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Downtown's Barclay Hotel Has a Sordid Past

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The establishment was the site of some gruesome deaths

Downtown's Barclay Hotel was put on the market in January and seems set for a trendy transformation similar to the one that the Cecil Hotel is now undergoing. The latter establishment will need quite a makeover to shake its reputation as the American Horror Story-inspiring site of some of the most tragic and horrifying events in the city's history. But what of the Barclay? The handsome Beaux-Arts building completed in 1897 has a morbid history of its own. A new book by J.M. Moore—a former resident of the hotel—documents the building's checkered past and could bring the much-overlooked hotel the kind of notoriety it richly deserves.

A review in LA Weekly highlights some of the sordid details in Moore's book, titled The History of the Barclay Hotel: A collection of true short stories both epic and tragic. As it turns out, the troubles began almost as soon as the hotel opened. Established by wealthy landowner and San Fernando Valley pioneer Isaac Newton Van Nuys, it was originally called the Van Nuys Hotel and was the first hotel to have telephones and electricity in every room. But the elevators didn't work so well, and, sadly, the hotel's first years were evidently pocked by death.

In the Depression-era, the hotel began to lose its high society allure and was the site of several suicides. During World War II, the grisly murder of a woman named Virgie Lee Griffin took place in one of the rooms. Griffin's body was found horribly mutilated. Her killer, Otto Wilson, was nicknamed the "LA Ripper." Another notorious murderer, Vaughn Greenwood—otherwise known as the "Skid Row Slasher"—committed one of his gruesome killings at the hotel decades later.

Today, the hotel serves as housing for low-income residents. That may change once the hotel is sold and presumably remodeled. But like other Downtown establishments, its dark past will always remain.