Cecil Hotel: L.A. Looks To Infamous Property To House Its Homeless Population

·4 min read

A motion by city officials for Los Angeles to enter into a master lease with the Skid Row-adjacent Cecil Hotel for a permanent housing program to address homelessness on Thursday advanced in the Homeless and Poverty Committee.

The hotel, a historic building which has attracted public fascination for its sordid past, has been the inspiration for a number of film and TV productions. American Horror Story: Hotel, Season 5 of the FX anthology series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, was based in part on the Cecil Hotel. The building was also the subject of the 2021 Netflix documentary series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which explored the 2013 death of 21-year-old Canadian student found in the property’s water tank. In 2017, Investigation Discovery did a three-episode crime series called Horror at the Cecil Hotel.

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Lady Gaga and Kathy Bates in ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ - Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX/Courtesy Everett Collection
Lady Gaga and Kathy Bates in ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ - Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX/Courtesy Everett Collection

Prashant Gupta/FX/Courtesy Everett Collection

The property was converted into an affordable housing complex last December, but six months later, just 73 of the 600 available units are occupied. The recent motion by council members Kevin de León and Bob Blumenfield calls on city agencies to provide a report outlining a program to provide permanent housing in the hotel through its voucher program.

The proposed master lease between the city and the hotel would include “different scenarios to provide homeless services and to manage and fund the units.” Those scenarios might include providing residents with vouchers to subsidize their leases.

“This is an emergency,” Susie Shannon, policy director of Housing is a Human Right, told City News Service. “And we can’t afford to keep vacant units here. We can’t afford to let them go into disrepair. We can’t afford to convert them to luxury.”

The Cecil Hotel in 2013 - Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut, File
The Cecil Hotel in 2013 - Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut, File

AP Photo/Nick Ut, File

The facility, which was acquired in 2016 by Simon Baron Development, was once slated to become another trendy Downtown L.A. conversion, but the Covid hit. While still owned by Simon Baron Development, it is now operated by the Skid Row Housing Trust, offering secured entry, a community kitchen, laundry facility, a recreational room and on-site case management services provided by SRHT Health and Social Services.

People are eligible for Cecil Hotel units if they make between 30% and 60% of the area median income, but most units are designated for people making 30% or less.

“Unlike other affordable and permanent supportive housing developments, this project was funded and will operate as self-sustaining with private capital,” Matt Baron, CEO of Simon Baron Development, said previously. “We are really excited to bring this solution to the growing number of people who are suffering on the streets and are in need of a home.”

Public fascination with the Cecil Hotel and the mysteries surrounding was most recently reignited after the death of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, who was staying at the building in 2013, when had been rebranded as the Stay on Main hotel. She was reported missing and, after a search, eventually found in the roof’s water tank. But that was just the latest in a long line of tragedies connected to the site.

Built in 1924, the hotel cost $1.5 million to complete and boasted an opulent marble lobby with stained-glass windows, potted palms and alabaster statuary. But five years later, the country fell into the Great Depression.

The first documented suicide at the Cecil occurred in 1927. One report claims there were at least a dozen more through the years.

Legend has it that aspiring actress Elizabeth Short — AKA The Black Dahlia — was drinking at Cecil’s bar shortly before her murder. In 1964, a resident at the hotel was found dead in her room. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed, beaten and her room ransacked. The case was never solved.

Serial killer Richard Ramirez was staying at the Cecil when he engaged in most of, if not all of, his killing spree in the early ’80s. About a decade later, another serial killed named Jack Unterweger strangled and killed at least three prostitutes while holed up at the hotel.

In 2017, the Los Angeles City Council designated the structure an Historic-Cultural Monument, calling it a “representative example of the early 20th Century American hotel industry” and “an example of Beaux Arts-style commercial architecture.”

City News Service contributed to this story.

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