When I first frolicked about in the City of Angels five years ago, I stayed at a hotel called the Palomar. It was clean, modern, and pet-friendly. However, it was situated close to UCLA, far away from the Hollywood action. It took lots of cabs and lots of money to get around. When planning this summer’s trip, I had a few goals in mind:
- Make the trip as Old Hollywood-focused as humanly possible in 2016 LA.
- Stay in a hotel closer to the Hollywood area.
Which is how I came to stay at the Millennium Biltmore, a historic behemoth of a hotel located in DTLA. Two factors played in my decision:
- The hotel looked fantastic on Google.
- There was a good deal for it across several travel websites.
When I booked my room at the hotel, I had no knowledge of its historic past. I came to learn more and more about it as my stay went on.
Originally known as just The Biltmore, the hotel officially opened for business in 1923. At this time, it was considered the largest hotel west of Chicago, and served as a luxury getaway for many of the stars. In 1927, the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom was where the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded. What really surprised me was that I had inadvertently decided to stay at the very hotel that hosted the Academy Awards from 1931 to 1942! It was the place where Clark Gable won his Oscar for It Happened One Night. It was the place where Gone with the Wind swept the Academy Awards in 1939, and it was the place where Casablanca won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay in 1942. All the Academy Awards hosted at the Biltmore took place in the Biltmore Bowl, which looks like this:
I attempted to get into this room on a few occasions, so I can bask in the Old Hollywood glory. When the room isn’t being used for a meeting or convention, it is shut off and gated. When the room is being used for a meeting or convention, it is difficult to get in due to the check-in tables and a wristband system. I tried to pretend I had a wristband. Needless to say, I failed, since my wrists were bare. I was brokenhearted I could not see this room for myself. The hotel dedicates a hallway, known as “The Historic Corridor,” to its interesting history. If you couldn’t tell already, I was geeking out!
Here are some of the photos that line the Historic Corridor:
The hotel played host to many other historical events as well. During World War II, it was a recreation and recuperation facility for American soldiers. In 1960, it was the site of the Democratic National Convention (when JFK was chosen as the Presidential nominee). In 1964, the Beatles stayed in the hotel’s presidential suite while on tour in the States. A history nerd like me could not have chosen a better place to stay.
In addition to being a history nerd, I am an architecture nerd too (I have many friends), and the Biltmore satisfied that facet of my personality as well. The Biltmore’s Rendezvous Court is similar to the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt. Both are heavy and dimly lit, built in a Spanish/Renaissance/Beaux Arts revival style. A fountain adorns the center of both rooms, and plush velvet chairs and sofas surround the area. The Biltmore also boasts detailed woodwork and ornate ceilings heavy with paintings and plasterwork. Most of the artwork in the hotel was done by Italian artist Giovanni Smeraldi, who had previously done artwork for the Vatican and the White House.
Despite the beauty, the Old Hollywood star power, and the crazy gorgeous architecture of the Biltmore, the hotel does have a bit of a seamy underbelly. According to legend, the hotel is haunted by various ghosts, including that of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia. My crime nerds will know that the Biltmore was the last place Short was seen alive before her gruesome murder in January 1947. The reports as to where exactly Short was last seen in the hotel differ slightly, but most agree that she was seen in the lobby and in the bar. Short’s ghost is said to haunt the lobby, the bar, the Rendezvous Court, and floors 10 and 11. There have also been rumors of a little girl that haunts the 9th floor, a faceless boy that haunts the roof, and a nurse that haunts the second floor. In 2010, a woman was pushed to her death down the Biltmore’s endless spiral staircase by her fiance, and now her spirit is said to haunt the hotel, too. Guests hearing disembodied voices and seeing their things move around have ran to the lobby in the dead of night demanding a room change on the spot.
So…is the Biltmore really haunted, or is it all a big hoax?
I say the answer is: Yes. The ghost stories are real!
Obviously, I had no idea about the Biltmore’s haunted history when I booked a room there. I didn’t even know about the Biltmore’s stellar Academy Awards history! However, as soon as I walked into the hotel, I FROZE. I still cannot really describe what it was that I felt, but it was most like the feeling you get when you know something is very, very wrong and you are helpless as to what to do. I was nauseous, shivering, and basically in a state of numb shock. My sister tried to reassure me, but it was as though she was talking to a brick wall. It wasn’t until several hours later that I was able to calm down, and several days later when I found out that the hotel has a ghostly past…one that is connected to one of the worst crimes in American history. It all clicked.
The hallways where the guest rooms are did nothing to help. They were long, blank, and low-ceilinged with a patterned carpet reminiscent of The Shining. Mirrors stand at either end of the halls and it was always strangely, strangely quiet.
That is, until night-time came around.
That is when we heard strange noises that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere and knocking coming from within the walls. We felt a cold spot near the health club/pool area. One night, a random wineglass appeared right outside our room door, despite the fact that neither of us drank anything and there was no one else staying on our floor. There were also three finger smudge lines on the bathroom mirror that never came off no matter how hard I wiped and cleaned the mirror. One night, we even heard a woman’s scream. It got to the point where my sister and I kept the lights and the television on as we slept.
Most of the rooms in the Biltmore, just like the rest of the hotel, aren’t modernized at all. Perhaps the only modern thing about it was the TV. No mini fridge, no free internet, not a computer in sight. Staying at the Biltmore was like taking a time machine back to the hotel’s golden years; a perfect place for an Old Hollywood experience. By the end of my stay, I must admit I ended up developing a soft spot for the place, but there’s no denying there’s ghost or two that has a soft spot for it, too!