Scouting an Abandoned Hotel in Southern California

Whenever I see a sign like the one below hanging outside of an abandoned property, I immediately feel an intense desire to get inside. When such a sign is hanging outside a hotel built in the early 1900′s in Southern California that has been boarded up since 1939, that urge goes through the roof.

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Let me repeat: has been boarded up since 1939.

The hotel was built in the Spanish Revival-style at the turn of the century, similar to the infamous Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles…

Chateau Marmont
(thanks for sharing the pic, Floyd Bariscale! Check
out his photostream for more great pictures)

…and the Mission Inn in Riverside California.

Mission Inn Blossoms
(thanks for sharing the pic, trinity3kim! Check
out her photostream for more great pictures)

On a beautiful summer morning this past September, I met up with my contact for the first time in person, and together we approached the grounds. The caretaker met us at the enormous iron gates surrounding the property and escorted us in.

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Founded in 1917, I’m told the hotel was once THE destination for California’s upper class, including Hollywood’s elite looking to escape LA for a night or two. As we roamed the grounds making our way to the entrance, it became clear that, guests or no guests, the caretaker takes his job very seriously. Though a bit overgrown in places, the grounds are absolutely stunning, with a full array of Southern Californian vegetation.

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Antique relics are strewn about the property, like this top to a Greek column (known as a capital):

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We passed by an old gardening shed. The caretaker now has a much larger facility on the grounds to deal with the upkeep of the hotel, but has left this as a memento of simpler times.

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As we continued down the walk, we passed by this statue. I’ve explored about a zillion abandoned places in my scouting travels, and 99% of the time, something like this would have long since been stolen or vandalized. And yet here it is, in perfect condition, as if we had stepped into the past. Unbelievable.

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Despite the caretaker’s efforst, there are some signs of decay, like this worn hole in the pathway wall. Still, excellent shape overall for 70+ years.

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This sign had me stumped – what the heck is a natatorium? According to Wikipedia, it’s an old word for a structurally separate building housing a pool…

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Judging from this list of amenities, you can imagine how large the property must have been. Unfortunately, most of it has been sold off over the years to developers. Driving through California’s newest suburbs, you’d never know stables or a grand terrace formerly occupied the space.

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As you head to the main entrance, you pass under a lattice wood roof, covered in vines.

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This old pool, covered in cracks, hasn’t been filled with water in decades (well, excluding rain).

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I love these beautiful lily pad lights. I can’t imagine how beautiful their glow would be in a filled pool.

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The cracks are pretty upsetting, but the caretaker is hoping to repair them in the near future.

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Also want to point out the beautiful tile work:

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Continuing on, I love how the trees have taken a stranglehold around the posts.

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A look up toward the hotel’s balconies:

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This gorgeous balcony at the front of the hotel once commanded an unparalleled view of the Pacific. Now, with all the overgrowth, you’d never even know it was there.

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Before I post my interior pictures, I wanted to elaborate a bit more on the closing of the hotel. In 1939, there was a tragic fire. It started at approximately 11:51PM in one of the upper guest suites, and is believed to have been caused by a lightening strike. The plasterboard used throughout most of the hotel turned out to be particularly flammable, and the fire swept through the upper floors where the wealthiest clients were staying. Poorly designed escape routes instantly became inaccessible, and in the end, over 45 people were killed, nearly all of whom belonged to very rich and very powerful families.

The resulting lawsuits closed the hotel down for good. Contractors were jailed, the owners disgraced, and even California fire code laws were changed over the incident. Hope remained that sometime in the future, the hotel would be able to re-open to its former glory. Unfortunately, the death of the family patriarch sent the heirs into a frenzy over ownership, and it looks like that day will never come.

Though the front doors have been boarded up, the caretaker led us through a service entrance. After passing through a series of dark tunnels, we finally wound up in the lobby, to which he had recently restored lighting and power. Words fail me…

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The ceiling in particular is amazing:

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The old front desk. Note the luggage – apparently, after the fire was finally extinguished, luggage was gathered in the lobby for guests to retrieve. Apparently, some guests simply fled, leaving their belongings behind. They have remained here ever since.

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A close-up look at the front desk, complete with bell:

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To the right of the entrance is the concierge desk. I love the lampshade:

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A game of mahjongg has never been finished:

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An old room service cart, complete with antique teacups and kettle. The newspaper’s date is that of the fire:

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Beside the sofa, a dust-covered wine glass still sits on a napkin:

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Love this image of the fireplace – the owl (or is it a hawk?) seems particularly ominous.

