The Cecil Hotel, located in Los Angeles, California, is renowned for having an infamous and eerie history – full of violence, death and other salacious activity.
Now called Stay on the Main, the hotel appears to be gradually improving its public image. But as many will attest to, you can never quite escape a dark past.
The hotel is notorious for many reasons and has seen a resurgence in public interest since the mysterious disappearance of Elisa Lam from the hotel in 2013.
In this article, we take a look at the history of the hotel, including some of its dark moments that have led to it becoming a place of general interest and phenomena.
The Early History of The Cecil Hotel
The Cecil was construted in 1924, in line with the vision of hotelier and mogul William Banks Hanner. The hotel cost $1million at the time, which is equivalent to around $4-5million in 2021.
The Cecil had been intended to be a high-class hotel that would prove a desirable location for both tourists an businessmen to visit.
The hotel opened in 1927, having taken three years to construct. But the hotel struggled significantly in its infancy due to the affect of the nationwide Great Depression, which coincided with the hotel’s formative years.
During the 1930s, The Cecil was able to claw back some business, but it would prove to be just a short-term reprieve for the hotel, which encountered further problems, mainly due to its location.
The area in which The Cecil was located within downtown Los Angeles became known as “Skid Row” – which hurt the reputation of the hotel, with the area now associated with an increase in violence.
Drug activity, prostitution and other general criminal activities were commonplace in and around the hotel. As will be discussed further below, other factors also hurt the reputation of the hotel.
Deaths and Suicides at The Cecil Hotel
Unfortunately, the hotel became noted for being the location of several suicides and deaths. While it isn’t believed that the suicides were linked, it was still a tragic occurrence, and made it difficult to recruit staff members due to the risk of seeing something traumatic.
The first documented death was that of Percy Ormond Cook, who took his own life in the hotel in January 1927. Further deaths took place at the hotel in subsequent years, with dozens of suicides among them.
A particularly grisly murder was that of “Goldie” Osgood – who had lived long-term at the hotel. She was found dead in her room, having been raped, attacked and stabbed. The murder was never solved.
Due to its close proximity to gang locations, The Cecil also saw many murders take place, either very near to the hotel or in some cases, within the hotel itself.
The Nightstalker at The Cecil Hotel
Perhaps one of the most notorious factors in The Cecil Hotel’s dark history is its association with Richard Ramirez – better known as “The Nightstalker”.
Ramirez was a serial killer, it is known that he stayed at the hotel during a time period that coincided with his murderous spree. At the time his crimes weren’t known, meaning this didn’t affect its reputation.
But now that we live in an age where we are aware of the horrors that were committed by Ramirez, it adds a further layer of darkness about The Cecil Hotel. His mugshot can be seen below.
Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger, who many believe to be a nightstalker “copycat”, also stayed at the hotel in 1991, a few years after Ramirez had done so.
Hanner eventually sold the hotel and in the subsequent decades many different hotel managers attempted to revive the hotel. But these efforts proved in vain, with the hotel continuing to struggle.
Throughout the remainder of the 1900s, significant renovations took place. In the 2000s, the hotel renamed – perhaps in an effort to escape its dark history – being known as The Stay on the Main hotel.
The hotel largely stayed out of the news for several years as it appeared to finally move on from the past. This all changed however in 2013, due to the mysterious case of Elisa Lam.
The Disappearance of Elisa Lam at The Cecil Hotel
Elisa Lam was a Canadian student that stayed at the hotel in 2013. Her stay at the hotel was blighted by mystery and ended in tragedy.
Lam unfortunately passed away during her stay at the hotel, though the exact circumstances behind her death are still unknown – and foul play certainly seems likely.
A bizarre element in Lam’s case is CCTV footage that was released, showing Lam engaging in very erratic behaviour. You can see the CCTV footage of Lam below. Please note, viewer discretion is advised.
Elisa Lam was a 21-year old Canadian student at the time of her disappearance. The video above shows Lam in an elevator, though the elevator doors do not close. As mentioned, Lam acts erratically in the two and a half minute video.
She is seen to go in and out of the elevator and appears to at one point hide from someone. She also seems to be speaking to someone during the CCTV footage. Unusual movements and hand gestures are also made by Lam.
Simply put, the video is incredibly eerie. What makes the mystery even worse is that this was the final time that Lam was seen. She eventually departs from the elevator and is never seen alive again.
19 days later, Lam’s naked body was found in a water supply cistern on the hotel’s roof. The body was only discovered after residents complained of low water pressure and foul-tasting water.
Lam’s body was discovered by a maintenance worker. Lam’s death was ruled as an accidental drowning, with her reported diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder seen as a contributing factor – and could potentially explain her unusual behaviour.
It isn’t known how Lam ended up on top of the hotel. It is believed that it was near-impossible to make it to the top of the hotel at the time. The fact that Lam’s body was also naked is of significant concern to many.
The absence of further CCTV means the whole truth will surely never be known. For all of the wild conspiracy theories that have been thrown out there, more realistic theories have never been proven.
For Lam’s family, the disappearance and associated unexplained circumstances are very difficult to live with. Lam’s death was a tragedy and left many, many unanswered questions.
The Cecil Hotel has also made numerous appearances in television shows. It was featured during a season of the anthology American Horror Story – with the season in question using the hotel as a place of death and destruction.
Recently, a Netflix documentary which profiled the case of Eliza Lam was released. This has unleashed a new level of interest in the hotel, but has also raised further questions about Lam’s mysterious death.
Suggestions of foul play continue to be made, with many conspiracy theories and suggestions of extraterrestrial events abound. Lam’s family declined the opportunity to partake in the documentary.
The Cecil Hotel, or The Stay on the Main hotel as it is now known as – appears to be leading a lower profile these days. While the hotel has been dogged by its dark past, it is now seen as something close to a cultural icon.
In 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve the hotel being designated as a historic-cultural monument. This was due to the hotel’s representation of being the typical early 20th Century American hotel.
As of 2021, the hotel stands at 19 floors and boasts a total of 700 rooms for guests. Its current owner is hotelier Richard Born, who purchased the property for $30million in 2014.
What is to follow for the Hotel in the coming years is unknown. One certainty though is that there will not be any shortage of interest in the hotel for many, many years to come.
The image used at the top of the article is courtesy of the Wikipedia Creative Commons licence. Attribution: Jim Winstead, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.