CREEPY CORNER: The Spirits of The Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles

I suppose it's fitting in a Creepy-Corner-kinda-way that the spooky building where "Se7en" was filmed is also the place that gives me the warm-fuzzies.
Publish date:
October 15, 2015
creepy corner, Los Angeles, nostalgia, ghost stories, old hollywood, haunted

There are a lot of spooky places in Downtown Los Angeles, but none hold such warm memories for me as the Alexandria Hotel.

Once part of LA's glitzy social hub in the early part of the 20th century — it was the luxury hotel before the Biltmore Hotel was constructed in 1923 — the Alexandria Hotel fell into disrepair until well into the 2000s. I came to know the Alexandria in 2006 when it was all rentals — apartments, low cost housing, some local arts organizations.

My best friend Beth started dating a guy who, along with several other arty-farty folks, lived in the penthouse of the Alexandria. Now when I say "penthouse of the Alexandria Hotel" many people say, "Well, la-dee-da! Aren't we fancy?" (at least that's what I would say because in my head I am a Designing Woman). But it was far from it.

While the penthouse certainly had some "urban" and "historic" charm (Read: crumbling cement walls/floor and a bathroom with stalls like a public restroom because, well, it once was a public restroom), it always seemed like the decay and grime in the rest of the building were threatening to invade the apartment. Maybe the ghosts were, too.

But to me, the Alexandria penthouse will always be remembered through rose-colored glasses. It's where the seeds of my Los Angeles life were planted amidst rooftop beers and rooftop rubble, and it's where I watched my best friend fall in love with her husband.

I suppose it's fitting in a Creepy-Corner-kinda-way that the place where the movie "Se7en" was filmed is also the place that gives me the warm-fuzzies.

The first time Beth and her boyfriend invited me over to his place I basically said, "OH MY GAWD" from the lobby to the penthouse. The lobby looks like you walked into a 1970s movie about 1910s Los Angeles — minus the people. The lobby was always empty.

I'm not sure what it looks like now (at one point a loud, strobe-lightey club moved in), but in 2006 and for some years after, the whole lobby was bathed in a sort of yellow light that made the whole place look like an old photo. The lobby was cavernous, with a bar and grill that was never open and a red circular couch that nobody sat on. I think there was a chandelier, but it was unremarkable.

What was remarkable to me was the concierge counter. My memory says that it was white-gray marble and dark wood, and that it was original to the building. On the back wall behind the counter were little cubby holes that I suspect once held keys. Behind the counter sat a wiry, tired looking security guard who always regarded me with suspicion.

Though a blanket of neglect covered the lobby of the Alexandria, it was no stretch to imagine the "Who's Who" of Old Hollywood traipsing through the hotel.

Charlie Chaplin once lived at the Alexandria — the hotel was actually where he, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffin created United Artists in 1919. Old-timey western star Tom Mix supposedly rode a horse through the lobby.

Rudolph Valentino reportedly lived at the Alexandria as well, and his ghost is perhaps the most famous. Even when I first started visiting the Alexandria, Beth's boyfriend was quick to tell me about the Valentino suite on the 12th floor. People claimed to hear things from inside the suite when nobody should be in there (though it could have been "ghost hunters" or illegal squatters), and many said they got "chills" when near the apartment.

Though it might be urban legend getting the best of folks, or the undeniably eerie atmosphere influencing paranormal enthusiasts, the consensus was, and still seems to be that the Valentino suite has a "weird vibe." Some even claim to have seen Valentino's ghost walking around, dodging around corners.

But not all the reported spirits at the Alexandria are movie stars. When the building underwent a huge remodel in the 1970s, a woman in a "wide brimmed hat with a veil and beautiful black dress" of the "late 19th century," was seen floating through the halls. She seems to be searching for something or someone, and appears to be in mourning. Though this specter is not as widely reported anymore, she has not totally vanished, even to this day.

In the famous Palm Court ballroom, once THE festive and elegant place to hold an affair, the reflection of a woman has been reported in its mirrors. Strangely, the mirrors in the ballroom were (still might be?) all angled so as not to repeat a reflected image. Is this a style choice or was someone taking care to avoid spooky troubles?