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More forgotten luggage as you make your way in:

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An ancient phone long since disconnected. Clothing from a bygone era.

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This directory was positioned beside the elevators:

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This window display case exhibits some of the expensive items that were once available in the hotel’s gift shop:

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We trucked down into the basement, which is filled with junk:

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This old radio still works!

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Finally, the telegraph room, with newspaper clippings and photos tacked up by former employees.

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And that’s all I can post…for now! I’m hoping it gets landmark status in the future. If by any chance you’ve ever been here, please, leave a comment describing your experience!

And if you ever have the chance to visit the hotel for yourself someday, I’d avoid the elevators if I were you. They’re very unreliable.

Note: This was originally posted on April 1st.

-SCOUT

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78 comments

  1. Of all the posts you’ve submitted for our approval, this one really knocks it into the twilit sky…you’re in the Zone, Scout!

  2. This is an amazing post. I am gobsmacked! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. The really strange thing is that this reminds me of a hotel I once visited — in Florida, of all places.

  4. It’s the Tower of Terror?

  5. Hey! I can’t believe this, but there is an almost identical copy of this hotel just outside of Paris, France. I went there last summer but never made it to my room because of the terrible elevators.. :)

  6. its an april fools joke.

  7. It is an April fools joke. Proof: http://ursispaltenstein.ch/blog/images/uploads_img/tower_of_terror_2.jpg (look at the luggage and the banner hanging over the fireplace)

  8. whoa, I’ve been here before! i recognized it straight away from the date plaque. Great place to go exploring.

  9. You had me until the cobwebs – didn’t fit with the serious caretaker story. :)

  10. This is unbelievable. Thank you.

  11. Sad, that nothing is being done to bring life back into it..Love the post though…

  12. oh those lilypads in the pool….how gorgeous those must have been. those really caught my eye.

  13. Unbelievable!! It is unthinkable that such a beautiful property has lain fallow all these years. I can imagine it as being the scene of many a movie, had it been available for a filming location. That lamp is probably worth a fortune.

  14. this place is incredible!! amazing photos… the ones of the lobby are breathtaking! what a great place to be able to check out. thanks for sharing =)

  15. You magnificent Bastard!

  16. Oh, Lord. Is it really an April Fool’s joke? I can almost hope it is.

  17. Correction: It’s demise was not met by a “lit cigarette”, but lightening, back in October 1939, the 31st to be exact, and it affected an entire wing of the hotel…

    Boy, you are really cruel. I live for stuff like this. Not having been there, you really had me floored. I should have known. “…Thursday…movie set…theme park…elevators…”

    Thanks for yet another captivating post. I’m a huge fan.

  18. You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

    Again with the Disney world stuff scout? It’s still awesome.

  19. April Fools Day …. a day early??

  20. I was so intrigued with this modern “ghost story” and abandoned hotel right out of a movie that I came to comment after lurking for so long and………..you got me! Well played sir!

  21. You really had me going there for a while; it was the lobby luggage that gave it away. It was a “hey, that looks familiar”, then OHHHHH!!! I showed this to my kids who got a big kick out of it. :) (They visited this same hotel just last August; I was too chicken, but I visited once many, many years ago.)

    Thanks for the lols.

  22. Wonderful, wonderful post and a good bit of laughter on a slow Wednesday.

  23. Damn you! I was so excited about this until I read the comments. I’ve never been on the Tower of Terror (and, okay, I’m easily duped). Out of context those pictures are pretty creepy though, like something out of The Shining!

  24. It was all a bit too Miss Havisham-y to be real! I’ve never been to the Disney places, so I didn’t know what it actually was—but it just seemed so bizarre that a caretaker who took such great care of the grounds would allow the interior to get that cobwebby.

    I do like those lilypad lights, though. And, Scout, bringing your usual enthusiasm and attention to detail to this site was very distracting indeed!

    So why didn’t you wait until April 1??

  25. You almost had me, but then I saw that the signage was in a digital version of Copperplate not released until 1991, and the bronze AD 1917 sign is in a version of Walbaum not even available until 1997 (plus that type of cast bronze signage couldn’t have been made until the early ’60s).

    Good job, though!

