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New York Developer Reveals His Plans To Give The Cecil Hotel A Hip Makeover

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The Cecil Hotel—or the Stay on Main if you prefer—has the darkest past of probably any building in Los Angeles. We talked to the folks in charge of rehabbing it to see what plans are in store for the hotel, and if its grim reputation can ever be turned around. Like many of downtown L.A.'s old hotels, the Cecil was once a beauty. It opened in 1924 and still retains its gorgeous marble lobby. Of course, the Depression came soon after the doors had opened, and the hotel quickly fell into decline. Many people were reported to have jumped out windows, so many in fact that some called the hotel "The Suicide." Serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed at the hotel and, according to L.A. historian and tour guide Kim Cooper, used to dispose of his bloodied clothes in the hotel dumpster before heading up to his room. Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, terrorized the L.A. area in in the 80s, and was convicted of 13 murders and 5 attempted murders. In 1991, Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger also called the hotel home while on assignment as a journalist. During his visit, he murdered three women. And more recently, in 2013, a young tourist from Vancouver named Elisa Lam disappeared shortly after coming to stay at the Cecil while on a trip down the California coast. Her body was discovered several days later in one of the four water tanks on the hotel's roof. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning, indicating Lam, who may have been suffering from mental illness, had somehow found her own way into the tank.

After Lam's death, the Cecil rebranded as Stay On Main, sort of a hipster, backpacker spot, though much of the Cecil's original signage remains. Lam's parents sued the hotel, alleging negligence, but their suit was dismissed in December. A judge ruled that the hotel could not have reasonably foreseen Lam's death as the hotel's roof was not an area where guests were permitted.

That, however, may change with the hotel's planned renovations. The hotel was sold to NYC hotelier Richard Born for $30 million in in 2014, and now development firm Simon Baron Development, also New York-based, has acquired a ground lease on the property, according to a release. This is the company's first project in the state of California.

Matt Baron, president of Simon Baron, told LAist that when they first saw the hotel, one thing they were attracted to was its tremendous potential. It has a grand lobby, is well-built and has "great ceiling heights." He said their plan is to completely redevelop the property. While the outside will remain largely the same, the inside will be completely gutted. "It will be a very different building inside once we're done with it," he said. They may keep some architecturally or historically significant components, though Baron says on individual floors a lot of more recent "hodgepodge" work will be totally redone.

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The plan is to split the building into both residential apartments—some low-income and some market-rate—and a hotel. There will be more residential units than hotel rooms. Currently, guests at the hotel may choose rooms that have a private bathroom, or a cheaper room with no bathroom, but that includes keycard access to shared facilities down the hall. When the renovation is complete, each room will have a private bathroom.

"The idea is to appeal to the demographic that you see that's coming to downtown L.A., [such as] younger millennials," he said.

The finished hotel will be comparable to The Ace or The Proper, though it is expected that the rooms will be a bit cheaper. And while the hotel currently has very little in the way of ground-floor retail or nightlife, there are plans to put in various food and beverage options. Baron also confirmed that they may renovate the rooftop to offer a pool or lounge area. Construction is slated to begin next spring, and renovations may be complete about two years after. He said it's too early to reveal any particular aesthetic decisions, or if they intend to change the hotel's name again. They are, however, confident that their renovations will turn the hotel around.

"We have a lot of experience with old buildings and renovations, and we also have a lot of experience going through transitional neighborhoods," he said. "And I have to say, you have to keep in mind that part of the history of this hotel is that it was located in a pretty rough part of town for a long time, which will tend to attract some of the things that happened. I think there are a lot of buildings on Skid Row or in other neighborhoods that may have had issues—maybe not to the extent or not as publicized as [The Cecil Hotel]—but that doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with the building itself. That being said, from our perspective, it's almost like that building will no longer exist. We're building a brand new building."

Baron and his team are also encouraged by the changes that have occurred in downtown Los Angeles. Anyone can see that downtown is rapidly changing, with plenty of new construction and new higher end offerings, including Whole Foods, an upcoming Apple store, and a number of restaurants and bars.

"It's a neighborhood in transition," he said. "There are things going on that really give you a sense of the trajectory of the neighborhood."

I asked Baron if they'd ever dealt with a property before that has the kind of discomfort surrounding it that the Cecil does, some of which he attributes to the Internet Age.

"I feel like a lot of the older buildings have their own history. It's just not in the papers," he said.

He mentioned an SRO hotel located in New York on 75th between Columbus and Amsterdam that had a "storied history" that Simon Baron was able to turn into rental apartments. And as for potential tenants at the Cecil, he said there's already been a considerable amount of interest on the part of restaurants and bars seeking to take over ground floor retail space.

Glancing at Simon Baron's portfolio, this must be 166 West 75th Street, which now appears to be a charming place to live called The Amstrdm. But it used to be the Parc Lincoln Hotel. A former resident described living at the Parc Lincoln in a blog post, stating that there were signs in the shared bathrooms imploring residents to not urinate or defecate in the sinks.

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The Cecil may not be the only old downtown hotel to receive a makeover. The nearby Barclay Hotel—which is currently for sale—is another such once glorious hotel with its own dark past, recently documented by author and former resident J.M. Moore in a true crime novel called The History of the Barclay Hotel: A Collection of True Short Stories Both Epic and Tragic.

For now, you can still get a room at the Stay on Main, as they're taking reservations at least through the end of the year.