American Horror Story: The Cecil Hotel
It started out as a routine missing persons case. But by the time the internet was done with her, Elisa Lam had become a macabre celebrity, a conspiracy magnet—and the inspiration for a TV series.
Look for the highlights and *footnotes
On January 27, 2013, 21-year-old Elisa Lam stepped off a train from San Diego in downtown Los Angeles, gathered her belongings, and walked to a hostel on Main Street. It was, like most every mid-winter day in LA, sunny and in the mid-60s, the kind of weather that makes people never want to leave. Under such conditions — when a warm, low-angle winter sun softens the entire landscape — it’s possible to not fully absorb the reality that this 54-block section of LA is one of the city’s most troubled districts.
Even so, Lam would have passed by evidence: A few old tents pitched under awnings, shelters made from tarps tied up to light poles, and men slumped asleep on flattened boxes. This stretch of downtown is notoriously seedy, home to many of the city’s worst addicts and most destitute citizens. The police consider it a “containment zone” for the homeless. On maps, the area is actually labeled Skid Row. And Main Street, in particular, is its heart.
Things are changing, a little, as developers bring condos, high-end cocktail bars, and three-digit tasting menus to the neighborhood. But these magnets for gentrifiers stand side-by-side with the tent camps and soup kitchens, and the old art deco apartment towers and high-rise hotels along Main are still largely single-room-occupancy establishments where the local authorities stash down-and-out residents.