This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel Part V

Posted by on June 25, 2012


“From first glance, the American Hotel (built in 1901) along Traction Ave and Hewitt Street in Los Angeles’ “Arts District” (next door to Little Tokyo and Skid Row…fun times!) looks exactly like what you expect from a dingy, rundown and not very well reviewed “hotel.” People really sleep here?” — Forgotten LA

This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel

One night, I returned home very late to my room on the fourth floor of The American Hotel. I was sleepy, so at first it took me a second to figure out what I was seeing: a shiny black coffin in the hallway right in front of my door.

What the hell?

Watching it out of the corner of my eye, I unlocked my door and quickly slipped into my room, locking my door behind me. I called my boyfriend and told him. It took a minute for him to understand, as well.


“There’s a giant fucking black coffin outside my door!”

“Did you look inside?”

“Are you serious?”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

I had just bought my first really nice 35mm camera and was going crazy shooting pictures: (“I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, horses… taking pictures of your feet.” Charlotte from Lost in Translation)

I opened my door and quickly snapped a photo of the coffin. I watched it for a minute. Nothing. I looked up and down the hall. Nothing. All was quiet. I closed my door and went to bed.

The next morning, I woke and slowly pushed my door open a crack, peering into the hall. It was gone! At least I had proof that it existed. I had taken a photo!

Two days later, I was walking past Dennis’ room a few doors down from me. He had his door open and I stopped to say hello. And wouldn’t you know it, he had that damn coffin. It was propped upright against one wall, he had installed shelves into the white satin lining and made it an entertainment center for his TV, VCR, and radio.

It went well with his six-foot-tall wooden that oozed colored wax down it’s planks like blood and the red light bulb that illuminated the room.


Dennis, a playful Chicano man in his mid-20s, was hands down my favorite neighbor at The American Hotel. The first night I met Dennis he had just taken PCP. We were all up on the roof partying with the LA skyline as our backdrop. Suddenly, half the group dropped to their knees. Dennis had lost the keys to his room on the tar roof and people scrounged around until they found them.

Later, I saw him teetering outside his room for about thirty minutes, alone, holding a large wad of keys, trying them one-by-one until he found the key to his room.

But the best part of Dennis was when he was sober and feeling productive. He would stay up all night, with the door to his room wide open and type on an old typewriter for hours. In the morning, his door would be shut tight, but his latest creation would be tacked to the outside for all to read. Most of it was astonishingly good. My boyfriend’s favorite Dennis writing was the most simple one. One morning we paused and there was just one line on the white paper. “The ironic thing is the irony.”

One thing I loved about Dennis was his carefree attitude. He was so much fun to be around and he had simple philosophies about life. If you were depressed or blue about something he would tell you this: “Go clean your room, man. Get your shit together and everything will be alright.”

When he wasn’t writing short stories or poetry he was either doing drugs, playing his guitar, or reading. He loaned me Ken Kesey’s “Electric KoolAid Acid Test.” I lent him Karen Finley.

But the drugs often got the best of him. My boyfriend had drawn a really trippy pencil and watercolor mural on the big white wall in my room. Occasionally Dennis would drop acid and then come knocking on my door.

“Hey, I NEED to look at your wall again. That is some mother fucking cooooool shit.”

He would stare at it for a few minutes, examining it closely, and then leave.

One morning I was woken up by the sound of Dennis in the street below. He was lying in the middle of the street with his hands stretched out on each side, hollering “I wanna burrita! I wanna burrita!” Finally, after repeating this about fifty times, he began hopping from car hood to car hood shouting the same thing and then laughing hysterically.

Once, shortly before I moved out, I realized I hadn’t seen Dennis for a few days. I asked around and found out he was in jail. I was told, however I have no idea if it was true, that they allowed him to take his guitar with him. They said he was sitting in a jail cell playing his unplugged electric guitar all day long. That was the last I ever heard of my friend.

The halls of the hotel may reek of pee and weed, but you can’t deny that the place is held together with love. (No, seriously, the amount of tie rods being used throughout the walls makes it look like the building is about to fall apart.) — Forgotten LA


Dear Reader: Will you stay tuned for more about life at The American Hotel? Next up, The LA Riots.

If you’ve missed them, here are the other posts:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

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12 Responses to This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel Part V

  1. Kristi

    Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your thoughts on living there. Do you remember anyone I’ve written about? I haven’t been by there in years, but also began dating my (now) husband when I was living there! xoxo

  2. Karen

    I am loving your posts on The American Hotel, it brings a flood of memories from a crazier time. I lived in #219 and was also there for the riots. My husband, who I started dating when I lived there, and I still drive by on occasion to reminisce.

  3. Kristi

    It was a special time and place. I would love to know (and read) if you write up some of your memories. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. janeray1940

    Just wanted to say thanks for your write-up of the American. I lived there in the early 1980s and my experience, although a decade earlier, was really similar – right down to the homeless guys sleeping in my car (in my case, a 1967 VW Squareback with no locks). I hadn’t thought about that place in years, and a couple nights ago found myself telling stories about it when the conversation turned to the “new” downtown Los Angeles. The view of downtown from the American was an entirely different universe from today’s view from the Standard, and it made me happy to see someone keeping those memories alive. I’m now motivated to write up some of my own…

  5. Kristi

    Interesting. I’m sure growing up in California also made me have such a different experience …

  6. kaye george

    He was born in 1952 and I’m 7 years older. I’ll make you figure that out. :)
    His high school experiences were vastly different than mine. There was no drug culture in Midwest public schools when I was that age. It was firmly established by the time he got there.

  7. Kristi

    Thanks Kaye and thanks for stopping by. How old is your brother? I can’t imagine you and I are much different in age.

  8. Kristi

    I never did get the scoop on that, although I did hear scuttle that it was a stage prop, which is much less exciting!

  9. Kristi

    Stephanie! I wish I could find more of my photos from that time! It was crazy. Thanks for keeping in touch. xoxo

  10. kaye george

    Your stories sound like my baby brother’s. His generation was 180 degrees different than mine. Great post!

  11. Gloria Alden

    Now what I wonder is what happened to the body that was in there originally? That would make for a good story, wouldn’t it.

  12. Stephanie

    Oh my God. It keeps getting better. I love that there is photo documentation of the coffin!