The Knickerbocker Hotel: Party Spot for Deceased

Back over in Hollywood, down on Ivar Avenue, is an unassuming hotel, with a dark past. Today, it is housing for senior citizens, but back in the 1920’s, the Knickerbocker Hotel was at the heart of Hollywood. Rudolph Valentino hung out at the hotel bar, and reportedly liked to tango dance here.
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One of the many paranormal activities stems from Harry Houdini and his wife, and their interest in the occult. So they made a pact that when one of them dies, that the other would try to contact them from the other side. So when Harry passed away his wife, Bess, on Halloween of 1926, (the first anniversary of his death) conducted a séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker hotel. When Harry did not attend, she continued to hold a séance every year for the next decade.Image

 

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Within the hotel lobby, there is a large crystal chandelier, which cost about $120,000 in the 1920’s (which would be over $1 million today). It was under this mammoth of a chandelier that Birth of a Nation’s director, D.W. Griffith, died of a stroke on July 21, 1948.

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Mr. Joe DiMaggio and Mrs. Marilyn Monroe carried out their honeymooned here in January of 1954.

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In 1956, Elvis Presley even enjoyed staying at the Knickerbocker; in suite 1016 while he was shooting “Love Me Tender.” He also posed for the “Heartbreak Hotel” photos in the hotel.

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In November of 1962, Irene Gibbons left the Knickerbocker with one of the saddest tales. Gibbons was a well-to-do costume designer, working with talents such as, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Lana Turner. Gibbons later went on to befriend Doris Day. One afternoon, Day noticed that Gibbons wasn’t herself and acting nervous and upset. She later went on to tell Day that she actor Gary Cooper had been the only man that she had ever loved and sadly, he had passed away the previous year.

So on November 15th, Gibbons checked into the hotel, under a false name, went up to her room and slit her wrists. This horrible action did not have her desired effect, and so she ended up jumping out of her 14th story window. Her body did not hit the sidewalk, but the hotel awning, where it wasn’t until nighttime that her corpse was later discovered.

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William Frawley, the gentleman that played Fred Mertz on the “I Love Lucy,” show actually lived at the hotel forseveral years. However, on March 3, 1966, when he was returning home, he ended up having a fatal heart attack on the sidewalk outside. His nurse tried dragging his body back into the hotel and reviving him, but it was too late.

Frawley was not the only star to have lived at the Knickerbocker. Others include Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Mae West, Laurel & Hardy, Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, and Cecil B. DeMille.

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Now if you ever saw the movie “Francis,” with Jessica Lange, she is actually portraying the ill-fated actress Frances Farmer and it was here in 1942 at the Knickerbocker where she was arrested and dragged through the lobby half-naked before plummeting into a horrible downward spiral ending in a lobotomy.

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Due to it’s tumultuous past, the hotel bar was considered haunted and was boarded up and left unused for almost 25 years. Then in the 90’s, the doors were opened for a posh little café called, “The All-Star Theatre Café & Speakeasy.” Unfortunately, the Café lost its lease and had to close up shop again.

Even though they attempted to revamp the bar area, the ghost of Valentino was still said to drop by occasionally, and even Marilyn preferred the women’s restroom.

So you are not actually able to go into the Knickerbocker today, they have some tight security, but you can peek in and still the chandelier that has seen it’s fair share of Hollywood tales.

See for yourself: The Knickerbocker is at 1714 Ivar Avenue in LA. It is one block west of the Capitol building. From Hollywood & Vine, go just one block west, and turn right (north) on Ivar. The Hotel will be on your right side.

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