The Hotel Cecil is a crime scene, but not the way you think it is.
Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love.
Two days ago, the Netflix documentary series that we filmed a year ago this week debuted, and today Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is the top-rated program on the network. It’s been really nice to hear from some of the thousands of folks who have taken our tours since 2007 who were surprised to see familiar faces on TV.
We get asked to do a lot of true crime television, and more often than not, we refuse. Much of the genre is exploitative and just plain dumb, and we have too much respect for the facts and for the victims of violent crime to participate. But because Kim had already spent a lot of time talking with producer Josh Dean, whose Medium feature was the source of the show, and because director Joe Berlinger has a reputation for keeping ethical concerns central to his true crime storytelling, we decided to participate in Crime Scene.
And that’s how we ended up in a large room at the 1896 Barclay Hotel under hot lights, talking for hours about the history of Skid Row, the rise and fall and gentrification of Downtown Los Angeles, Beth Short and the Black Dahlia investigation, the dangers of mixing market rate lofts and tourist hotels with an open air drug market, land use corruption, illegally empty residency hotels and the homeless crisis, and the cultural context for Canadian tourist Elisa Lam’s disappearance and lonely death.
For a year, we had no idea how our parts would be used in the show—which is hard, because we’re used to controlling all aspects of our storytelling, and these narratives mean so much to us. As it turns out, the show chose to use our voices to paint a picture of a complex and confounding neighborhood, and Kim gets what’s nearly the last word on how the whole tragedy might have been avoided, by simply looking out for a vulnerable soul in a way that couldn’t happen, because Downtown is broken, and there’s too much trouble in one place. Also, two of the people we referred to the producers, LAPD Detective Jim McSorley and former Cecil manager Amy Price, both have some fascinating things to contribute. If you do tune in, we hope you enjoy the show.
And since we are such unrepentant control freaks, we decided to put on our own show about the neighborhood around this misunderstood landmark. Tomorrow at noon, please join us for In The Shadow of the Hotel Cecil: A Main Street Time Travel webinar. The notorious SRO hotel has become an object of pop culture fascination since tourist Elisa Lam disappeared after checking in to one of its quasi-legal shared hostel rooms in 2013. But the hotel is so much more than a crime scene. We’ll tell its story, through the lens of true crime and urban development, and the story of the fascinating neighborhood that surrounds it. Once a year-round carnival midway, Main Street has changed with Los Angeles, and its many facets will amaze, horrify and inspire you. For more info, or to reserve your spot, click here.
On February 20, we’re continuing to bank the historic true crime hearth with a virtual visit to the seaside crime scenes that obsess us: The Dark Side of the West Side. Kim was a tot on a then-sketchy Venice walk street, and has a particular fascination with terrible things that have happened within the sound of the pounding surf. We think you’ll enjoy this grim yet loving time travel trip, and invite you to sign up here.
And just added for February 27 is The Stories of Los Angeles Storybook Architecture, an exploration of some of the Southland’s most whimsical structures. Although they look like they should be inhabited by witches, hobbits, sprites and goblins, these Storybook gems were more likely to attract visionaries and oddballs, and we’ll get to know these fascinating characters and the charms of the places in this immersive webinar. And yes, there is some vintage true crime in the mix! For more info or to reserve your spot, click here.
Stay tuned as we roll out a new webinar program each Saturday. And remember if you can’t watch live or need to leave mid-stream, you can watch the recording for one full week. There’s still time to see Esotouric Celebrates Los Angeles Historic Preservation, 1900s-1980s through Saturday night.
These webinars are now available as On-Demand recordings: Touring Southern California’s Architecture of Death • Crawford’s Markets • John Bengtson’s Silent Film Locations • George Mann’s Vintage L.A. • Pershing Square 1866-2020 • Cafeterias of Old L.A. • Programmatic Architecture • Angels Flight • Grand Central Market • Ohio River Valley • Bunker Hill • Charles Bukowski • Raymond Chandler • Black Dahlia • Dutch Chocolate Shop • Bradbury Building • Tunnels • L.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries.
And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for In The Shadow of the Hotel Cecil: A Main Street Time Travel webinar.
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—The Most Disturbing Item We Ever Discovered While Doing Research at The Huntington Library—A story about brains, knockout drops, family traditions and a bad night on New York City's Tenderloin.
