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Cecil Hotel’s Historic Room Rate Sign Gets White-Washed, Angering Preservationists

photo: Christopher Alvarenga/Unsplash

While many of us obsess over every last detail of the Cecil Hotel’s tragic past, it appears the new owners of the Downtown property are more eager to erase it.

The exterior wall on the historic hotel’s southwestern wall has been entirely painted white, instantly erasing the classic, hand-painted advertisement for room rates that has appeared on the building since your Art Walk stumbling days. The massive signage, which spanned multiple floors, was a familiar landmark of the Downtown skyline, stating “HOTEL CECIL LOW DAILY WEEKLY RATES 700 ROOMS.”

The Cecil itself, a 98-year-old former beauty and L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument have amassed the attentions of legions of curious history buffs, armchair detectives, and horror fanatics in more recent years, given its years-long chronicles of violent deaths, suicides, alleged serial killer sightings, and utter tragedy connected mostly with its years as an SRO building on the fringes of Skid Row.

The news of the erasure came to L.A. TACO’s attention through the Instagram feed of Esotouric Tour Company, who learned of the changes through the historic preservationist Lost Angeles Facebook group. Furthermore, the owners of Esotouric say the protected sign’s removal is illegal.

Esotouric is encouraging others in L.A. who are bummed and enraged to hear about this latest example of L.A. having its history erased by rapid urban development to send their own message to the Office of Historic Resources, asking it to restore the sign.

"We worry about the preservation of cool Los Angeles buildings for a living," Kim Cooper, who owns and operates Esotouric with her husband Richard Schave, tells L.A. TACO. "So we’re always delighted when a property owner does the honorable thing and applies for Historic-Cultural Monument status, as the owner of the Hotel Cecil successfully did in 2017. In return for pledging to take good care of the 95-year-old structure and its character-defining architectural features, New York-based Simon Baron Development got a big break on its property taxes through the Mills Act. So when we saw the photos circulating on social media on Friday night, showing the iconic hand-painted wall sign had been whitewashed, we were shocked and angry."

Last December, we reported that the Cecil Hotel property would now be operated by a new lease-holder, The Skid Row Housing Trust, on behalf of owner Simon Baron Development, with altruistic plans to turn the building into affordable housing for 600 residents. All one has to do is read the comments on our Instagram post about it to get a quick sense that many people would be personally too creeped out to stay there, and feel its history makes it less than adequate for habitation, even for those with few housing alternatives.

For example, this kind of thing: “I rather live in a tent than have mfs haunting me,” and “Mmm idk that place has a lot of haunted souls that’s kind of sketchy.”

So it’s understandable that whoever inherited the Cecil would like to pull off some sleight of hand or more powerful form of prestidigitation to give the building a fresh start in the public’s imagination, given the aura of seediness and terror spread about the hotel through media depictions and factual lore. A direct move away from the Cecil name was attempted in 2011, as the hotel was rebranded as Stay On Main, while retaining a few floors for lower-income residents. The sad, puzzling death of young tourist Elisa Lam in 2013 all but made that rebranding dead in the black water.

Nonetheless, the illegal whitewashing of a protected, time-tested that many who call the city home cherish as a part of their history and daily landscape is a clumsy way to attempt a fresh start, only adding another stain of controversy to a property that already emanates enough heartbreak.

"Today, we went down to 6th and Main to see for ourselves, and met some locals hanging out on the street corner who shared our dismay," Cooper continues. "Especially when we pointed out what appears to be the start of a brand new replacement sign, way over on the right side of the building, too low and using a different font. We’re asking the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission to direct to Cecil’s owner to either uncover the whitewashed sign or, if that is not possible, to consider hiring a professional sign painter to restore the sign to its earliest recorded appearance, as seen in the 1930 Harold Lloyd film “Feet First.” And the CHC needs to ensure that all work being done on this building is of professional caliber and causes no harm to the protected historic features."

"If the Cecil’s owners are this careless with the highly visible exterior of the building, what are they doing behind drawn shades on the inside?" Cooper asks. "The Cecil is once again a building we have to worry about. We wonder what they’re planning to do with the neon signs that run the height of the building. We sure hope they don’t think cheap plastic LEDs are a suitable replacement for real working neon, because they’re not."

We’ll update you if and when the damage gets repaired.

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