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Here's what you need to know about Cecil Hotel

By Camille Santiago Published Feb 22, 2021 5:10 am Updated Feb 13, 2023 11:45 am

Netflix’s The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel has brought about attention not only to the death of Canadian college student Elisa Lim, but also to the location where her body was found: the Cecil Hotel.

But why has media and true crime lovers become so invested at a crime scene? Let’s just say Lam’s death was not the first, nor the second, or twentieth (and definitely not the last) crime that happened in this hotel—Cecil Hotel has had multiple deaths in over a century, and had guests that were serial killers.

To fill you in a little bit more, here's a definitive timeline of the Cecil Hotel's dark past since the ‘20s, including the “Night Stalker” and Black Dahlia.

1920s: The Cecil Hotel opens… and records its first death

The Cecil Hotel opened in Dec. 20, 1924 in the booming Downtown Los Angeles. It was a Beaux Arts-style 15-story building that had a luxe marble lobby, stained glass, and 700 rooms, ideally built for business travelers and tourists. Because of its 5-star feel at the time, it quickly earned the reputation as a comfortable and classy hotel.

Just about two years since it opened, the hotel recorded its first suicide. On Jan. 22, 1927, Percy Ormond Cook shot himself while inside the Cecil Hotel because he “had brooded over loneliness” after his wife and son left him, as per Los Angeles Times.

But things took a turn for the worse. Unfortunately, the hotel experienced downfall due to the Great Depression and for its close proximity to Skid Row, a district where thousands of homeless people are found.

1930s-1960s: More deaths occur

The hotel was shaken by another disturbing news when it was discovered that W.K. Norton has committed suicide by taking “a number of capsules, believed to have contained poison” in 1931.

According to Medium, many more deaths have been cited, mostly suicides either by ingesting poison, slashing of the throat, gunshots, and jumping through the window—which alone, had around seven incidents based on their report.

Other grisly deaths that made the headlines include that of Elizabeth Short aka the Black Dahlia, who reportedly was found at the hotel’s bar area just before her violent (and still unsolved) murder in January 1947. In 1962, Pauline Otton jumped out of the window and landed on a pedestrian, killing them both. And in 1963, “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, who was well-known in the area for feeding pigeons, was “strangled, raped, stabbed, and beaten.”

One of its former hotel managers, Amy Price, even mentioned in the Netflix docuseries, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, that she saw over 80 deaths in her 10 years in the hotel—and that’s only between 2007 to 2017!

Mid 1980s to 1990s: Home to infamous criminals

As if gaining the title “the Suicide” or “Death Hotel” was not enough, the Cecil Hotel became a spot for drug activity, sex workers, and a home to notorious killers.

Richard Ramirez or “The Night Stalker” and Johann “Jack” Unterweger stayed in the Cecil Hotel during their killing sprees. Ramirez was often seen entering the lobby naked because he had thrown his bloodied clothes into the hotel dumpster. 

Unterweger, on the other hand, was a respected Austrian journalist and television host who was in Los Angeles for an assignment. During his research (which was about prosititution), he killed over 10 women, including three sex workers.

2007-2014: The first rebrand and renovation

With everything that happened in the last few decades, the owners of Cecil Hotel still tried to keep the haunted building alive by rebranding it. Under its new ownership, a part of Cecil was renamed Stay on Main, a mid-priced boutique hotel.

Cecil Hotel rebranded as Stay on Main
2013: The death of Elisa Lam

We all know this story by now—and it’s the reason why people started talking about Cecil Hotel again. On January 2013, Canadian student Elisa Lam checked into the Cecil Hotel while on a short stopover on her way to Santa Cruz, California. About five days after her arrival, she was declared missing. And in February, her body was found floating inside a water tank on the hotel’s roof, after guests have complained about the weird taste in the water and low water pressure. Up to this day, no one still knows what happened to Lam.

End of 2021: The Cecil Hotel is due to reopen
Render of the new Cecil Hotel

New century, new start? For the Cecil Hotel, it’s a yes.

In 2016, the hotel was handed to its new owner, New York-based hotelier Richard Born, and development firm Simon Baron Development acquired a ground lease on the property.

Despite the hotel’s dark past (or present), the president of Simon Baron Development, Matt Baron, found potential in the century-old building. The renovation, which will be done by LA-based firm Marmol Radziner, will reveal a fresher look to the “cursed” hotel. “I think there are a lot of buildings on Skid Row or in other neighborhoods that may have had issues—maybe not to the extent or not as publicized as [The Cecil Hotel]—but that doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with the building itself. That being said, from our perspective, it's almost like that building will no longer exist. We're building a brand new building,” Baron told LAist.

Once the renovations are done, “it will be a very different building inside.” Baron added, ”The idea is to appeal to the demographic that you see that's coming to downtown LA, [such as] younger millennials," he said. That said, Cecil Hotel will be “comparable” but cheaper to The Ace or The Proper, two young, hip, and vibrant hotels nearby. Baron says that the infamous rooftop may be renovated into a pool or lounge area where guests can hangout.

Photos from Netflix and Curbed LA