By Jason Mandell
Recently many historic Downtown landmarks have been bought up by developers and converted into gleaming new residences and businesses. The latest property to hit the market may lack the aesthetic grandeur of other buildings, but its unusual role in music history could make it the first to attract both deep-pocketed investors and diehard rock and roll fans.
The Morrison Hotel, a funky four-story building at Hope and Pico in South Park, just a few blocks from Staples Center, last week was put up for sale by its owners, San Francisco-based Hope Pico Company. Built in 1914, the white and green brick structure is best known for its appearance on the cover of the Doors’ 1970 album Morrison Hotel. The image features singer Jim Morrison and band mates peering out from behind a glass window that bears the hotel’s name.
Dan Daneshrad, a broker for Grubb & Ellis who is handling the property, said the owners do not have an asking price. However, Daneshrad said he expects the edifice to fetch between $7 million and $9 million.
He is pitching the property as ripe for conversion into a boutique hotel. Daneshrad cited the transformation of the Cecil Hotel at Seventh and Main streets, which recently underwent a $4 million upgrade. Daneshrad estimated the cost of rehabilitating the Morrison Hotel at less than $1 million.
The 111-unit building has been neglected for decades, and currently houses mostly monthly residents. Evidence of its place in music history is all but gone. The window featured on the album cover has been removed; new lettering with the hotel’s name has been painted on the brick facade. The wall also bears a small, spray-painted Doors logo.
A History-Making Day
The photograph of the band inside the Morrison Hotel almost never happened, said photographer Henry Diltz, who took the picture. Diltz recalled that after Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek suggested shooting at the hotel, the group drove there in drummer John Densmore’s Volkswagen van and walked inside. Diltz said he liked the hotel’s vintage look.
“It had these old stuffed chairs in it, like an old ’40s hotel lobby,” said Diltz.
Diltz said he told the building manager they were going to take a few photos, but the manager insisted that they get permission from the owner, who wasn’t around. The group walked outside dejected, but then Diltz noticed the manager had taken the elevator upstairs. Diltz told the band to rush inside for a few quick shots.
“They ran in and just fell into those places,” said Diltz, who added that lawyers for the Doors’ record company ultimately had to secure permission from the hotel owner to use the photo.
Though the shoot produced what would become a memorable album cover, the events that followed proved even more fateful.
“Jim said, ‘Let’s go get a drink,’” recalled Diltz.
The group drove to Skid Row, where they spotted a place called the Hard Rock Cafe. “It was a little wino bar on the corner,” said Diltz.
Diltz said the band spent an hour drinking inside, while he took photos. A shot of the exterior of the bar, with a sign bearing its name, ended up on the back of the album cover. After the record was released, Diltz says the Doors got a call from a man in London who wanted to use the Hard Rock Cafe name for a restaurant he was opening. The business grew into the now famous international chain of music-themed restaurants. A Hard Rock Cafe spokesperson said Diltz’s account is the most common explanation for the origin of the restaurant’s name, though he added that other stories are floating around.
The Hard Rock Cafe on Skid Row is long gone. Diltz worries that the same fate might befall the Morrison Hotel. He said he plans to keep an eye on the property, and hopes the new owner will replace the window featured on the album cover.