The Cranky Preservationist in Hotel Cecil Whitewash Blues


Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 28 in our collaborative video series finds Nathan aghast over the Easter weekend whitewashing of the historic Hotel Cecil room rate sign, a protected character defining feature of the recently landmarked building.

Although that iconic west bay wall sign has been repainted several times over the decades and is not as old as the 1924 hotel, it has some very powerful pals in Los Angeles City Hall, who will be weighing the significant property tax breaks afforded property owner Richard Born and primary leaseholder Matthew Baron of Simon Baron Development against the flagrant violation of the Mills Act contract.

And while one part of the Cranky Preservationist would like to see the Cecil’s owners/operators punished for destroying a culturally significant Skid Row sign, his better angels join us to take the wheel to advocate for a thoughtful, respectful and profoundly apologetic preservation solution, bringing in expert sign painters and neon craftsmen to make the Cecil look jazzier than it has in many decades.

The hotel deserves it, and so does Los Angeles!

If you’d like to read the Mills Act preservation contract for yourself, you can find it here (PDF link).

And the language that describes the penalty for breaching the contract is on page 10: “Breach of Contract: If the property owner is found to be in breach of contract, the City may cancel the contract whereupon the County Auditor-Controller levies a cancellation fee of 12½ percent of the current Fair Market Value of the property as determined by the County Assessor.” Whoops!

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out at

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard