Hotel Cecil (now rebranded as Stay On Main) is notorious, even more so now that the current season of American Horror Story is based off of the place. I realized when Elisa Lam tragically lost her life there in 2013, that back in 2008 I had actually spent a night in this place. Since it’s Halloween, I figured I’d tell my experience of the Hotel Cecil, as it was back in 2008. The experience there is still etched into my mind seven years later.
I’ll preface this by saying I had no idea of the Cecil’s reputation until long after I had stayed there. I was a musician for many years, so I’ve stayed in my share of dives and sketchy places – it wasn’t until I was about to retire that I started “losing money” by paying out of pocket to stay somewhere a bit safer. You don’t always get put up in the nicest hotels by the promoters, but that’s a story for another time.
So, how did I end up staying at Hotel Cecil? It was August of 2008 and I’d just come home from being on the road with the band I was in at the time. I had seen some acquaintances on MySpace (it *was* 2008, remember) discussing a road trip down to Los Angeles to attend legendary dance club Das Bunker. Thanks to the internet and knowing which bands and DJs performed that night, I know I was at Hotel Cecil on August 15th and August 16th, 2008. Seeing as how I’d just played at Das Bunker a few weeks prior and had a great time, I was eager to get back down there. I’m not one to go on random road trips with people, and wasn’t back then either, but I think the lure of the road convinced me to put in for the trip. I didn’t pay much attention to the planning as I didn’t really care too much about where we were staying. I just needed a vague idea of how much money to chip for gas and hotel expenses.
Turns out, they booked a room at the Cecil since it was “close” to the venue. Oh, how many people over the years were lured in by Cecil’s supposed proximity to things in Southern California? It’s even used as a joke in the first episode of AHS: Hotel. Granted, it was about 5 miles from the venue, but I’d stayed closer and in a nicer place when I was there just a few weeks earlier.
The drive down to the Los Angeles area was uneventful. We rolled into the Hotel Cecil around 3pm. The couple that booked the room checked in and came out and got the rest of us to let us up to the room. There were five of us total sharing the room. I didn’t realize until check-in that we were not paying for double occupancy, hence the sneaking around. Well, not like it mattered much. The desk clerks were grumpy and clearly didn’t care that the two people that just checked in came back in moment later with three more people.
The hotel looked very similar to the Hotel Cortez in AHS, however, this was back in 2008 so it looked more run-down. Apparently a year or so after I stayed there, the place had a remodel, at least of the lobby area. Oh, and I should note, that at 3pm, typical hotel checkout time, the place was a ghost town. We stayed on either the ninth or tenth floor. I don’t remember exactly. On our way up to the room we encountered one guy, probably 40s or early 50s that was just kind of wandering the hallway of the floor. Not a great vibe, but I’ve stayed in dives before so this was about what I expected once I realized the situation I was in.
The room was basic. Two beds. A table. An older model TV set. We were “lucky” and had a room with a bathroom. Of note was that all of the windows opened to the air, including the bathroom one. Again, we were at least nine stories up. No screens, no guards, nothing. Could have easily jumped out and ended it all should any of us desired to do so. The TV was odd and didn’t seem to be picking up cable or satellite TV… or even broadcast TV for that matter – just static on every channel.
We came back to the room, after a few hours wandering around Little Tokyo, to get ready to go to the club. I got ready quick so I started messing with the TV that earlier did not work. I managed to get some sort of music video channel that was only playing 80s music videos. The only photo I took there with my phone was this random photo of Wham’s ‘Careless Whisper’. I don’t even know why I took it.
The odd thing, which I just noticed when uploading this photo to the site, is that the photo file’s creation date is August 20th, 2008 at 1:20am. The photo was one hundred percent taken around 7pm on August 15th, 2008. Okay, weird.
Anyway, I had an uneasy feeling upon first entering the hotel and again when we got ready, but I just chalked that up to being with people I barely knew in a sketchy place. We went to the club and things immediately went off the rails. Let’s just say people in our party started acting really strange and some stuff happened between the couple that organized the trip that made the rest of the night tense. Around 2:00am, we made our way back to Hotel Cecil.
The couple shared one bed, and I was on a bed with their male friend. The other guy, who was pretty drunk, was passed out on the floor. Despite being exhausted from the long day and stressful evening, I had a really hard time sleeping. Every one else in the party passed out immediately, but, I kept looking at the clock and every time I’d drift off a bit something would wake me up. Around 3:00am, and lasting for about an hour, I heard a loud conversation coming from the hallway and heard someone pacing back and forth in front of our door. Obviously, sleep did not happen and when the sun started to rise at 5:00am, things finally calmed down and I think I got about an hour of sleep before everyone started waking up at 6am to head home. At the time, I just figured “crackhead hotel, probably a fight or someone on something” in the hallway and didn’t think much of it. I was more worried of a “hotel room invasion robbery” or something similar than anything else.
The drive home was eventful as for no reason whatsoever, the car started developing problems in the void that is the drive between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Luckily, the car eventually started working again for no reason and by Saturday evening I was safely home.
In the direct aftermath of the trip, I felt that I learned the lessons of only traveling with people I know, and to always give myself an “out” somewhere if I’m meeting up with people I don’t know that well. Basically, don’t rely on random people from the internet to be my transportation and lodging.
It wasn’t until the Elisa Lam case, some four and half years later, that I realized this was the same exact hotel I’d stayed in. I did some research and learned about the people jumping out of the windows, about the serial killers that stayed there, and about other people’s odd experiences there.
Seeing the debut of American Horror Story: Hotel earlier this month brought the whole thing back. I actually had to pause it as the show enters the Hotel Cortez the first time and tell my wife that this *has* to be based on the Cecil.
Looking back on the experience, I can say it was one of only a few places that gave me a feeling like something was off. The other place I felt this was the Leland Hotel in Detroit, MI – another “great” hotel I stayed in while on the road with bands. I can’t definitively say the voices and people I heard around 3am that Saturday morning were paranormal. They could have very well just been other guests of the Cecil that night. I mean, we did see the one middle-aged guy walking when we first arrived, but prior to hearing the 3am voices, encountered no other people in the hallways or elevators, nor heard anyone else make a sound. In retrospect, the odd behavior of my travel companions and strange car trouble that “fixed itself” after being in the Cecil was likely coincidence, but maybe… it wasn’t.
Anyway, that was my Hotel Cecil experience. I can now tell I people I spent a night at the murder hotel and survived.