The Hotel Cecil in downtown Los Angeles, notorious from some of the people who lived and died there over its 92 years, will be considered for designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
The three commissioners present Thursday voted in favor of considering a request from the hotel's owner and developer that the property be considered for the city-monument designation. (One commissioner was absent and one of the commission seats is currently vacant.)
"The commission will now have an opportunity to tour the property — do an inspection tour with a subcommittee of the commission — to evaluate its current condition, any alterations that may have occurred over the years, and then the item will come back for final consideration by the commission at a future meeting," said Ken Bernstein, principal city planner for the Office of Historic Resources.
The commission is tentatively scheduled to vote on the designation on Dec. 15. If it recommends that the hotel should receive Historic-Cultural Monument status, the recommendation would then go to the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management committee and, if approved there, to the full City Council for consideration, probably in mid-March, Bernstein said.
A deep and dark local history
The 14-story, 600-room hotel at 640 S. Main St., was built in 1924 to cater to businessmen traveling to the Spring Street Financial District and patrons and others associated with the Broadway Theater and Commercial District. It was designed by noted Los Angeles architect Loy Lester Smith, "a local architect who designed several commercial and government buildings in Los Angeles that include the Lane Mortgage Company Building (1922); the City Club Building (1924); and the City of Los Angeles Fire Department Engine Company #54, Station #1 (1924)," a city staff report said.
Over the years, as downtown changed, the hotel fell out of favor with travelers and became a troubled den for drugs and prostitution. Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez reportedly stayed there in the 1980s, and in 2013 the body of a Canadian tourist was found in one of the building's large metal water cisterns on the roof. The hotel was also used as a location for the TV show “American Horror Story.”
The building currently houses a low-budget, 300-room Stay on Main hotel. A few of the remaining rooms are rented out as residential units.
In June, Matthew Baron, president of Simon Baron Development, told the Los Angeles Times that his firm had signed a 99-year ground lease with the building’s owner, 248 Haynes Hotel Associates, and planned a $100 million renovation to turn the building into a boutique hotel with micro rental units.
“We are gutting the entire building,” Baron told the L.A. Times. “We are going to redevelop it from the doorway to the roof and everything in between.”
Historic-monument status could pave way for building's rehab
If the developer can secure the historic-monument designation, it would be eligible to enter into a 10-year contract with the city — through a state program called the Mills Act — that would provide for property tax reductions and other assistance intended to aid the developer in historically sensitive renovation of the structure.
Property tax reductions in such cases can range from 20 to 80 percent of the current valuation, Bernstein said.
"The purpose of the Mills Act is to create an incentive for that savings that is achieved in property taxes, not just to line the pockets of a property owner, but to be poured back into the property itself in the form of historic rehabilitation work," Bernstein said. "So we would be looking at a 10-year plan for how that savings would be put back into the building in terms of future rehabilitation work and maintenance. That is something that we scrutinize very carefully. And not all Mills Act applications get approved, if they do not have a thoughtful rehabilitation plan."
"Staff has not yet made a final determination as to whether the nomination meets monument criteria," Bernstein said, "but it does appear that the hotel is significant as an example of Renaissance Revival architecture. And it was also argued [at Thursday's commission meeting] that [the hotel] was important in the early tourist industry and hotel industry during a formative era of Los Angeles in the 1920s as Los Angeles was exploding with growth and becoming a more auto-oriented city."
For more details on the Hotel Cecil, see the document below: