The Hotel Elmar – 235 South Hope St.


There was a place, once, a place people called home–the Hotel Elmar. Not much of a place, 230 rooms, built in 1926, facing a retaining wall, small matter of a 1953 shotgun holdup you‘ll read about, sure–but you see, it was the people that made the Hotel Elmar what it was. The Hot L Baltimore of its day. Of its dope-addled, nudie pinup, shotgun-toting Postwar day. Let‘s meet some of them now.


lewiscantloseFebruary 21, 1947. Our first resident of the Elmar, Ex-Cpl. Roy (Peewee) Lewis, 23, formerly of Joliet, Ill, is one of those war vets who came to Los Angeles. Los Angeles, the promise of the good life. You could become anyone. Your face could be up on the big screen! Plastered on billboards! Peewee at least got his plastered all over the corner of Ninth and Fedora.

Lewis and his pal Paul Allen, 19, of 647 West 98th Street, were up in San Francisco a while back, where they managed to boost sixteen machine guns from the San Francisco Armory. Back in Los Angeles, they went on a taxi driver-robbing crime spree. Then they came upon an unusually hard piece of luck. While motoring along they espied a man who‘d just parked, drove by and gave him the eye a couple more times”¦this tickled the cop-sense of the car‘s occupant, Det. Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson, of administrative vice squad. He drew his pistol and held it under his coat.

Lewis approached, leveling a paratrooper‘s machine gun at Jackson. “I‘ll take that” were Lewis‘ last words, for though he was referring to Jackson‘s wallet, Jackson pushed the door open, knocking the machine gun aside, and Lewis took a service revolver blast to the face. Allen burned rubber and Jackson emptied his gun at the fleeing car.
Police found an Elmar Hotel room key on Lewis‘ body and they lit out for Hope Street, just in time to catch Allen leaving with his arms full of clothing. Allen–whose upper arm was grazed by one of Jackson‘s bullets–said Lewis had persuaded him to commit the holdups after meeting him in a bar, and Allen had agreed since he needed the money to marry a 17 year-old girl. So much for their next planned venture, which was knocking over a store at Slauson and Vermont.

November 14, 1947
. Edna Grover, a raven-haired 20 year-old model, calls the Elmar home. But it was at the home of photographer William Kemp, 1830 Redesdale Avenue, where investigators from the DA‘s office found over 1,000 lewd photos of Edna. Kemp was fined $350 ($3,678 current USD) and given a 180-day suspended jail sentence, while our Elmarette was granted probation for her provocative posing.

speedspreeMarch 21, 1952. Martin Salas, 23, left the Elmar‘s confines for an early morning spin this day. At Fifth and Main he hit a truck and injured the driver; he had an argument over right-of-way with a parked car at Sixth and Spring, and another wouldn‘t get out of the way at Third and Spring, and he had a metallic argument with another parked car at Second and Spring. Undaunted, he piloted smack dab into an RKO movie shoot at Third and Figueroa (Sudden Fear? Beware, My Lovely?) where a motorist that‘d tailed him flagged down a cop. The officer jerked open Salas‘ door, only to have Salas step on the gas, forcing the cop to run alongside until enough cops tackled the car and forced it to stop. At some point during Mr. Salas‘ wild ride he‘d had a passenger who ditched in an awful (in every sense of the word) hurry–hair was found on the windshield of the passenger side. Salas was booked on felony hit-and-run.

March 4, 1953. Jack Hodges is 26, an unemployed aircraft worker, and lives a stone‘s throw from the top of Angels Flight at 314 South Olive. His pal Dean Coleman, 22, is in school to learn television repair, and bunks at the Elmar. When Coleman isn‘t in school, the two of them visit the local hotels. With their signature sawed-off shotgun and a briefcase. The only robbery Coleman didn‘t accompany Hodges on, of course, was the time Hodges robbed the night clerk of the Elmar.

