The Strange History Of Los Angeles's Most Infamous Hotels
Los Angeles is a tourist town; people flock from across the globe to visit Hollywood and the beaches, the theme parks and studios. As a result, the hotels of Los Angeles are some of the most interesting places to stay in the world. From the Chateau Marmont's history to the Skid Row speakeasies, the hotels in Los Angeles offer something for everyone. The coolest hotels in Los Angeles all have rich histories. Some, like the Knickerbocker Hotel, have creepy pasts, and others, like the Georgian, were the home to lots of criminal activity. Below are the strange histories of Los Angeles's most infamous hotels.
So, where do you want to stay in the City of Angels?
The Knickerbocker Hotel Hosted Seances To Conjure The Ghost Of HoudiniPhoto: Gary Minnaert / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Knickerbocker Hotel opened in Hollywood in July of 1929. Famed architect EM Frasier designed the hotel in the Spanish Colonial Style, and it immediately attracted the film industry’s elite. It was perhaps best known for two things – its world class bar, the Lido Room, which hosted live Tango music, and the lobby’s chandelier. The light fixture cost a reported $120,000 in 1925.
The Knickerbocker had a lot of ups and downs. It began as one of the hippest hotels in town and hosted celebrities Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe on their honeymoon. However, there are reports of Monroe’s ghost haunting the lobby. Elvis stayed at the Knickerbocker while filming his first movie, Love Me Tender. In some of the more "down" moments for the hotel, director DW Griffith had a stroke in his room at the hotel and died shortly thereafter, and Frances Farmer was dragged kicking and screaming while in a manic stupor from the hotel, institutionalized the next day. Irene Lentz, a costume designer who was deeply bereaved by the death of Gary Cooper, committed suicide by jumping from the building. In the 1960s, the neighborhood began to decline, and the hotel was converted to a Senior Living home.
Today, it is best remembered for its association with Harry Houdini. When Houdini died in 1926, he promised his wife Bess that he would visit her from beyond if it were possible. Bess held a séance on Halloween for 10 consecutive years. The tenth and final year was a media sensation – even the Los Angeles Times covered it. The seance was on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. That night, Houdini failed to reach out to the gathered. As the séance disbanded and the guests began to mingle, the sky opened up and thunder and lightning rained down. They all rushed inside for cover. The next day, they discovered that it did not rain anywhere else in Los Angeles.
Robert Kennedy Dec. At the Ambassador Hotel, and Valentino Haunts Its HallsPhoto: Colourphoto, Boston / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Ambassador opened on Wilshire Boulevard on New Years Day, 1921. At the time, Wilshire Boulevard was a dirt road surrounded by dairy farms. The arrival of the 500-room hotel brought quick and decisive changes. During its hey-day, the hotel and its world class night club, the Cocoanut Grove, set the trends for all of Los Angeles and the film industry. The Ambassador hosted six Academy Awards. Every president from Hoover to Nixon stayed at the hotel. Hollywood’s elite packed the Cocoanut Grove night after night – Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, and Jimmy Stewart were all regulars. It’s even been rumored that Rudolph Valentino supplied the hotel's paper mache palm trees from the set of his film The Sheik.
As the 1960s progressed and cities were falling into disrepair from the rise of the suburbs, the fate of the Ambassador was forever changed. Robert F. Kennedy won the presidential primary for California on June 4, 1968. He addressed his supporters from the Ambassador’s Embassy Room ballroom. Moments later, he was gunned down and killed in the kitchen by Sirhan Sirhan. It was a morbid and monumental sign of the changing times. The Ambassador struggled along until the mid-1980s and finally checked out its last guest in 1989. It was demolished to make way for a new school in 2006.
Contractors Discovered A Long-Forgotten Speakeasy Beneath The Hotel Rosslyn AnnexPhoto: Jim Winstead / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
The Rosslyn Hotel Annex in downtown Los Angeles opened in 1923 on the corner of 5th and Main. It was designed by the Parkinson and Parkinson Firm in the Beaux Arts style and still stands today, although it has been re-purposed as low income housing. In 2010, the building was bought by the SRO Housing Corporation, and they discovered a long-forgotten speakeasy, the Prohibition haunt for those looking for a good time when drinks were hard to come by. Down in the basement, they found a barbershop and bathrooms directly across from a speakeasy named the Monterey Room. There was also a marble-lined tunnel that led up to 5th Street and a secret passage that led to the original Hotel Rosslyn across the street.
The Hotel Alexandria Had a Bricked Over Phantom WingPhoto: Los Angeles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
The Hotel Alexandria is located in downtown Los Angeles. It opened in February 1906 and was the nicest hotel in Los Angeles before the Biltmore was built. The Alexandria was so popular that a second building was built, and then a neighboring wing was added. The added wing was on the adjacent property and owned by William Chick. He built the building to connect to the Alexandria – the hallways from the original building were extended onto his new addition, and the add-on rooms were handled just like the rest; the guests checked in at the front desk as usual, etc.
In 1938, ownership changed hands, and the hotel became the property of Phil Goldstone . At the time, the add-on wing was owned by William Chick’s daughter. They argued over finances, and Goldstone eventually sent in bricklayers to seal off the original hotel from the Chicks' building. William Chick never planned on running his rooms separately from the main hotel, so there was no lobby or check-in for the wing. To make matters worse, there weren't even stairs connecting the sealed-off floors to each other, and there was no retail space on the ground floor. The phantom wing was completely cut off from the outside world and lay undisturbed until 2012, when it was finally bought and converted to condos.
The Tropicana Motor Hotel Hosted Rock And Roll's ElitePhoto: Tichnor Brothers, Publisher / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
At one time owned by Sandy Koufax, the Tropicana Motel did not have much going for it esthetically, but it made up for it with amazing clientele. Located in West Hollywood on the corner of Santa Monica and West Knoll, it was just a hop, skip, and jump down the road from the Troubadour. As a result, just about every rock band from the '60s through the late '70s set up camp at the famed budget motel. Jim Morrison was often there. Led Zeppelin and the Mamas and the Papas were frequent guests.Tom Waits was a long-term resident. He even broke off a section of the kitchen counter so he could move a piano into the kitchen. The Clash and Blondie had memorable visits. The motel’s restaurant, Duke’s, was a late-night hangout for the after hours crowd. Unfortunately, the location was too good, and it all came to an end in 1987 when the wrecking ball cleared the way for a new and bigger Ramada.
- Category: Location
The Chinese Massacre Of 1871 Occurred Across From The Pico HousePhoto: Downtowngal / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Pico House is the last hotel from the original downtown of Los Angeles. It sits just North of the 101 Freeway, near Chinatown, on the Old Plaza. Built in 1870, the Pico House belongs in a Western film. Ezra Keysor, the architect, designed it in the Italianate Style. The hotel's namesake, Don Pio Pico, was the last Mexican governor of California before it became a part of the United States. Pico threw lavish parties in the hotel square and entertained the masses.
Upon its completion, the Pico House was considered the greatest hotel south of San Francisco. However, Los Angeles was a lawless city during the 1870s, and lynch mobs ruled the streets. The Chinese Massacre of 1871 occurred right outside the Pico House as belligerent mobs hung, beat, and burned the Chinese population that was helping with the railroad. Upon the completion of the railroads, the downtown and financial districts outgrew the Old Plaza and moved south to what are now Broadway and Main Streets.