  26. You really got me sir!
    I was getting all wondered, thinking “Wow, the caretaker has really worked up to keep the hotel in fiine conditions.”

    But then the pictures started to get tooo familiar :)

    Happy April’s Fools to you too!

  27. You know, this hotel was clearly part of a chain, as I can see one (in Anaheim CA of all places) from my house. Hearing from old timers, the management of the hotel was a Mickey Mouse operation.

    For an actual Southern California hotel that stood abandoned for many years: http://www.theambassadorhotel.com/

  28. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing with us, can’t wait to see the rest of the entry! Such a shame – indeed let us hope it can be landmarked and returned to house those away from home.

  29. Edit: a day early, indeed! lol

  30. This was awesome! I really wanted to believe this was the real thing, but that deteriorated stucco is just a tad to artistic. I live in a stucco house… its never that photogenic when it needs repair! Still, thanks for letting believe for a few minutes that long forgotten treasures like this may still exist. Your posts constantly brighten my days!

  31. Well played sir, you had me.

  32. damnit, you got me. I looked up HTH and found the Hollywood Terror Hotel… saw it was a disney attraction and was like, “nahh, it can’t be that.” So I was looking for what inspired their terror hotel… ahh, I am so gullible!

  33. Love your site, wish I could make a living like that.

    This hotel interior looks very much like the hotel from the Disney movie “Tower of Terror” 1997

    Natatorium: a separate bathing or pool structure

  34. Tower of Terror! I knew it as soon as I saw the twisted vines around the pillars. As soon as I saw the interior with the “HTH” emblems I knew immediately. Haha

  35. IS THIS AN APRIL FOOLS JOKE!? Probably the work of some “brother” in arms. I hope Google’s prank lives up to this!

  36. Scout, I was deliciously under your spell until arriving at your photo of the lobby ceiling:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/scoutingny/4478096592/

    Spotting the recessed downlights, I instantly knew that we weren’t looking at 1917 building sealed since 1939!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recessed_light

    Very suspicious, I left your page and did some quick googling…

    That’s a superb fictional borrowing from the 1946 Winecoff Hotel fire!
    …With just enough factual data to throw even a seasoned researcher like me a tasty red herring…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winecoff_Hotel
    http://www.winecoffhotelfire.com/

    By the time I scrolled down to your photo of the hotel directory, I had firm triple-confirmation that I’d been April Fooled –but ever so pleasantly!

    BRAVO!

    For your enjoyment, here’s the REAL Hotel California:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_rmr0DD0iU

  37. You had me dude. This seemed too cool for words. I was thinking “Wow, The Shining.” Then I got to thinking some more (something I don’t try too often).

    Keep up the fantastically good work in our own little burg,

  38. What an amazing place… It looks like the hotel used in the Tower of Terror at Disneyland… What an honour to be able to go inside…

  39. I’ve heard that there’s this creepy guy in a suit who hangs around the place, smoking and talking to empty space. He ignores visitors though and is pretty interesting to listen to. Plus he has awesome eyebrows.

  40. Oh wait, I think that guy in the suit might actually be the caretaker! What a twist!

  41. Bahaha, well played, sir! Had me going until the actual pictures of the hotel started. XD

  42. Beautiful! It’s like a time capsule. Great post!

  43. Yes, I fell for this, which is a bit embarrassing to admit. It was puzzling when you mentioned the 1939 fire that resulted in 45 deaths. After all, it was clear by then that you were not at liberty to give the name or exact location of the hotel, but a few minutes of Googling major 1939 fires would have revealed its name. Now it all makes sense.

  44. I fell for it because I was thinking about this hotel in Norco CA, which has been closed since the 30s and left untouched: http://new.lakenorconianclub.org/history.html

  45. I heard you on Leonard Lopate the other day and decided to check out your blog. That hotel is beyond amazing! What a gem. You are so lucky to have seen it.

  46. There’s a Disneyland style trash can that gives it away in the 8th photo down.

  47. Wait a minute – several weeks ago I emailed scott with a NYT article about this place, wondering if he knew about it. He didn’t, but was excited about it. So I was thrilled to see this latest post, and had no idea it might be fake. Scott, please tell me its not so! Those pics are incredible, and I want to open that luggage to see what treasures people left behind….if it is fake, well, you are playing with my heart, dammit.