Coleman‘s money wore thin and he‘d pawned his television repair apparatuses, and went shotgun-brandishing to get the stuff out of hock. Unfortunately for Coleman, Hodges pawned a stolen wristwatch, which led police to an old mugshot of Hodges; a little police work later and Hodges was caught in a bar at Sixth and Hill, his sawed-off shotgun and briefcase found in his Olive St. hotel room closet. He gave up Coleman, who was arrested while watching television in the lobby of 235 S. Hope.
Coleman, who studied dramatics before his decision to become a television repair man, was never meant to be a shotgun-wielding, hotel-clerk robbing gunman in real life. “As you see I don‘t appear to be a tough guy,” said Coleman, “but I can act the part when the occasion warrants.”

July 22, 1956
. Elmar resident Frank Swope, 33, took offense at fellow Bunker Hiller Harold J. McAnally, 57–McAnally lived one block west at 230 South Flower–buying a lady a drink one summer day in a bar at 822 West Third Street. So Swope walked up and pushed McAnally from his stool, whereupon McAnally landed head-first on the concrete floor. A few hours after McAnally died from his skull fracture, Swope surrendered to authorities at the Elmar.



February 7, 1957
. LAPD went to investigate a disturbance in a bar at 731 West Third and there arrested “Allan Ayers,” 32, a resident of the Elmar…


…turns out our Elmaree was in reality August Gerbitz, two years on the lam from a double murder rap in Evansville, where in December 1954 he gunned down his girlfriend, Mrs. Nadine Martin, 21, and one George Temme, 38.

March 20, 1957
. Salvador Perez and Jesus Cruz, both 27, had been popped by narco and were up on the fourth floor of Police Administration, having been photographed at the lab. They were walked into the hallway by officers Hernandez and Ruddell to be cuffed and led to the first-floor Central Jail for booking.

That‘s when both of them made a break for it. Cruz, of 4923 Gratian Street, was tackled by Ruddell right out of the gate. Perez, he of 235 South Hope, dashed down the stairway. Officer Hernandez slipped and fell, broke his ankle, but continued to give chase nevertheless. Perez ran down to the ground level and made a wrong turn toward Central Jail, turned and ran past Hernandez, but unfortunately, into the arms of Lt. Arroyo. Another vacancy at the Elmar as Perez (and his buddy Cruz) are booked by an out-of-breath, broken-ankled cop on felony violation of the State Narcotics Act.

elmarafarKind of makes you want to check into 235 South Hope, doesn’t it? Perhaps you too can soak up enough of its magic to place you on this honored roll.

Alas, the City has wiped Hope clean, and thereafter had it thoroughly disinfected, as one would to so much egesta on a cracked tile floor. They have left us with the most barely readable of palimpsests. Let‘s take a look.

Hope Street had two levels between Second and Third; here, we are looking north toward Second, standing above the west end of the Third Street tunnel. The Elmar was midway along the block.

ElmarTodayToday, the bilevel nature of Hope Street is five decades gone. The Ghost Elmar floats roughly above an intersection made by a new street, named after a Lithuanian-Ruthenian nobleman-turned-revolutionary. I betcha Frank Swope or Edna Grover never woulda guessed.

The City doesn’t screw around when they want something bad enough. They’ll move mountains, quite literally, to which these images taken across from the Elmar (looking south down Hope toward the library) attest:








The Elmar, gone, but perhaps now a bit less forgotten. For this blog is a little like the Elmar itself. Like it says on the cigarette pack. Wherever particular people congregate.






Hope Street images courtesy William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library

12 thoughts on “The Hotel Elmar – 235 South Hope St.”

  1. …and then there was Dennis Butler, stabbed in the 3rd Street Tunnel by psychopathic serial slayer Steven Nash in mid November 1956. Nash helped his victim back to the lobby of the Elmar with the intent of taking him upstairs and finishing the job, but when Butler let out a loud groan, Nash dashed. Butler survived despite a deep abdominal wound.

