Sometimes, people send us letters about motels they’ve stayed at before and think we should check out. Or motels they’ve driven past with a morbid curiosity. This week has been a busy one for our inbox on account of The Cecil Hotel. This cheap, downtown Los Angeles hotel made headlines after the body of a young woman was discovered in a water tank, meaning hotel guests had been bathing in water contaminated by a corpse. The Cecil Hotel is also known for hosting serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger at separate times.
Some letters are highly disconcerting, as we’re more like Scooby Doo for Adults, less likely to actually commit or delight in real murders. But one from Kent Grosswiler Jr. from Columbus, OH was an account of his stay there as written for their Creative Nonfiction course in college. We’ve been given permission to run this review here complete with photos from Charles Shipley Winch, also from Columbus.
“OK. First off, it’ll most likely appear to be a shithole for those of you expecting to get something comparable to The Ritz for $40-$55 in Downtown LA.”
“It’s not that bad, I mean, it does sort of remind you of an extended term flophouse.”
“There was a tranny in the lobby and cigarette burns in the sheets.”
“Are you serious!?!?!?! I’ve stayed at better hostels in Malaysia.”
“This lobby is fucking awesome!”
The first four quotes are excerpts from Yelp reviews of the Cecil Hotel. The last, however, is what came spilling out of my mouth at the end of a 2,243 mile drive to Los Angeles, CA. The Cecil Hotel was place where I’d be resting my head for a couple weeks. Now if I were writing ad copy for a travel agency, I’m sure I’d be reprimanded for some of the print that’s about to follow, but I’m not, so fuck it.
My perception of the place is more flattering than what most of the folks had to say on Yelp. I thought it was pretty nice, but then again, I don’t need too much. I can make do with a lock on the door, a couple electrical outlets, some running water, a mattress and pillow or reasonable facsimiles, and the assurance that the odds of waking up next to strangers are very low. I mean, I don’t have the Malaysian hostel experience to compare it to, but I have spent a week in a crack house/shooting gallery/whorehouse mashup and I’d have to say, the Cecil Hotel is rather fancy compared to that particular location.
It’s worth the fifty bucks for the night just to see the lobby. The stoic front desk feels like a mile from the entrance as there are large archways to the left serving as gateways to the coffee shop and vending areas. To the right, there are ornate columns and a brass railed staircase leading up to a mezzanine Internet area.
The front desk itself has two gold inlay columns on either side and a little terrace with a big round clock featuring my favorite nauseating color combination, turquoise and mauve, overhanging the visitors’ side. I was unable to tell the mineral composition purity of the building materials because I’m not taking geology until next quarter, but everything appears to be made from marble and granite. To tell you truth, it all looks so fabulous, I don’t care what it’s made from. In addition, there are ivory looking statues depicting what I’m guessing to be ancient Romans due to the fact they’re wearing togas and holding lyres and other old ass items. And, they look like the folks in my World Civ text book in the chapter on Rome.
The hallways leading from the elevators to the rooms are just as beautiful with the faux marble tiled floors and and mosaic patterns in format of each door. I might also add that if I didn’t know the man was dead, I’d suspect Russ Meyer had something to do with the hiring of the front desk and coffee shop staff, which beats a Roman statue in my book. It’s also a very effective business strategy. The ladies in the coffee shop wore such low cut blouses, regularly served me whole mugs of espresso for the price of doubles, flirted with me endlessly, calling me “papi.” It took four days for me to notice the espresso was fucking wretched. I’m serious. It tasted like Sanka or Yuban that somebody pissed in.
Upon entering the room, I was underwhelmed. The fancy foyer had deceived me. I’ve definitely slept in nastier places and ultimately for the price I don’t give that much of a fuck, but the rooms do not match the rest of the building — not even close. My room at the Santa Fe Motel 6 was a palace compared to Room 746 of The Cecil Hotel. There were burn holes in the bed spread, the sink water smelled a tad like a high school stink bomb, the lamps and ceiling fan were controlled by a Poltergeist. I’m pretty sure Darth Vader and a gaggle of Russian hookers were shooting a movie in the room next door and production was running on that bitch 24/7. Every fourth shower mysteriously lacked hot water.
There was a section of the wall that was either some type of abstract painting or a combination of blood, semen, and snot. Trust me, I know a looney when I see one, because during my days as a juvenile delinquent, I hacked and spit them on everything. I know blood and semen stains too, but blahblahblah statute of limitations.
I will say, the greasy eccentricities of my Cecil Hotel room never once cost me a night of solid sleep. I still slept fantastically, even after blowing out all the boards that support the mattress which was a result of a bed jumping session ending with a big sitter.
It could be a lot worse. Less than ten years ago, this very building booked its rooms by hourly blocks of time, if you know what I’m saying. It was a den of iniquity where winos, drug addicts, hookers as varied as one’s imagination will allow, and their clients were the only population aside from the staff. Apparently, there got to be a problem with many of the hotel’s desperate denizens ending it all from the top floors, often causing damage to the cars parked in the adjacent lot — damage that wasn’t covered in any of these cars’ insurance policies. I guess some type of falling crack head comprehensive was just too progressive for even Progressive. In 1962, a pedestrian was killed by a woman committing suicide.
This eventually led to the car lot suing the hotel, which led to a heavy duty makeover, but there’s only so much you can do. This is downtown L.A. after all.
Furthermore, the environment makes my girlfriend nervous and she doesn’t scare easy. Some guy grabbed her butt at her job recently and she punched him so hard in the face he needed to be carried out of the place and quite possibly needed several stitches to boot.
Seriously, if you’re willing to sell out the rest of your stay for a fantastic foyer, you’ll love this place. I forgot to add it’s featured with some regularity in some
Hollywood productions, most recently an episode of The Sons of Anarchy. However, I found it difficult to take the menacing bikers seriously as they stormed through the lobby. Maybe they didn’t care for the espresso either.
If you need to be downtown and need a cheap place with weird charm to stay for a few days and you’re not super fussy, this place is for you. If you’re willing to sell out some preferred amenities for regular sightings of cleavage, you’ll seriously dig this motherfucker, pervert. If you lived somewhere nasty at some point in your life like a junkyard or trash dumpster, this place will seem totally adequate.
However, I must stress, if you don’t meet the above qualifications, stay elsewhere. Seriously, I more than meet them and after my two weeks there, I couldn’t wait to get to a very basic Comfort Suites in Silverlake. I didn’t even give a fuck that the foyer had the ambiance of a doctor’s waiting room without magazines.
Editor’s Note: This review, of course, was written before the body was discovered in the water tank. The Yelp reviews are much less kind now.