The long, dark history of the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles

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Authorities are trying to determine how a Canadian tourist ended up dead in a rooftop water tank at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Elisa Lam, 21, never checked out of the Hotel Cecil on 7th and Main Street. She went missing nearly three weeks ago. A maintenance worker made the gruesome discovery Tuesday after guests complained about the water pressure.

The mysterious death isn't the hotels first brush of notoriety. 

Chris Nichols, associate editor for the Los Angeles Magazine, spoke to KPCC about the hotel’s long and sordid history.

The Cecil in its prime 

The Cecil Hotel, which opened in 1925, had a short prime.

“By that time,” Nichols said, “all the action had sort of shifted to the Biltmore Hotel to start a long slow deterioration into burlesque halls and pawn shops.”

Its dark history

“There were murders there in the 20s and 30s,” he said, “and a woman jumped out a window in the 60s."

“Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez was a frequent resident in the 1980s. That’s when room rates were as cheap as $14. It’s reported that he stayed in a room on the 14th floor while killing 14 people.

Austrian murderer Jack Unterweger also stayed there in the ‘80s.

“He picked up some prostitutes nearby and they ended up dead,” Nichols said.


New owners took over the Cecil Hotel in 2007. Since then, they’ve made improvements to the hotel, a historic site next door to the Pacific Electric Lofts.

“They’ve added the Stay boutique hotel, which I’ve sent people to—which look pretty neat,” Nichols said. “They added a coffee place, a restaurant.”

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