    10-year-old Larry Rice wouldn’t be so fortunate, stabbed to death beneath the Santa Monica pier on November 29 because Nash decided it was about time he added child killer to his grim resume. At the time, Nash was wearing a natty suit stolen from Long Beach hairdresser John William Berg, slain in his apartment two days prior.

    Nash was executed in August 1957, as Larry Rice’s father watched.

    1. Elmar resident Nash! I am derelict of my duties in the extreme. What
      should be my punishment? Sit me in a corner of the Elmar with no TV. Nor Early Times or Pall Malls. And an abdominal wound.

      Yes, the always-quotable Nash, who blamed his "weird sexual proclivities" (i.e., a propensity toward homosexual torture-murder) on foster parents, church schools, but primarily on the reformative qualities of San Quentin.




    2. Larry’s tragic death has haunted me all my life. The day Larry was killed, he came up to me in the school yard of Nightingale Elementary School and picked a fight with me. We met between classes at school and had our little fight, who won or who lost is not important. If only I had known he lost his Mother just a few weeks prior, to an illness. Larry went home after our little scuffle, The School principle and his teacher knew that nobody was home for Larry, but they expelled us that day anyway, we were told to go home, the school knew his Dad was still at work. Larry went home made himself a sandwich, and left for the board walk which ran along the beach from Pacific Ocean Park, to the Santa Monica Pier. For several weeks after Larry’s death the Police were at our school quite often. I had heard both Teachers were fired, and eventually sued by Larry’s Father. I think back to that day, now realizing why Larry was angry, I wish I knew what Larry was going through, perhaps I could have befriended him instead of fighting him, and then we could have become friends. His tragic death still affects me, I think of him so often. Luckily for me my Mother was home waiting for me.
      May God Bless Larry may he rest in peace.
      -Ronald Roy Wallace


      “Killings are cheap. They cost about $1.35 or $1.40…It’s like being on a quiz show … When you get 10, you go for 20 … You always want more … “When I was in Quentin, I borrowed books from the prison library. I was studying the operation of railroads. I. panned to run a whole train off a bridge and watch them monkeys go swimming. I’d lie on the river bank and enjoy myself laughing at them.”
      _Steven Nash

      How can you read any man’s mind? Especially that of a grunt, toothless, six-foot-three drifter who dreams such monstrous thought as these? How can you believe that in less than a year a man would perpetrate five senseless murders with knife and lead pipe (and perhaps half a dozen more)?

      Sergeant Larry Scarborough was just a slow talking rookie in Homicide Division at the time. His background was the Narcotics detail where he had worked the previous five years. You couldn’t reasonably expect that he yet would have developed that intuition, smell of blood, call-it-what-you-will, which sets the Homicide detective apart.
      Yet the very first day he heard of Stephen Nash he knew instinctively that he was touching something evil. Something especially that would have to be stopped fast. At the time, Nash wasn’t even wanted for murder, but Scarborough suspected a little of the monstrous truth.

      All that dull November day, from morning until late afternoon, two men, one boyish twenty-four-year-old the other an older sullen man, stood together on the skid-Row corner in the slave belt, hoping for a job.

      It was Friday, a bad day for the kind of jobs that are doled out on Skid Row, and they had no luck.

      The younger man, Denis Butler, had a few dollars. He offered to buy his new friend a beer or two, and they went to a nearby saloon. For an hour, the sullen, older, bitter man did the talking, and Butler did the buying.

      The older man, it seemed, had a grievance against society that had begun in infancy and never had been assuaged. As a baby, he had been abandoned, and from that first, unfair stigma, life had continued to abuse him.

      He was still talking when they left the bar and walked up Third Street toward a cafeteria where the food was cheap but good. He was talking louder and more bitterly, and waving his arms in a rage, as they entered the Third Street tunnel. Butler began to feel uneasy about his new friend who hated anything, everything, with such black, consuming hate.