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If you enjoy all we do to celebrate and preserve Los Angeles history, please consider signing up for (or gifting) the subscriber’s edition of this newsletter, or putting a little something into our digital tip jar. Gift certificates are available for any webinar in our library or upcoming calendar, starting at $10. Printed matter? We’ve got a swell selection of books and maps, some written by us, others sourced from dusty warehouses. For a wider selection, Bookshop uses the power of distributor Ingram to help independent bookstores stick around. We've curated a selection of uniquely Los Angeles titles, and when you order from these links, it supports participating local shops, and us, too. You can also click here before shopping on Amazon... & if you love what we do, please tell your friends.
AND WHAT'S THE NEXT TOUR? WHO KNOWS?!
We're dark until public health officials determine that groups can gather safely. But in addition to weekly webinar programs, we've got 138 episodes of the podcast You Can't Eat The Sunshine free to download for armchair explorers, and videos of the Downtown L.A. LAVA walking tours, plus Cranky Preservationist videos.
AND FINALLY, LINKS
What a tragedy that this time capsule photographer's archive was discovered by someone who seeks to flip it for cash, rather than someone who recognizes its enormous cultural and research value kept intact. Damn that burned out lightbulb!
In his compelling new newsletter, Matthew Tinoco reports on the Federal judge who could knock the inept Los Angeles politicians off the chessboard and actually do something to help Angelenos living on the streets.
Los Angeles had to go looking for a vendor to activate the restaurant at the First and Broadway Park, and settled on Crews, a company that operates KISS-themed beer bars in airports. (City Concession Agreement documents.)
A profile of Craig Owens, who looks for ghosts, or the lack of ghosts, while staging vintage film shoots in historic hotels. We met up with him at the magnificent Mayan Art Deco Aztec Hotel in Monrovia on our very last tour before everything stopped.
Terrific comment on our recent newsletter about silent film locations and El Pino from Coloradoan James C. Hess, who recounts a magical tale of his Rent-A-Wreck dying at the Griffith Observatory, and the unexpected adventure that followed.
Petition update: The Truth About Pershing Square Redesign: It’s Eric Garcetti’s 2028 Olympics Pipe Dream—and after this meeting, the Commissioners are still not impressed.
At last: the historic Firestone service center on La Brea has been reactivated as a brewery, selling new brews by the can.
The Times Mirror Square project finally came up for a City Council vote, and it was one of the craziest council meetings we’ve ever seen. Here’s what happened, in our live tweets. You can watch the video here. Here’s an excellent overview of the hearing, and the contentious vote. So will the L.A. Times be partially demolished? We don’t think so—the city will most likely be sued next.
We’re very troubled by the proposal to turn the most magical place on the Central Coast into a dense campsite for the ATV dune-riding crowd. There are many species that would be harmed by this, including humans. Save Oso Flaco Lake!
Curious. Nine months after buying a (downsized) house for director Michael Govan, LACMA is selling the property.
Farewell to Boyle Heights native son Ed Pearl, whose Ash Grove was something pretty special bridging the hootenany to hippie eras.
Esotouric blog update: Is Jose Huizar's Crony Art Gastelum Trying to Kill El Pino? ABC covers the community protests to preserve the beloved East LA landmark, talks to the developer and gets a perplexing quote from Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo.
New on RIP Los Angeles, the feel-bad blog this city deserves: L.A. commissions bad reports to justify demolition of architecturally and culturally significant Beverly block. Streamline market! America's first Peruvian restaurant! Soon to the dump.
City of Los Angeles seeks to extend its $200K/year contract with Bode Cellmark Forensics, Inc., which performs the forensic genealogy DNA analysis work that LAPD can't do in-house. Seems odd nobody in the LAPD lab has trained in these techniques yet.
There's just something magical about the "pop art nun" Sister Corita. She can even change the minds of stubborn city commissioners. This was such an amazing landmarking hearing!
The State of Mississippi has a message for those who care about historic preservation and civil rights history: screw you. RIP Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel, demolished to become a parking lot for civic employees—who may not ever return to the office.
Love Story on the Walk of Fame: the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce asked the city to expedite the approval of sidewalk stars for Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal in front of Scientology's publishing offices (7057 Hollywood Boulevard). (Link 1, Link 2). They didn’t wait for city approval. It happened this morning: the first-ever virtual star ceremony.
Check out the new Larry Edmunds Bookshop website, read the history of this iconic Hollywood survivor, then buy a book or gift certificate to help keep them around another 82 years.
New propaganda video of LACMA insiders trying to convince the public (and themselves?) that the half-baked mono-level Zumthor design is actually an improvement is just sad. LACMA is dead, long live Save LACMA.