Photos: The Gorgeous Art Deco Building That Inspired 'American Horror Story'
If you're watching American Horror Story this season, you might be wondering about where you can find that beautiful Art Deco hotel. Well, it was partly inspired by a beautiful historic downtown Los Angeles building.
American Horror Story: Hotel takes place in a fictitious creepy Art Deco hotel in downtown Los Angeles, built in the 1920s by a mad man and currently haunted by a number of creepy denizens and a detective hunting down a deranged killer and his personal demons. There are numerous nods to Los Angeles, from the casual mention of local neighborhoods like Glassell Park, to a scene where Lady Gaga's Countess slinks through the "Urban Light" sculpture in front of LACMA. And while the hotel itself may draw from downtown's real-life creepy hotel The Cecil Hotel (and Chicago's infamous "Murder Castle"), the gorgeous hotel is also inspired by the historic James Oviatt Building, which houses the Cicada Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
The Cicada Restaurant is near Pershing Square at Olive and 6th. Pass through the doors and you can imagine finding yourself in the gorgeous lobby of American Horror Story's fictitious Cortez hotel, complete with the second floor mezzanine where Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) orders ginger ales from bartender (Denis O'Hare). While the entire set—the lobby, bar, elevator, penthouse suite and hallways—were built on Fox Lot's Stage 16, set decorator Ellen Brill tells LAist that they only used the exterior of the building as the exterior of the show's hotel, but never shot inside. Brill also says some of the Art Deco details from this building have been used as inspiration for their set.
The Cicada is occasionally open for dinner and Sunday night cocktails, and it's often used for private events, such as weddings or parties. The dinner menu contains things like tuna tartar, basil gnocchi, filet mignon and pistachio crusted Atlantic salmon.
You can find The James Oviatt Building on the National Register of Historic Places. Its namesake is James Zera Oviatt, a Salt Lake City man who moved to L.A. to work as a window dresser at C.C. Desmond's Department Store. He and salesman Frank Baird Alexander together developed a men's clothing store called Alexander & Oviatt. They also partnered with Frank Shaver Allen, an architect who, while very wealthy, had a tattered reputation due to a sex scandal. The haberdashers were a hit, soon expanding as business boomed. Though Alexander would pass away in 1921, Oviatt forged on.
In 1927, Oviatt came out with a spread in the L.A. Times that contained a number of humorous fashion suggestions, according to KCET. For instance, he said a reporter should wear:
"A large Glen Urquhart plaid suit, purple hue, dark wine shirt with collar to match, pink necktie with pink carnation in buttonhole, white socks, black pumps, white gloves, straight hand Malacca cane with hand carved ivory ball top and concealed compass attachment, vest pocket camera, small magnifying glass and telescope, pearly derby hat with black band and white binding. Very light tan coat with large purple plaid, suitable for wet or dry weather."
Overt became enamored with Art Deco when visiting France—in particular Lalique glass he saw at the 1925 Exposition in Paris. He ultimately hired the firm Walker & Eisen to design what would become the James Oviatt Building in that style. It officially opened in May of 1928, consisting of the clothing store and a number of offices occupied by lawyers and other professionals. He also built himself a penthouse, which is now rented out for events. It had a Turkish bath, a rooftop garden and pool with imported sand from France. It's rumored he hosted quite the parties there.
After Oviatt died in 1974, the building was bought and sold many times, including at one point to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
Obviously, a number of decor details are different in the show, including the furniture and The Shining-inspired carpet, but it certainly has elements that are recognizable as inspiration for the series' hotel where not everyone that checks in checks out again.
Eds. note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that 'American Horror Story' was filmed inside the Cicada, but the show's hotel was actually inspired by the building. It's since been corrected. LAist regrets this error.