      Midway through the tunnel, the tall, gaunt man stopped and glared at Butler. Not a word was said, but the younger, smaller man tried desperately to back away.
      It was too late. A hunting knife with a four-inch blade drove into his stomach.

      Butler screamed, and his terror gave him the strength to run despite the burning wound. He fled out of the tunnel and into the lobby of a nearby hotel.

      Knife upraised for the kill, his assailant followed him, trapping him in the lobby.

      For some reason, perhaps because it would have been more merciful, he withheld the fatal thrust, Instead, deliberately, viciously, he stomped on his prostrate victim until he had broken Butler’s collarbone. Then he fled.

      Somehow, Butler survived the attack, and in the hospital he whispered to a radio car patrolman the name of his assailant had given. It was Stephen Nash, all right, and the records down in R. and I. flashed out the story.

      At the age of thirty-three, Nash had already done half a dozen years in San Quentin for strong-arm robberies. He had brawled at a cannery where he was working, and done six months on a sheriffs honor farm at Santa Rita.

      In the stupid, senseless way of some Skid Row characters, he was bad, but there was nothing to suggest that he was monstrous. Yet something clicked right then for Sergeant Scarborough. Wasn’t it four or five weeks earlier in Sacramento that it had happened?

      Scarborough checked the file of All Points Bulletins. Yes here it was: Floyd Leroy Barnett, 27, cannery worker, body found in Sacramento River, Bludgeon and knife wounds.
      Scarborough wired the Sacramento police for full details. Standup mugs of Nash were printed up and distributed. All commands were briefed on his physical description, habits, and known haunts. To police in other cities, LAPD put out a “want” on Nash for assault with a deadly weapon.

      Privately, Scarborough knew the charge was an understatement. Ten days later, the gaunt, toothless man is in Long Beach, twenty miles south of Skid Row hangouts. He meets John William Berg, twenty-seven, and the young hairdresser invites him up to his apartment.

      There is an argument, or is it one of Nash’s tirades against society that can be satisfied only by blood and death? He fatally stabs the hairdresser. The next day, he has Berg’s new clothes altered to fit him, sells his own shabby garments and disappears.

      Back in LAPD Homicide, Sergeant Scarborough notes the modus operand i and adds a second murder to the case he is already building against Nash.

      Now it is three days after the Berg killing, and ten-year-old Larry Rice is listlessly playing near the pier in the beach area at Venice. Now and then, he glumly kicks a stone, but mostly he just stares out at the water, blinking occasionally.

      Larry doesn’t want to play with the other kids or go home to his empty house. He is just killing time in a lonely, inarticulate, small boy way until his father comes home from his job as an aircraft assembler. Larry is an only child; and, eight days ago, his mother died of cancer.

      A gaunt man with a funny, toothless smile gets Larry to talking a little. They drift over to a food stand, and he treats the boy to a hamburger and pop. Then they go under the pier and talk some more.

      There’s one nice thing ahead, Larry suddenly confides to his new friend. His face brightens in anticipation.

      After it, well, happened—he blinks quickly and goes on—his daddy talked to him. Look, kid these things happen, and it’s better for her this way. Now, you be brave, and we’re going on all the rides in the amusement park. How’s that! All the rides.
      Larry likes that, he tells his friend under the pier. He likes his daddy. His daddy says there are going to be lots of more nice things, too.

      He looks up smilingly at the gaunt man and wonders, in sudden panic, what did he say wrong? Larry tries to yell, but it comes out a small boys squeak. He tries to run, but the gaunt man grabs him and slashes viciously with a knife.

      When they find Larry a little later, there are twenty-eight knife wounds all over his body. He dies the same day.

      He added a third murder to his private “want” on the killer.
      Next day, when Nash was bagged by the Santa Monica cops in a roundup of vagrant, Scarborough was on his way there.

