I Realised I Stayed At Cecil Hotel After Watching The Netflix Documentary
Our digital ed Denise Curtin reflects on her stay in the 'hotel from hell' back in 2015.
Trending as one of the top 10 must watch shows on Netflix (although, I now beg to differ with that statement), I, alongside millions of others, spent the past week binge watching the four-part true crime documentary on the infamous Cecil Hotel.
Pressing play on episode one, I was half excited, half scared to begin the show given that it takes a salt bae pinch of terror to keep me up all night. Nevertheless, I sat back, started the show and after about 20 minutes in I turned a pale grey with realisation; ‘oh sweet f**k, I think I’ve stayed there’.
I would say I’ve got a good memory. I’m very good for remembering the names of restaurants I’ve eaten at, street names when I’m travelling and places of interest, but when I heard ‘Cecil Hotel’ initially I didn’t think of anything. The name didn’t ring a bell and Los Angeles is so big that although I’ve been there twice, I didn’t even think that this notorious and terrifying hotel would be a place I crossed paths with, let alone stayed in.
It only clicked with me when we were introduced to the British couple halfway through the first episode of the show. They stayed at the hotel during the same time that 21-year-old Elisa Lam tragically passed away there. Mike and Sabina Baugh were recalling their stay at the hotel during that time when the show incorporated some footage that they took in the hotel’s lobby. The pair went on to explain how the lobby looked nothing like the upstairs of the hotel and as the footage moved from showing the reception to the lift and the hallway, it all began to look awfully familiar.
After a quick Google search, you can imagine how I nearly vommed in my mouth when I saw that the Cecil Hotel had a rebrand to some of its floors back in 2011, hoping to attract tourists and a younger clientele. Rebranding to Stay On Main with a new entrance and “look”, the hotel tried to clear some of its creepy past with crime and serial killers by giving it a face lift. One which I instantly recognised.
I stayed at Stay On Main.
I recognised it because of the palm chairs. These little hand-like chairs which I spotted in the corner of the hotel’s bedrooms when searching for cheap accommodation on Booking.com. It was the summer of 2015 when I stayed at the hotel and at 21 years of age, I definitely thought that those chairs were “a vibe” (cringe) back then. In fact, I actually clearly remember booking the hotel, it was the final stop after a three week holiday around California and as you know yourself, when money is down and you’re at the end of your tether with living out of a suitcase, anywhere that looks cute and cheap seems like it’s a blessing.
Now, on reflection, a blessing is exactly what it was; a blessing that we emerged unscathed from the experience.
Watching the documentary, hearing the history of the hotel, all while trying to process that I actually stayed there was a lot to take in, and when I texted my friend Alison to share the realisation, she was equally disturbed at how oblivious we were to where we were sleeping. Rooms within the same building which once hosted the likes of serial killer Richard Ramirez and the Black Dahlia.
I remember when we checked into the hotel, it was two weeks following the death of a 28-year-old man who was found dead outside the main entrance. We had no idea as we wheeled in our suitcases, taking in the luxurious looking lobby, a far cry from the rest of the hotel. When we got our keycards and went into the lift, it all started to look very rundown, opening at our floor’s hallway that looked nothing like the reception. It was serious budget accommodation. The halls were very narrow and the toilets were shared, located at the end of each floor.
Surprisingly, our bedroom was not too shabby, pretty compact and clean, but very, very loud. With 700 rooms incorporating both the Cecil Hotel and Stay On Main, I remember Alison waking up one night to sirens which she thought were coming from inside the hotel because they were so loud. Terrified, she found it hard to get back to sleep on our third and final night.
Me and Alison (L-R) in California, 2015
Another memory that sticks out is the hotel’s location *again* we were very naive to not have investigated where we were staying before actually booking it, but the hotel was located just off Skid Row. A very rundown area of downtown Los Angeles which has a large homelessness problem, spanning about 50 blocks. I remember at reception we were told not to venture behind the hotel because it was too dangerous, but we found the surrounding area pretty rundown too. We got shouted at on the streets multiple times, and thankfully, that stopped us from venturing anywhere at night.
It’s definitely eye opening to be looking back on this now, six years later. Since the Netflix documentary aired I’ve looked into the Cecil Hotel in depth, replaying all my own moments from inside there. From using the communal shower and bathrooms, to zipping up and down on the lift, I was totally oblivious. Now, it’s truly a smack of reality on the importance of researching where you’re going before booking the cheapest option available.
Although the Cecil Hotel and Stay On Main closed in 2017, two years after I stayed there, the hotel is expected to reopen later this year in October 2021. The hotel hopes to welcome a whole host of new tourists and residents, with the infamous rooftop being turned into a communal space to take in the bright lights of downtown LA.
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