7 Facts About Los Angeles's Notorious Cecil Hotel

The exterior of Los Angeles's Cecil Hotel, as seen in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021).
The exterior of Los Angeles's Cecil Hotel, as seen in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021). / Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles is one of those iconic landmarks that has become as famous for what goes on behind its closed doors as it is for its impressive Beaux Arts architecture. Built in 1927, the Cecil opened as a luxury hotel, but became a victim of the Great Depression just a few years later. In the near-century since, the Cecil has become notorious for the infamous residents who have reportedly called it home (including more than one serial killer) and the number of deaths that have occurred within its walls.

Even before the Cecil Hotel was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by the city of Los Angeles in 2017, it had undergone several rebrands in an attempt to restore its original reputation. Though it's currently closed, that could be changing in the near future. In the meantime, the property is the subject of a new true crime docuseries, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which premieres on Netflix on February 10. Here are some facts about the Cecil Hotel and its debauched history.

1. Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia, was reportedly seen at the Cecil Hotel just days before her death.

Elizabeth Short, the aspiring actress who would, in death, become known as the Black Dahlia, was allegedly spotted at the bar of the Cecil Hotel just days before her murder in 1947. Short's mutilated body, which had been cut in two, was found about 7 miles from the hotel. Short's case remains one of the most famous unsolved murders in American history.

2. At least two serial killers called the Cecil Hotel home.

Lending to its legend, for years the Cecil Hotel has operated partly as a low-income residential facility and was reportedly called home by at least two infamous serial killers: Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. “The Night Stalker” (who is the subject of yet another new Netflix docuseries) and Johann "Jack" Unterweger, an Austrian man who, upon being released from prison after being convicted for the 1974 murder of a woman, became something of a minor celebrity ... then began killing more women.

3. A number of bizarre deaths have occurred at the Cecil Hotel.

By the 1960s, the Cecil Hotel had been dubbed "The Suicide" by many of its longtime residents because of the rash of deaths that occurred at the hotel in its early years. In 1931, 46-year-old guest W.K. Norton became the hotel's first documented death by suicide. Even those who weren't staying at the hotel seemed to be in danger of its seemingly ominous aura; in 1933, a 25-year-old truck driver was killed when a large truck drove into the hotel, and pinned the man against it.

4. The Cecil Hotel is rumored to be haunted.

The many strange deaths that have occurred at the Cecil Hotel have not gone unnoticed, and have led some to wonder if the building is haunted. Episodes of the horror podcast NoSleep and the paranormal reality show Ghost Adventures were filmed there. The two-hour installment of Ghost Adventures, which aired on discovery+ in early January, investigated the 2013 death of Elisa Lam, a Canadian student who went missing while she was a guest at the hotel, and who was found dead in one of its rooftop water tanks.

5. The Cecil Hotel inspired a season of American Horror Story.

Perhaps the strongest argument for the Cecil Hotel being haunted is that it inspired season 5 of American Horror Story, a.k.a. American Horror Story: Hotel, which was set in a hotel not unlike the Cecil. The anthology series starred Lady Gaga as a vampire who owned the fictionalized Hotel Cortez. The season also featured Finn Wittrock, Lily Rabe, John Carroll Lynch, and Zach Villa, playing versions of Hollywood icon Rudolph Valentino, and serial killers Aileen Wuornos, John Wayne Gacy, and Richard Ramirez—who haunt the Cortez—respectively. 

6. The mysterious 2013 death of Elisa Lam reignited interest in the Cecil Hotel and its haunted history.

Along with American Horror Story, people today are probably most familiar with the Cecil because of the 2013 disappearance of Elisa Lam. Interest in the case was heightened when footage of Lam behaving erratically in the hotel’s elevator before her death was released by the Los Angeles Police Department; Lam's body was found in the hotel’s rooftop water tank five days after the footage was released, with guests reporting issues with the hotel’s water supply and pressure.

Results of Lam's autopsy, which were released four months later, were inconclusive as to how she died and how she got into the water tank. The case captivated Los Angeles and the world, and is the main focus of the first season of Netflix's new series, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.

7. The Cecil Hotel is closed, but could open again one day soon.

Though the Cecil has undergone many iterations in its nearly-100 year history, today it exists as a low-cost residential building that straddles the fashion district, Downtown Los Angeles, and the Skid Row homeless community of Los Angeles. In 2019, the property's owners were planning a new renovation of the hotel that will see it turned into a mixed use space. The project could be complete later this year. Still, the Cecil Hotel's history and location will always serve as a reminder that lurking next to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is a sordid underbelly with a morbidly fascinating past.