      In a show up of the suspects, several small boys recognized the gaunt, toothless man with his funny smile as the one they had seen with Larry Rice. An hour later, as Scarborough listened to his confession—a boastful, triumphant story the way Nash told it—the sergeant knew beyond all doubt that he had been right about this monster.

      “He was a kid,” Nash said without a flicker of remorse.
      “It was all there in front of him. His whole life . . . sex, fun, all of it! Why should he have it when I never did? I took it all away from him.”

      Then toothlessly he smiled at the cops. “Besides, I never killed a kid before. I wanted to see how it felt.”

      Quietly Larry Scarborough snapped the handcuffs on Nash’s thick, muscled wrists, noticing the cuffs clicked in the first notch ad n ore. He took him back to LAPD Headquarters for one of the most detailed, brilliant interrogations in LAPD history, one that was to win for him a special honor plaque from the California Association of Private Investigations.

      Because he knew so much about his man even before laying eyes on him, Sergeant Scarborough had little trouble getting Bash to talk.

      For two weeks, a tape recorder at his side, Scarborough listened and prompted as the killer bragged, whined, screamed, joked, wept, and ranted. Endlessly Nash reviled society and occasionally he laughed—when he described a murder or his hope to invent a new kind of murder by spiking whiskey with iodine. Like the train wreck, he just hadn’t had the opportunity to test it out, he added resentfully.

      The story was even worse than Scarborough had suspected. He already knew about the killings of the cannery worker, the hairdresser, and the little boy, all in a six-week period stretching from mid-October to late November. Now Nash filled him in on two more.

      Almost a year ago, the previous December, he had beaten William Clarence Burns to death with a lead pipe. Burns an Oakland merchant seaman, had a good job, Nash thought, and that was reason enough to murder. The pipe and body had been thrown into San Francisco Bay near Richmond just north of Oakland.

      Then in August, two months before killing fellow cannery worker, Barnett, he had murdered Robert Eche, a twenty-three-year-old draftsman for the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. This was the first time he had used a knife, but the motive was the same as in all wanton killings—an envious hate.
      Afterwards, he told Sergeant Scarborough, he piled Eche’s corps into his car and rolled it down a cement ramp into the bay, off Pier 52, in San Francisco. The tide carried the car out to some oil docks where it got caught in the pilings.

      Scarborough listened to a playback of the tape recording and made some notes. The murders had occurred in December, August, October, and then two in November. Had this monster abstained during the long eight-month’ period between December and August? Scarborough put it up to him and Nash laughed teasingly.

      Why, there were another half dozen killings he could talk about if he wanted to. He was going to sell that information at $200 per body. Scarborough could believe it. The killer was misery as well as bloody.

      He didn’t even drink wine like most of his Skid Row associates because it cost too much, and he had saved up the prodigious sum of $450 from his cannery wages. But, as it turned out, though he repeated his $200 offer in court, he made no blood money. Neither the newspaper nor the authorities would give him the satisfaction.

      When Scarborough took Nash into Los Angles County Superior Court, the case was tight and tidy. Incredible as the quintuple-murder confession sounded, Scarborough had painstakingly corroborated it. On a week-long tour through the state with Nash, he had revisited the scenes of the five slayings, and everything had checked out as the killer told it.

      After listening to the tapes, there wasn’t much for the jury to do except rule that Nash had been sane when he committed the killings. Since the death sentence was mandatory, there was even less for Judge Burton Noble to do. Sadly he called the New York founding “the most evil person who ever appeared in my court” and consigned him to death row at San Quentin.”

      As Nash stepped into a station wagon for his last ride to San Quentin, he bragged to newspapermen: “I’m the king of killers! I’ll go to my death like a king should. I have nothing to die for because I had nothing to live for.” A reporter asked if he wanted a Christian burial, and Nash laughed harshly

      “Who, me!” he exclaimed in derision.
      Sergeant Scarborough had no statement. He was drained and sick at heart from his long, close association with evil.

