Week 151: Haunted Hotels in DTLA

October 28, 2018

Barbara's and my annual Halloween hike brought us, once again, to downtown Los Angeles—this time guided by author James T. Bartlett's eerie walking tour from the January 25, 2018, issue of Los Angeles Magazine. Los Angeles is said to be the most haunted city in CA, and the hotels on the tour bring haunting stories to prove it. They were built between the edge and the midst of the early 20th-century population boom that made L.A.—a bandit-ridden pueblo of 5,700 residents in 1870—an urban-industrial "instant city" with 1,280,000 residents by 1930. Thank the arrival of railroads and our sunny climate for that. When these hotels were in their youth, Red Line trolley cars and Model-T autos created the first DTLA traffic jams. Our hike not only covered some of the ghosts and crimes that haunted the growing city, it provided an architectural tour through the oldest streets in metropolitan L.A. First stop, the Alexandria Hotel at 5th & Spring, the oldest (1906) on the hike, and most luxurious hotel in its time. The Alexandria's bricked off "phantom wing" at the back (eerie open windows and vigilant griffin pictured in the header) still stands empty, maybe with an occasional visit from Valentino's ghost to his old suite. The Alexandria's Palm Court Ballroom is a L.A. Historic-Cultural Landmark, but not because of the ghosts of dancers searching for sometime-guest Charlie Chaplin. On to the Cecil Hotel at 6th & Main, the 1927 hotel with the most notorious history: murders, suicides, odd deaths, serial-killer check-ins, Black Dahlia sightings, and one of the inspirations for American Horror Story—Hotel. Dark stories for an early Sunday morning, so when we passed an Angel Wing mural in the Fashion District we stopped for photos to lighten our mood. Next stop, the Ace Hotel at 9th & Broadway. Built in 1927 as the United Artists Building, this gorgeous, Spanish-Gothic building was (for a year) the tallest building in L.A., and is still a L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument, part of L.A.'s Broadway Theater District on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Ace Hotel is one of the only hotels that celebrates its spooky past, this year presenting Vampyr, a 1932 horror landmark film in its theater on Halloween. The killer feature of the Ace is in its haunting architecture, though James lists some of the location's evil background in his article. The Stillwell Hotel on 8th & Grand, built in 1913, escaped true infamy until Hank Holzer opened Hank's Bar at ground level in 1954. After Hank died in 1998, he began haunting his dive bar. Our last, and grandest, hotel stop was the Millennium Biltmore on 5th & Grand, another L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument. Four years after it was built in 1923, the Biltmore hosted the first Oscar ceremony, and since then became a must-visit and a film, video, and television star on its own. Every part of the hotel looks and smells like history, including the original Moorish-Revival lobby (now a tea room). The Biltmore's claim to haunted fame? Allegedly, its bar was the last known sighting of Elizabeth Short, 6 days before the discovery of her body in Leimert Park made the Black Dahlia case the most famous unsolved crime in L.A. history. (Detailed haunting info from this hike and more can be found in Bartlett's Gourmet Ghost tomes, Vol I & II.) Happily haunted, Barbara and I headed for our favorite DTLA Sunday morning spot—the Grand Central Market—for (OMG) salted-caramel bread pudding and mochas to mark Barbara's upcoming Happy Halloween Birthday. Cheers to my fearless, willing-to-go-anywhere hiking partner!

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