September 30, 2022

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Local author chronicles LA hotel’s bizarre past | Lifestyles

Many times, local author Dale Perelman will stay close to home when he pens a book.

This time, though, he got himself a hotel.

And not just any hotel. Perelman’s latest book – his ninth – focuses on Los Angeles’ infamous Cecil Hotel, a pre-Depression gem that ultimately became a Skid Row magnet for suicides, murders and other crime.

Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. The Black Dahlia – whose 1947 murder remains unsolved – reportedly frequented the hotel in the days before her death.

Moreover, two notorious serial killers – Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez and Jack Unterweger – stayed at the Cecil during at least part of their respective 1980s and 1990s killing sprees.

And in another mysterious death, the body of Elisa Lam was discovered in one of the Cecil’s rooftop water cisterns on Feb. 19, 2013. Officially ruled an accident, the cause of her demise nonetheless continues to be a topic of debate.

Then there are the suicides, Perelman writes, “at least sixteen,” including a 1962 incident in which a woman threw herself out of a ninth-floor window and landed on a pedestrian, killing them both. According to Perelman, Amy Price, the Cecil’s manager between 2010 and its closing on Jan. 1, 2017 (it’s now used for low-rent housing) “estimated some eighty natural and unnatural deaths during her tenure.”

The latter have led paranormalists to consider The Cecil one of the world’s most haunted locations.

Perelman – whose previous books have included local looks at The Scottish Rite Cathedral, New Castle’s Kadunce murders and the history of the region’s steel history, and whose next book will spotlight the life of former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner – concedes that the Cecil had not been on his radar.

“My son Sean (Kanan, an author, actor and producer) read ‘Kadunce’ and said, ‘You have to write about the Cecil Hotel,’ ” Perelman said. “I’d never heard of the Cecil Hotel, and I’d never been to the Cecil Hotel. So I said, ‘Let me look into it.’”

Perelman soon discovered a plethora of information about the Cecil’s unsavory past, “but it’s not all put together.”

The 700-room Cecil opened in 1924 as a budget-priced, yet relatively opulent destination for tourists and business travelers. It flourished for five years, until the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. The Cecil’s builders had the bad luck of having built it on the boundary of what would quickly become known as Skid Row, a district of transients, criminals and prostitutes. Thus began the hotel’s steady decline into seediness.

“The Depression killed that whole area,” Perelman said. “The bad areas never recovered. and yet, the Biltmore – which is still considered a very nice hotel – is just a few blocks away. But two blocks away from Skid Row is the difference.”

Despite the reputation of the building and the neighborhood, people still seem to find it irresistible – including Perelman, who visited the site in November.

“There were a lot of people taking pictures while I was there; I was not the only one there,” he said, adding that he was unable to see or go into the Cecil. “You go down to the Skid Row area, there are still things there. You can still see a sign on the hi-rise down the road for cheap rooms at the Cecil Hotel, which are no longer available.”

Apparently, though, not everyone is enamored of the mystique.

“Our cab driver was very nervous,” Perelman said. “I felt medium. I wanted to go down to The Last Bookstore (a Los Angeles landmark and the last place Elisa Lam was seen outside of the Cecil), but I didn’t make it down there because the cab driver said, ‘I’m going to leave you here,’ and we didn’t want to get left there after dark.

“I was nervous. It’s a rough place. You do not want to be there after dark.”

In “Death at the Cecil Hotel,” Perelman shares the hotel’s dark history, including chapters on Ramirez, Unterwegger and Lam, as well as accounts of the suicides and other crimes that happened in and around it. The book is scheduled for release Monday and will be available on Amazon and at arcadiapublishing.com. He will do a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. June 2 at the New Castle Public Library.

“I don’t know how much redeeming value it has,” Perelman said of his book, “but it’s an interesting story.”