  48. You definitely had me going there for quite a while. What was nagging at me was this; How come the place looks so neat and clean?

  49. Hmm.. the cobwebs are too strategically placed…

  50. This place needs to open as a theme hotel: inside, it is still the 1930s. Candlestick phones in every room, period costumes for the staff, USE the old roomservice carts.

    Perhaps even the occasional paid actor pretending to be a guest, wearing period clothes and discussing his doubts about President Roosevelt. ;)

    Surely the people arguing over ownership can all agree they’d rather be making money than not.

  51. Great story! Wnderful pics One day too early, though.

  52. I would love to know what the place smelled like. Was it musty, fresh or none at all?

  53. I guess I should have read the comments first. LOL!

  54. Okay, if you’re ever down in the Dallas area, there’s a real abandoned hotel about a 2 hours’ drive west of the city. It was a hugely popular playground for the wealthy (and the gangsters) in the early part of the 1900s, but has since been abandoned. It now holds court as the only high-rise in the center of a sleepy (and very dusty) little town. I could fill you in on all the background, but that would take too long. It’s called The Baker Hotel, out in Mineral Wells, TX. Google it. Good times.

  55. I definitely think Nick should visit The Baker Hotel in Texas – their website is just awful – with horrible photos! Maybe Nick can get permission to go inside and take better ones – and then we need a volunteer to revamp their website!

  56. Hi there. I am a photographer who is very interested in capturing the history of this hotel. I am a serious professional, hoping to inspire people with my work. Is there any way you could put me in touch with the person who could possibly let me photograph this place. You are welcome to contact me through my website or my personal email.

    Thank you!
    su

  57. Howdy, I’m interested in this topic and this post has fascinated me.

  58. Think autumn or spring for that matter in New York. Its not to warm or not to cold just beautiful weather and having the oppertunity to walk around in New York and take in all the sites, such as Bronx Zoo. It can’t get much better than that.

  59. I don’t know if this is a “Disney” or real but I think it is truely beauttiful. Scout…your pics and words are a great blend. The bird from the lobby is an owl without doubt and NOT a hawk. Look at his face. Kept me reading and looking and I am adding your site to my favorites. Thank you…

  60. I fall for it hahahahahahahahahahaha It took me a while to realize this is the Tower of Terror!

    The interior is fairly convincing, but the exterior rose some suspicion. The outside is a little too clean, a close up shot on “1917″ sign show a sign of fresh paint!

  61. HELLOOOOOOO!!!! it’s fake you guys….lol….duh!!!!!!!!!!

  62. I was astounded, until I saw the tool shed and mailbox. I work in theatre, and it was very obvious to me that it was all painted… I was sad. The lobby clinched it. Too staged.

  63. Even though I’m only a teenager, i feel a connection to things from the turn of the twentieth century, I feel like I have lived during this era but that’s…. impossible, sigh.

  64. Terrific paintings! That is the kind of information that are meant to be shared across the net. Disgrace on the search engines for now not positioning this publish higher! Come on over and seek advice from my web site . Thank you =)

  65. I can’t believe you pulled this off yet again. Bravo, sir.

  66. I was already loading Expedia to book a flight to CA to check this place out, that is until I saw the cobwebs. It didn’t make sense that a caretaker would leave them there. NICE! Great pics and great joke! Kudos to you!!!

  67. I have visited and there is also an abandoned archaeology dig site, ancient underwater caverns and a large, old mansion that can be explored. It is truly a magical place.

  68. Is it bad that I recognized the trashcan in the “gardening shed” pic as a Disney original?

  69. timmyfromphilly

    some of those pictures are from the twilight zone tower of terror at disneylands california adventure. this place sounded really really cool until the pictures showed up to be a ride at a disney park. im really disapointed.

  70. The story is wrong. There was no fire. Lightning struck the building and the elevator crashed, and the 5 people inside disappeared. The legend is that their ghosts still haunt the hotel to this day. In 1994 the hotel was opened by a rich couple who planned to make a business out of offering people to stay in the hotel. The ghosts, however, angry at having their haunting space invaded by people, sent the first guests on the same journey they took in 1939. Instead of taking them to their room, the elevator went to the 13th floor and crashed. The guests disappeared into a mysterious realm never to be seen again. Strangely, people are still checking in because they are mysteriously attached to entering The Hollywood Tower Hotel (Twilight Zone Tower of Terror).

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