecil on a dozen different reputable sources and get different dates for the timeline of the hotel on each one. Oof.

According to RealtyTrac, the former hotel at 640 S. Main Street in Los Angeles, California was built (though, according to Wikipedia it was "rebuilt", without further context) in 1924. Three years later, it opened as The Cecil and did alright until the 1950s, when its glamorous reputation befell one that was more, you know, avoid that place thanks to its close proximity to Skid Row.

Skid Row and Its Effects on The Cecil

Real quick, if you don't know what Skid Row was back then—or now—it's basically an area of L.A. where a lot of impoverished and culturally diverse folk, including those who were homeless took up residence and, likely because of these factors, were sequestered to this area and viewed as a nuisance by local politicians instead of as a group of people worthy of real assistance.

Hence, why rich people stopped patronizing The Cecil in lieu of hotels where they could pretend a lower class didn't exist and thus contributing to the financial despair of The Cecil.

Still, The Cecil kept chugging along, with its image shifting from a stop for wealthy businessmen to an affordable short or long-term stay option for travelers. Unfortunately, the 600-room hotel couldn't quite keep up with the times, from its lack of air conditioning to a plethora of known safety issues, and gained a reputation for violence until 2011, when it rebranded as The Stay on Main, remaining open as a hotel with some micro-apartments thrown in. Even then, it still found itself the recipient of horrible customer service reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

The Stay on Main

When did The Stay on Main close? I honestly can't tell for sure. By 2014, it had sold to a new owner and, according to these scathing Yelp reviews, it seems to have stayed open to the public until around late 2016 or early 2017, when it was designated as a historic landmark. It certainly seems that the hotel officially closed in 2017.

The Future of The Cecil

Now, it appears that some guy named Simon Baron is shifting the focus of the towering building into a mixed-use facility. Traditionally, these kinds of projects include residential living, office space, and retail. But who really knows? Like it's past, the future of The Cecil is full of mystery, intrigue and probably more rumor than fact.

Hopefully, the building will prove to be an asset to the businesses and neighborhoods that surround it. Until then, here are the most infamous things that once contributed to the building's creepy reputation.

A view of The Cecil - back when it was The Cecil.
A view of The Cecil - back when it was The Cecil. | Source

A History of Housing Criminals

Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker

Chances are, if you're the type of person Googling the history of The Cecil then you're also the type of person who knows all about Richard Ramirez. If not, the scoop on Ramirez and his connection to The Cecil is that he supposedly stayed there at some point during his days of murderin' in California from the spring of '84 to the summer of '85. Here's the thing though, it's just a rumor and can't be substantiated outside of it. Suffice to say, the '80s were a creepy time for the hotel. And, well, everyone else too.

Serial Killer Johann "Jack" Unterweger

Speaking of serial killers, Austrian journalist Jack Unterweger stayed at the hotel in the early '90s while on a writing assignment focused on true crime and how sex workers were viewed in the U.S. vs. Austria. His stay at the Cecil came shortly after his release from Austrian prison for, um, murder, and preceded a killing spree in which his victims were sex workers.

Mysterious Deaths

Elisa Lam

Perhaps the most damaging blow to The Cecil's reputation came in early 2013 when one its guests, Elisa Lam turned up missing during her stay. When she was found deceased in one of the hotel's water tanks a couple of weeks later, theories took off without much regard for the victim herself. While some speculated an intense murder plot with a possible coverup others dissected Lam's mental state without giving heed to the facts. In the end, her death was ruled accidental and has all but fallen off the Reddit threads.

Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia Murder

Another infamous mysterious death (I mean it's not that mysterious, she was clearly murdered) connected to The Cecil is that of Elizabeth Short who's rumored to have visited the hotel shortly before her very public death. This rumor seems pretty far-fetched and even gratuitous though, considering there's plenty of evidence that she was never near there. If nothing else, it's just one more negative mark for the former luxury hotel that ultimately led to its demise.

A street view of the hotel after it's brand shift to "Stay on Main"
A street view of the hotel after it's brand shift to "Stay on Main" | Source

Poor Customer Service

To me, nothing is scarier than bad customer service, especially when it comes to a place where you're spending the night. And oh boy did The Cecil ever have some bad customer service reviews.

According to the credible Google reviews (some of them are just poor attempts at creative writing concerning the Elisa Lam case) some of the worst complaints about the hotel were it's affinity for loud parties, thin walls, communal bathrooms, and rooms with no air conditioning which, if you're anything like me, the thought of an L.A. summer with no A/C is a true nightmare come to life.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Em Clark

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