The elevators at the Alexandria always creeped me out. When I visited, I would call up to Beth or her boyfriend, and one of them would come down on the rickety elevator to fetch me. It was always a crapshoot if the elevators would be working properly or not that day.

Beth never liked the elevators at the Alexandria. While she didn't share my fascination with all things ghostly, she commented on more than one occasion that the elevators in the building were "creepy" or "the worst." She wasn't the only one who noticed that they seemed to have a mind of their own.

Various tenants have claimed that the elevators of the Alexandria move of their own volition. They often take you to the floor they want you to go to — most often the 9th floor, "the most haunted floor." Other times they take you to visit the empty ballroom.

Beth hated that sometimes the elevator would just open like it was waiting for someone to get in, even though nobody had called it. It would then close and go on its way.

Sometimes the elevator would insist on only going between certain floors, and when reported to management that it was broken, would "fix itself." "The worst" was when the elevator would stop at a floor and the doors would just open and close by themselves a la all the horror movies and YouTube videos.

And while all these ghostly goings on could be chalked up to overactive imaginations or people buying into the spirit of the Alexandria the weirdest part to me was the fact that an entire wing of the Alexandria Hotel was sealed off, "frozen" in time.

Originally built in 1905, as an extension of the building that was to be the Alexandria (the hotel opened in 1906), the wing complemented the look and layout of the hotel. Yet, in an attempt to save money, the owner of the wing, William Chick, built no stairs or elevators in that wing of the building. It could only be accessed from the main hotel — a money-saving "tactic" that would eventually be the demise of the annex.

A section of that sealed off wing could be seen from Beth's boyfriend's roof. A broken glass skylight looking in on a dark open floor. A ballroom? A suite? The mezzanine?

When the Great Depression hit, the already faltering Alexandria shut down. When it reopened again in 1938 with new owner Phil Gladstone, things seemed to be looking up for not only the Alexandria Hotel but also the Alexandria's annex — owned separately by William Chick's daughter, Roddie.

But due to rent battles between Gladstone and Roddie (a tenant moved their shop to the wing because the Alexandria's rent went up — effectively pissing off movie-mogul Gladstone), the wing was sealed off from the rest of the hotel rendering seven floors and dozens of rooms entirely inaccessible.

Should have blown a few bucks on stairs, William.

Think about it, Creepy Corneristas. There was, until recently, basically an entire building sealed up since 1938. It was one giant, pigeon-squatter-rat-infested, maybe haunted, time capsule.

However in 2012, developer Nick Hadim began overseeing a $3 million renovation of the wing. The goal was to turn that long forgotten part of the Alexandria Hotel into a luxury apartment building, The Chelsea. (I haven't been able to find anything on The Chelsea at this time. Any Angelenos out there know anything?)

Much has been written about what Hadim has discovered in the wing: untouched bowler hats, "gilded crown molding" on a mezzanine, a typewriter "ready for use.. Swoon.

A part of me is very sad about a slick, commercial developer gentrifying the wing of the Alexandria. I know that Downtown LA is going through a "renaissance" right now, a renaissance that has revitalized, revamped, and yes, preserved many of the historic buildings, including the main Alexandria Hotel. But I can't help but feel like that in making "luxury apartments" out of that mysterious lost wing, we are losing something — a flavor, an essence, some lingering souls.

But it's tricky. If we do nothing, time will continue to ravage on and before you know it, what was left will be gone. But do too much, and will the past we "remember" be the construct of the likes of Nick Hadim and Pottery Barn? There has to be a happy medium for holding onto the past while preserving it for "Creepy Corner 2115 A.D.: Creepy Corneristas on Mars."

I'm just grateful that I got to peek into the Alexandria Hotel's past when I did.

Thoughts? Have any of you ever visited the Alexandria Hotel? Lived in it? Any spooky stories? Do you live in the new luxury apartments in the wing? Do they even exist?

Tell me everything!

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