Here's What The Infamous Cecil Hotel Is Like Now — 10 Years After Elisa Lam's Death
It remains one of the most notorious hotels in North America.
The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles remains one of the most notorious hotels in the United States due in part to its connection to a number of mysterious deaths and unsolved murders.
The hotel, known to some as Hotel Cecil, gained even more notoriety in 2021 when it became the subject of a Netflix documentary series — Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.
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The Netflix mini-series focuses on the disappearance of Canadian student and tourist Elisa Lam, who went missing during her short stay at the hotel — rebranded as Stay On Main — in 2013. Her story garnered international attention, particularly as she was seen behaving unusually in an elevator in the hours before she disappeared.
The docuseries also looks at the hotel's grievous past, which includes a tragic string of deaths by suicide, multiple homicides and connections to high profile serial killers, including Richard "the Night Stalker" Ramirez.
If you're wondering whether the Cecil Hotel is still open, what it's like now, and whether you can still stay the night at the Cecil Hotel or Stay On Main in 2023, here's what you should know.
The Cecil Hotel
Tents line the sidewalk in front of a hotel in Skid Row.
The Cecil Hotel was built in 1924 by hotelier William Banks Hanner and was designed to be a glamorous hotspot for middle-class tourists and international businessmen, Insider reports.
The building — located on Los Angeles' Main Street between 6th and 7th street — cost over US$1 million to construct (the modern equivalent of around US$21.2 million), and featured 700 rooms across 14 floors.
Despite its majestic beginnings, the hotel's fortunes changed when the Great Depression hit in 1929.
Rooms were rented out at budget rates and the hotel began picking up an increased number of long-term tenants in single rooms, many of whom shared common areas like bathrooms.
The low-cost rates, coupled with the property's proximity to Skid Row — where the city of Los Angeles had pushed its homeless population — changed the hotel's reputation.
It became a place where day labourers, transients, sex workers, drug users and homeless people frequented. What followed was a string of tragic deaths, violence and harrowing crimes.
The Cecil Hotel deaths
The Cecil Hotel has seen its fair share of tragedy, so much so that it was once dubbed "America's Hotel Death," Esquire reports.
The first of a series of tragic incidents was in 1927, when guest Percy Ormond Cook shot himself in his hotel room. In the years that followed, at least three other men died by suicide, and in 1937, a woman called Grace E. Magro fell from a ninth-floor window.
The sorrow continued in the years that followed. In 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell gave birth on a bathroom floor in the hotel. Thinking the baby had died, she threw it from the hotel window. A coroner later concluded the child had actually been alive when it was born.
According to Insider, as many as eight guests died after falling from the Cecil Hotel's windows. In most cases, it's not clear whether these deaths were intentional or accidental.
Among those who died were Robert Smith (1947), Helen Gurnee (1954), Julia Frances Moore (1962), Alison Lowell (1975), and two unidentified men (1992, 2015).
In 1962, 27-year-old Pauline Otton jumped from the ninth floor of the Cecil Hotel, UPI reported. She accidentally struck another person who was standing outside the hotel — 65-year-old George Giannini — and he was also killed on impact.
Just two years later, tragedy struck again when a local woman, known as "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood, was found dead in her room. She had been sexually assaulted, strangled and stabbed. Despite an initial arrest, the case remains unsolved.
Killers at the Cecil Hotel
Among the guests staying at the Cecil Hotel in the 1980s and 1990s were high-profile serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez.
Ramirez – known as the Night Stalker — was reportedly a resident of the hotel during his killing spree between 1984 and 1985, paying just $14 per night for his room.
Netflix, in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, suggests he stayed there undetected for many months, despite being spotted in corridors and stairwells naked or wearing blood-stained clothing.
The American killer was later convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders and 11 sexual assaults.
Jack Unterweger is also believed to have lived at the hotel.
Despite killing a woman in Austria in 1976, Unterweger was released from prison in 1990 as the state no longer considered him to be a threat.
Unterweger moved to Los Angeles to write an article about sex workers in the early 1990s. It was here that he strangled and killed three women, all of whom were working in the sex industry.
In the years that followed, Unterweger was charged with 11 murders, with a jury later finding him guilty of 9.
Stay On Main
Stay on Main.
After years of tragedy, the Cecil Hotel underwent a rebrand in 2011, the Netflix documentary explains.
The hotel was renamed Stay On Main and was advertised as an affordable, modern hotel for travellers on a budget.
While the hotel was repainted and rebranded, it still had connections to its past.
