Extra! Extra! Park Plaza Hotel – Downtown

October 20, 2012

It’s only available for events and filming now, but there’s definitely a suicidal history here…

Built in 1925 as Lodge #99 for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (check out the brass elk antlers embedded in the clock above the entry), this magnificent neo-gothic building was designed by art deco architect Claud Beelman and stands guard over MacArthur Park.

When The Elks sold the building, it was converted into a hotel: at the time this area was known as the glamorous “Champs Élysées of Los Angeles”, and the hotel ballroom, grand lobby and swimming pool (which hosted a number of swimming events in the 1932 Olympics) was a magnet for vacationers and visitors alike.

Many of them took a walk in Westlake Park (which was re-named MacArthur Park in 1942), though over the last few decades it became more associated with gangs than glitz, and despite being awarded Historic-Cultural Monument status in 1983 the Park Plaza closed its doors to paying guests around 10 years ago. The park has Historic-Cultural Monument status too, and is worth visiting – during the day at least – if only to see the lake and its huge fountain on the southern side (the park is divided in two by Wilshire Boulevard).

Staff had no spooky stories of the hotel to tell me, but a search of the Los Angeles Times archives confirmed things from when it was the Lodge; there were two suicides here. The September 19, 1940 issue reported that Adolph Frankel, 61, shot himself in the head, dying later in hospital. He was due to face trial on forgery charges and the paper printed part of his suicide note:

“This is the only way out. I’m glad to do it for my loved ones. I’d do it for my country anytime, why not now?”

Secondly, the June 30, 1941 issue reported that regular sunbather Frances J. Cook, 55, “rolled” off the ledge of the 11th floor, plunging 135 feet to his death. He had recently suffered a nervous breakdown and only recently been released from a sanitarium. Police found a note in his pocket that read in part:

“Ethel is the best wife a man ever had.”

Today a huge revitalization effort is underway in and around the park (surveillance cameras, a Metro station, the return of the paddle boats, free concerts and community festivals) and while the upper floors of the Park Plaza Hotel are currently bare concrete, the owners are looking to return the hotel to its glory days – but when that will be, no one can say for sure.