Yesterday afternoon, in response to my article about my experience at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, A Dump with a Future, William Lanting of the Cecil’s management company posted a comment in reply. For his forthrightness, his provision of a back story and his willingness to take my critique on the chin and in the spirit in which it was intended, I have decided to re-post his comment as a full article.
Here’s what he wrote:
Well, shucks Joey. Thanks for the, er, kind words? My company manages the Cecil Hotel and, had you asked, I would have been happy to clear a few things up for you. First of all, we realize that the Cecil needs a renovation. In fact, we have plans drawn up to renovate the entire building and convert most of it into a mid-priced Best Western Hotel. We thought it was a great idea. The area would get a newly-renovated hotel to serve this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and the almost-broke City of Los Angeles gets about a million bucks per year in increased occupancy taxes. A win-win situation, right? That’s when the City of Los Angeles stopped us dead in our tracks.
You see, several years ago, Councilwoman Jan Perry and the Los Angeles Housing Department decided that the then-in-progress revitalization of this part of town (what most of us currently call the “Loft District”) was a bad thing…bad for the down-on-their-luck low-income residents that used to populate this area to the exclusion of almost everyone else. Afraid that the newly-relocating loft dwellers would displace the drug dealers, prostitutes and welfare recipients who called the area home, they enacted the “Temporary Control Ordinance” (which later morphed into the current “Permanent Control Ordinance”). This ordinance more-or-less arbitrarily placed a whole bunch of downtown hotels on the “Residential Hotels” list. The stated guidelines they established were these: If – on October 15, 2005 – more than 50% of a downtown hotel’s “guests” were actually residents who considered the facility their primary residence, then onto the list you went. In fact, only about 30% of the Cecil Hotel’s guests were of this variety at the time. Nevertheless, the Cecil Hotel was tossed on the list with all of the others. So, the owners of this hotel are now forever bound by law to remain a “residential hotel” for the benefit of low-income residents. If you think that this sounds an awful lot like an Eminent Domain taking, then you would be correct…eminent domain without compensation, which is very specifically against the Constitution of the United States. Doesn’t matter, nobody has the wherewithal to challenge the ordinance, so that is that. Like they say, you can’t fight city hall.
Well, not exactly, the owners of the Cecil Hotel HAVE sued the City of Los Angeles over this issue. We also continue to operate the hotel exactly as it was operated prior to October 15, 2005 which, surprisingly enough, is allowed under the Ordinance. In fact, all you must do to comply with the Ordinance is to make rooms AVAILABLE to low-income residents…at market rates! Huh? It seems obvious that low income tenants can’t afford to pay the now much-higher rents that area apartments are fetching. Yes, well Ms. Perry and the LAHD didn’t think that one through entirely. Unfortunately, though, the Ordinance does make it almost impossible for us to realize our Best Western dreams because combining two rooms into one (and adding bathrooms to each) effectively removes one guestroom from those that are supposed to remain available to low-income residents. Crazy, huh? A lose-lose situation if ever I saw one. So what do you do?
At this hotel, we have done as much as we can. We removed all of the prostitutes and drug dealers from the building. We still have 66 full-time residents, most of whom are on welfare, but they are (for the most part) good rent-paying, law-abiding people…some of whom have been here for several decades. In addition, we have two floors of college dorm-style rooms that house students from five local colleges. We also created Stay, which you mentioned only briefly in your article. Stay is, essentially, a very upscale youth hostel. (You can see for yourself at http://www.stay-hotels.net). This 138-room hostel-within-a-hotel is freshly renovated and very popular with backpacking European tourists and others looking for a hip place to stay for not much dough. You should have checked in yourself. It is an entirely different experience from the rest of the Cecil Hotel.
The storefront guestrooms you also mentioned in your article are actually part of a one-month promotion for Stay. You can see more at http://www.stayinabubble.com.
So, that brings us back to the Cecil Hotel. We continue to proceed with our plans for Marty and Nip and Tuck. Although, the City has put up one roadblock after another. I guess our $40 million lawsuit hurt their feelings. But, we persevere. However, until the lawsuit is resolved, the Cecil Hotel remains as it has been. It is a cheap place to stay, that is for sure. Rooms here are half of what they would be anywhere else downtown. And, there is a big market for that…cheap rooms, clean and prostitute-free. Apparently, you are not in the Cecil’s target demographic set. So, I am sorry that you were disappointed with your visit to the Cecil. But thanks for the trashing nevertheless.
I believe Mr. Lanting understands that I trash because I care. I’m rather fond of old hotels because they’ve got architectural charms that most modern ones don’t; they’re often poor imitations of Mies van der Rohe’s giant filing cabinets for people located in neighbourhoods of bank buildings that are devoid of life after sundown.
Going by locale, exteriors and lobbies, I’d take the Cecil over the Bonaventure any day. Here’s the exterior of the Bonaventure:
…and here’s its lobby:
It could be a shopping center, an airport lounge or the lobby for a major insurance company, in any city, in almost any country.
Compare those two photos above with the exterior shot of the Cecil at the top of this article and with the lobby shots below:
Gorgeous, isn’t it? I prefer it to the Bonaventure’s lobby.
I hope that the Cecil gets its chance to get the rest of its ground-floor amenities — the Marty cafe, Nip bar and Tuck restaurant — up and running. I also hope that they get the chance to give their rooms a decent renovation. Now by “renovation”, I don’t mean transforming the rooms into something bland and indistinguishable from a major chain airport hotel, but fixing them up in a way that complements the hotel’s unique style, just as was done with Toronto’s Drake and Gladstone hotels.
I wish William Lanting nothing but the best of luck in his plans to get the Cecil spruced up, and I’d love to get a tour of Stay the next time I’m in L.A.. I doubt I could convince the wife to stay in a hostel-like place, but as a hostel-goer in my younger days, I’d love to get a look.