As part of the rebrand, the building had been divided into three separate uses. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors were for Stay On Main, the second and third floors were for the remaining long-term tenants, and everything from the seventh floor up remained The Cecil Hotel.
While Stay On Main had separate entrances and lobbies from the rest of the hotel, there were still common areas used by everyone using the building, including the elevators.
Thanks to the revamp, many of the travellers and tourists who came to stay at Stay On Main did not realize upon booking its connection to the Cecil Hotel.
It was after the rebrand, in 2013, that Canadian student Elisa Lam checked in.
The Cecil Hotel and Elisa Lam
On January 26, 2013, 21-year-old Canadian student and tourist Elisa Lam checked into Stay On Main.
Several days later, on January 31, Lam's family reported her missing after they hadn't heard from her for several days.
Police found that all of Lam's belongings were in her hotel room, including her passport, money and phone, but Lam was nowhere to be found.
In the days leading up to her disappearance, Lam was reported to have been seen acting strangely.
Complaints about her behaviour led to her being moved from a shared dorm to a single room, and police found posts on her social media accounts that suggested she may have been struggling with her mental health.
What really garnered international attention following Elisa Lam's disappearance, though, was the elevator footage publicized by police, which showed the last-known movements of the Canadian student.
Elisa Lam and the elevator
As part of their efforts to find Elisa Lam, police checked all of the hotel's CCTV cameras. While footage was not available in many areas of the hotel, police were able to find footage of Elisa Lam in an elevator on the day she was believed to have gone missing.
The footage shows Lam acting unusually for several minutes, appearing to converse with an unseen person, jumping in and out of the elevator, and pressing all of the elevator's buttons.
At the end of the clip, Lam leaves the elevator, but police confirmed there was no footage of her ever leaving the hotel.
The elevator footage was released to the public in an attempt to gather information about her last movements, but it prompted a significant wave of conspiracy theories and captured the attention of internet sleuths worldwide.
Lam's social media accounts, in particular her Tumblr, were analyzed by YouTubers and online sleuths, with some drawing attention to her posts about depression and bipolar disorder.
As shown in the Netflix docuseries, social media was also flooded with speculation of murder, international conspiracies and even paranormal activity, which police say made the investigation even more complex.
How did Elisa Lam die?
Despite all of the conspiracy theories around murder and paranormal activity, Elisa Lam's death was ultimately ruled accidental.
While police were fairly sure that Lam had not left the hotel before she disappeared, in-depth searches of the property were unsuccessful.
However, weeks after Lam went missing, Stay On Main guests complained about the hotel's water, noting that both the taste and pressure were unusual.
Lam's body was then found by a hotel employee in a closed water tank on the roof.
Although there were unanswered questions about how Lam came to be in the water tank, including how she got onto the roof, how the lid of the water tank was closed and why she was found wearing no clothes, her death was ruled as an accidental drowning.
A CBC News report from 2013 explains that the case's lead investigator, LAPD Detective Wallace Tennelle, believes Lam's death was an accident.
"My opinion is that she fell off her medication, and in her state, she happened to find her way onto the roof, got into the tank of water," he told lawyers at the time.
"At the time [she climbed in], I think that the water tank was maybe full. But as people used the tank, used water, unknown to her, the level was dropping to a point where she could no longer reach out and escape, and she died that way."
The Cecil Hotel movies and documentaries
The Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel takes an in-depth look at the history of the Cecil Hotel, as well as the disappearance of Elisa Lam.
While no movies about the hotel specifically have been released, the 2015 show American Horror Story: Hotel is believed to have been inspired by the Cecil Hotel.
The fifth season of the American horror anthology TV series focuses on the mysterious (and fictional) Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles.
Is the Cecil Hotel / Stay On Main still open?
In 2014, hotelier Richard Born purchased the hotel for $30 million, Architectural Digest reports.
According to Yelp reviews, the hotel remained open for a short time in 2017 before eventually closing to tourists and short-term travellers.
The same year, it was closed for renovation after being taken over by Simon Baron Development. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered the scheduled 2021 reopening.
Around the same time, the building was declared a "historic-cultural monument" by the Los Angeles city council, with councillors agreeing that it is a prime representation of the 20th-century American hotel industry.
According to reports from Insider and the L.A. Times, as of late-2022, the Cecil Hotel remained closed to all except the few long-term residents who live there.
The Skid Row Housing Trust now manages the property, and it is used as a privately-funded permanent supportive housing project full-time.
It's no longer possible to book a stay at the Cecil Hotel or Stay On Main, and all of the building's original main entrances have been boarded up.
While two-thirds of the hotel remains unoccupied, those who live there have reportedly built a community amidst the darkness of the hotel's past.