Photos: 'Ghosts' Of Evicted Tenants Protest At Historic Hollywood Building
On Sunday night, members of the L.A. Tenants Union protested outside an event at the historic Villa Carlotta apartments in Hollywood, and things got heated. Tenants rights advocates are fuming over the August 2014 sale of the Villa Carlotta that has resulted in the evictions of all but 4 of the building's longtime tenants (there are 50 total units). The new owner, real estate firm CGI Strategies, paid $12.25 million for the property, and plans on turning the old apartment complex—that had previously been one of the few affordable housing options in Hollywood—into a luxury hotel and short-term residence.
CBS L.A. reports that the protestors converged in front of the Carlotta, where inside, the Hollywood Arts Council was holding their annual fundraiser, the "Spirit of Old Hollywood Gala." Many of the protestors carried tombstones that were meant to represent the "deaths" of former tenants. The event's Facebook page encouraged attendees to dress up as ghosts or wear the color red to "symbolize the housing massacre. WE ARE THE GHOSTS OF TENANTS WHO REFUSE TO GO AWAY!"
The few tenants that were left in the building, including Sylvie Shan and her friends, attempted to walk through the lobby during the event dressed as ghosts of past tenants. Shan told CBS that she was "manhandled" by security as she made her way through the lobby. This provoked a scuffle outside, where both protestors and fundraiser attendees allegedly shoved and kicked each other.
Walt Centerfitt of the L.A. Tenants Union told KCAL that the group chose to protest the event because, "We think it's offensive that the Hollywood Arts Council chose this space for a fundraiser despite being told about the resistance and the fight and that [the owner] destroyed the homes of artists." The fundraiser cost $100 per person, and featured a ghost tour led by celebrity psychic and medium Patti Negri, who also chaired the event and is a trustee of the Hollywood Arts Council. "The Carlotta has been home to so many celebrities from Hollywood's Golden Age - we are thrilled to have the opportunity to host this event in this magical place," said Negri on the website for the event.
But the protestors see this is as tone-deaf, horrible timing; the Hollywood Arts Council is happy to evoke the building's "Old Hollywood" past when it comes to marketing the event, but ignored the people who had living at the Villa Carlotta in more recent decades before they were kicked to the curb to make room for a new development.
The L.A. Tenants Union was recently founded in response to the disintegration of affordable housing options, as Curbed reported last week. They accuse the city of swearing their allegiances to property owners, who have immense political power thanks to their wealth and ties to lobbying groups like the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles who invest in local elections. To say that fighting property owners as an average tenant is a challenge would be a gross understatement. Sunday's protest kicked off a week of planned action for the Tenants Union that they're calling "Days of Rage". Events will be held throughout the city this week to bring attention to the city's affordable housing crisis.
The Villa Carlotta, a gorgeous Italianate structure built in the 1920s, was an affordable housing option for Hollywood, and had traditionally housed artists—until the new owners, using the Ellis Act as their tool, began evicting tenants right before Christmas in 2014. The Ellis Act, signed into law in 1986, permits landlords to evict all of their rent-controlled tenants if they intend to convert their building to another use; in many cases, into condos or hotels. The L.A. Times reported that the Ellis Act was responsible for evicting tenants from 725 units in 2014, up from 308 in 2013. Some of these properties include Jim Morrison's former West Hollywood apartment, and a 43-unit Section 8 building in Mid-City. Since 2001 nearly 19,000 rent-controlled units in Los Angeles have been taken by property owners.
In January, Stinson Carter wrote a piece for Vanity Fair about his years living in the Villa Carlotta. He writes, "Residents shared everything from eggs and flour, to cigarettes and beds.... We had potluck Thanksgiving dinners....Apartments were sublet for years at a time, because even those who left The Villa could never let it go." One Carlotta resident was 83-year-old Sheraton Universal named Sam Fuller who lived in the building for more than 40 years.
Sometimes referred to as the "Chelsea Hotel West," the Carlotta's history is some epic stuff. Legend has it that William Randolph Hearst financed the construction of the building, and when it was completed in 1926, gave it to widow Elinor Ince as a "I'm sorry" gift for accidentally killing her husband, film magnate Thomas Ince, on his yacht in 1924 (the target was supposedly meant to be Charlie Chaplin). Jim Morrison is said to have crashed there in the '60s, and Quentin Tarantino allegedly attempted to rent a room as a writer's retreat, but was denied by the then-manager.
But, those days are over and residents, Fuller included, have got to go. "Sometimes upstairs," Fuller told the L.A. Times, "I just start bawling and crying because it just tears me apart."