Now that the infamous Los Feliz Murder House is on the market after decades of abandonment for a hefty $2.75 million, it’s fair to wonder how future owners might manage to unassociate the home with its dark backstory. Can any amount of renovation erase a history of misery and violence? Will evil spirits survive a teardown? Fortunately, Southern California is filled with some excellent test cases. In honor of Curbed’s Renovation Week, let’s see how some of the area’s most sinister establishments have been made over and rehabilitated over the years.
Linda Vista Hospital
Once this abandoned hospital in Boyle Heights was one of the creepiest and most surely haunted spots in all of Los Angeles. Voices could be heard in empty corridors, and faucets turned on and off without being touched. Nowit’s a completely unscary senior-living home—a pleasant place to spend some ghost-free time with the grandparents. Who knows? Maybe a spirit or two have stuck around, but it’s hard to imagine any of them seeming very frightening in a place with so much comfortable seating. The senior housing facility has even been awarded with a Preservation Award from the LA Conservancy for demonstrating that “even long-forgotten buildings can be brought back to their former splendor, while adapting to meet the needs of today.”
Sharon Tate Murder House
The house where members of the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, and Jay Sebring has been torn down. Before that, however, it was turned into a recording studio by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor—who took to calling the place “pig,” in reference to bloody writing left on the wall by the murderers. The studio can be seen in the video for the Nine Inch Nails song “Gave Up” and honestly it does look pretty creepy. Still, low lighting and a weird American flag-draped mixer is definitely an improvement over a murder scene. Reznor did later come to regret his decision to rent the home after a chance meeting with Tate’s sister.
This American Horror Story-inspiring nightmare of a hotel has an incredibly grisly backstory—over the years, it has been the site of an inordinate number of suicides and murders stretching back to the 1920s. Richard Ramirez, the notorious Night Stalker, called the hotel home for a time. Supposedly fellow serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed there as well. And so did 21-year-old Elisa Lam, who went missing at the hotel in 2013, only to be discovered drowned in the water cistern nearly three weeks later (and, yes, guests had been drinking and showering in that water the whole time).
Is it possible for the Cecil to ever overcome its well-deserved reputation as a place of pure evil? Hotelier Richard Born certainly hopes so. He’s trying rebrand the Cecil (now calling itself Stay on Main) as a hip but affordable place for young professionals to stay. A photo of one of the remodeled rooms, displayed on the hotel’s website, makes the renovated establishment look harmless enough. Relax on a colorful bedspread, admire the nice painting of flowers hanging on the wall, sit down on this weird orange hand. Just maybe don’t trust the water quite yet.
Heaven’s Gate Suicide House
It was at a rented mansion in Rancho Santa Fe that Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers committed suicide in 1997, believing this would allow them to link up with a passing spacecraft. The UFO-worshipping cult prepared for death by dressing in matching black clothing and Nike sneakers, covering their faces with purple cloth as they expired. A bleak occurrence like that can certainly affect the value of a property, even in a desirable community like Rancho Santa Fe. A neighbor purchased the three-acre property for less than $1 million and had the home torn down.
There’s nothing remotely eerie about the run-of-the-mill McMansion that’s sprung up to replace the mass suicide house. Last sold in 2010, it looks like a great place to sip a glass of wine, enjoy the view, and not think about the 39 people who once asphyxiated themselves on the property.
The Sowden House
This Mayan Revival masterpiece by Lloyd Wright was originally built for artist John Sowden, but its most notorious resident was physician George Hodel, a prime suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short—the famous Black Dahlia. Hodel’s name first became publicly associated with the case in 2003, when his son, a retired LAPD detective, published a book detailing evidence that his father had murdered Short—possibly in the Sowden House basement.
With a front entrance that looks disconcertingly like an open mouth ready to swallow up visitors, the residence certainly seems like the kind of place where a horrifying murder would take place. Still, renovations undertaken by designer Xorin Balbes in 2002 and 2009 have given it a slightly less imposing look. There’s a pool now in the front courtyard, and the latest owners rent the home as an “old hollywood oasis,” perfect for private parties and corporate retreats. Never mind that just a few years ago a cadaver dog supposedly detected the presence of human remains on the property.
Intriguingly, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence the younger Hodel has found linking his father to Short’s murder is directly related to renovations the doctor himself had undertaken. In Wright’s papers, on file at UCLA, receipts show that the architect had overseen work at the residence requiring 10 50-pound bags of cement. This work was completed January 10, 1947. Five days later, Short’s body was found in a vacant lot, along with several 50-pound cement sacks apparently used to transfer her remains.
- Haunted Old Boyle Heights Hospital Now Completely Unscary [Curbed LA]
- Can a Hip New York Hotelier Gentrify Downtown LA’s Notoriously Nightmarish Cecil Hotel? [Curbed LA]
- The Sordid and Possibly Murderous Secrets of Los Angeles’s Sowden House [Curbed LA]
- How to Sell a Murder House, According to the Expert [Curbed]