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Why is Downtown's Cecil Hotel Such a Nightmare?

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If the disturbing news of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam's death didn't turn people off Downtown's Cecil Hotel, you'd think today's revelation that, for the past two weeks, hotel guests may have been drinking and bathing in water contaminated by Lam's remains would have done it. Lam arrived at the Cecil last month and hadn't been seen since January 31 until her body was discovered in the hotel's rooftop water cistern earlier this week. Since then, CBS reports that guests in 27 of the Cecil's room have moved to other hotels, but occupants in 11 more are staying put. After signing a waiver acknowledging the health risks and accepting a bunch of bottled water. But what were all these tourists doing in a hotel better known for suicides and mass murderers in the first place? ("Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez stayed there frequently.) When the 1925 Cecil tried to relaunch itself as a tourist hotel in 2008, the LA Times billed it as the place where "the hip and the nearly homeless meet." It's struggled to live up to even that modest promise.

In 2007, the 600-room Cecil was bought by developers who hoped to transform the 80-year-old residential hotel into a budget-friendly tourist spot--they were going to rename it The Pearl. When the LAT caught up with the hotel's new owners in 2008, the transformation was partway complete. Longtime residents still called the Cecil home--for about $470 a month--while tourists, who likened the place to European hostels, were paying $40 or $50 a night for a room that may or may not have had its own bathroom. The lobby had been carefully restored, security staff had new suits, and the hallways had been repainted. "But around the corner, reality hits: The rooms are small, bugs scamper across the floors and in the dim hallways, one sometimes encounters guests who have been using drugs or alcohol."

Whatever plans there may have been to upgrade those rooms came to a screeching halt later that year when the city informed the Cecil's owners that it had to abide by a new ordinance mandating that residential hotels find new accommodation for any tenants forced to relocate when rooms are converted from residential to standard hotel use. Because the Cecil had been operating, in part at least, as a tourist hotel before the ordinance was passed (though a similar, temporary ordinance had been on the books since 2006), they thought it didn't apply to them. The city disagreed, lawsuits were filed, and then lawsuits dragged on.

In 2011, blogdowntown reported that an agreement had finally been reached: ownership of the hotel would revert to the lender and a number of rooms--believed to be 300--would remain residential. Since then the hotel has been getting the kind of TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews you'd expect from a Skid Row-adjacent hotel with a fancy lobby, tourist aspirations, and $40-a-night rooms (once the corpse jokes have been deleted):

-- "Hotel is fairly clean . Very beautiful lobby with marble columns , sculptures e.t.c"
-- "I chose this hotel only because its cheapness, and I got what I deserved."
-- "The moment he mentioned things I must agree on & sign before being handed the room key such as 'no drugs allowed in room or in the hotel', I thought to myself, 'Molly... You in danger girl!'" (Important reference.)

Maybe now's a good time for that name change.
· Agency checks water after body found in hotel tank [CBS News]
· Cecil Hotel to Stay Residential Under Terms of Settlement to Long-Running Lawsuits [blogdowntown]