Local author Dale Perelman often stays close to home while writing a book.
This time, however, he secured 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 eventually became a magnet for suicides, murders and other Skid Row crimes.
Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia – whose 1947 murder remains unsolved – is said to have frequented the hotel in the days before her death.
Additionally, two notorious serial killers – Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez and Jack Unterweger – stayed at the Cecil for at least part of their respective kills of the 1980s and 1990s.
And in another mysterious death, the body of Elisa Lam was discovered in one of the Cecil’s rooftop water cisterns on February 19, 2013. Officially declared an accident, the cause of her disappearance nonetheless continues to be a subject 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-story window and landed on a pedestrian, killing them both. According to Perelman, Amy Price, the director of the Cecil between 2010 and its closure on January 1, 2017 (it is now used for low-rent housing) “estimated some eighty natural and unnatural deaths during her tenure” .
These have led paranormalists to consider The Cecil one of the most haunted places in the world.
Perelman – whose previous books have included local looks at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Kadunce murders in New Castle and the history of the region’s steel history, and whose next book will highlight the life of former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner – admits the Cecil hadn’t been on his radar.
“My son Sean (Kanan, author, actor and producer) read ‘Kadunce’ and said, ‘You have to write about Hotel Cecil,'” Perelman said. “I had never heard of the Cecil Hotel, and I had never been to the Cecil Hotel. So I said, ‘Let me find out.’
Perelman quickly uncovered a plethora of information about Cecil’s unsavory past, “but it doesn’t all come together.”
The 700-room Cecil opened in 1924 as a budget but relatively opulent destination for tourists and business travelers. It flourished for five years, until the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Cecil’s builders were unlucky enough to have built it on the edge of what would quickly become known as Skid Row, a neighborhood of passers-by, criminals and prostitutes. Thus began the steady decline of the hotel.
“The Depression killed this whole region,” Perelman said. “The bad areas never recovered. yet the Biltmore – which is still considered a very nice hotel – is only a few blocks away. But two blocks 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 photos while I was there; I was not the only one there,” he said, adding that he was unable to see or enter the Cecil. “You go down to the Skid Row area, there are still things there. You can still see a sign on the climb down the road for cheap rooms at Hotel Cecil, which are no longer available.
Apparently, however, not everyone is in love with mystique.
“Our taxi driver was very nervous,” Perelman said. “I felt average. I wanted to get off at The Last Bookstore (an LA landmark and the last place Elisa Lam was seen outside the Cecil), but didn’t go because the taxi driver said: “I’ll leave you here”, and we didn’t want to stay there after dark.
“I was nervous. It’s a tough place. You don’t want to be there after dark.
In “Death at Hotel Cecil”, Perelman shares the dark history of the hotel, including chapters on Ramirez, Unterwegger and Lam, as well as tales of suicides and other crimes that happened inside. and around it. The book is due out Monday and will be available on Amazon and arcadiapublishing.com. He will do a book signing from 6-8 p.m. on June 2 at the New Castle Public Library.
“I don’t know what redemption value it has,” Perelman said of his book, “but it’s an interesting story.”