      • Nash was convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. At this writing, an appeal is pending due to a question of “Due process” in connection with his sanity trial.
      • Neither did Larry Rice’s father, who in ten days had lost his wife and only child to two equally monstrous forms of cancer.
      • Backbone of the force, my boy

  2. In this post I assert the Elmar was built in 1926–shows what the hell I know. That’s a date I pulled from a Times article. But lo and behold, here’s the Elmar in 1921:


    …perhaps the ’26 date had something to do with when they joined the two buildings? As you can see, they made one big to-do of the hotel and its annex:




    I do like how, in the 1950 Sanborn map, it’s called the "El Mar," which makes it sound much more along-the-coast than hunkered against Hope and sidled against Cinnabar.

    1. I found this article most interesting…it isn’t far from where my biological mother lived at 116 South Hope Street shortly before my birth in 1934…later called the Bunker Hill Hotel. I tried to imagine her walking up and down the streets shown in the photographs and perhaps passing by the Elmar Hotel.

  3. While poking around after something else (which I sought to find in USC’s Automobile Club archives, bless ’em) I turned up this image shot from 2nd down Hope toward the library:


    — which of course screams "giant Elmar rooftop neon." Oh, were that all screaming was such music.


    1928, and they already must insist they’re the New Hotel Elmar. Uh-huh.

  4. Digging around in the LAPL online photo archives, as is my wont, searching for something once on Flower, came across these 1965 images, unidentified photographer, mislabeled as Flower Street. Oh, that drop of the jaw. I’d know those stairs anywhere (and so would you, faithful reader).

    That little figure, right, were he to trudge up those stairs, would be up on Hope Street. The scorched plain in the foreground is the former site of the Elmar.


    Who knows, maybe that’s a young Anselm Kiefer getting ideas.



  5. Nathan; I don’t know how long my mother and brother lived at The Hotel Elmar before I was born or how long we lived there after I was born, maybe a year or two. I know I never lived with my father and my mother never worked in an office in L.A. My grandmother joined us at some point. All my clear memories are of the four of us living at the Huntley Hotel @ 1207 West 3rd., L.A. which later changed its name to the Huntley Apartments @ 1207 Miramar St., L.A. I lived there until I graduated from Belmont High at 18yrs and moved out.

    I’m trying to write a short book for my children and grandchildren while I can still remember those early years in L.A. and thought you might enjoy reading the introduction.

    ” Before there was an us, there was me. I know it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when I had a life that all of you were not a part of, but there was.”

    ” I was born Patricia Dell Chilson in East L.A. at the old county hospital on February 2nd, 1947. It was a time before the singers had sung their songs and before the big screen movies had been made, or authors had written their captivating books that glamorized the impoverished and often forgotten people of downtown Los Angeles. In the years to come, I would hear the beautiful, happy sounds of song and music. I would see the big screen movies in vivid technicolor, and read the stories in books that would capture my attention and hold me prisoner, but not yet. I was born poor, to a mother who already had an eight-year-old son to feed. My birth certificate says my mother Adah Chilson was a stenographer and an office worker. It says my father Thearn Chilson was a mechanic. Our mailing address: 235 S. Hope Street, Los Angeles 12, California. My birth certificate is black and a photocopy. My mother white and 39 and my father white and 38. My world was black and white on the day that I was born. When there was only me, those in my world often said what was expected of them, but not necessarily what was the truth about them. “

    1. My mother was born Deborah Darlene Mitchell. Her dad was Ernest Owens Chilson, son of Adah and Thearn Chilson. Is this your brother? My mother didn’t really know her dad or much of his family, but I think we might be related. I hope your book is working out well. Please get back to me as you might be my mother’s aunt and my great aunt.

      1. I could very well be your great aunt, but one must be careful who they contact on the internet.  There are three things about the birth of my brother’s daughter that only our families would know.  The first being her mother’s first name.  If you know these three things, then I am your great aunt, and we should meet.

  6. The hotel can briefly be seen in the Ann Sheridan and Lew Ayres murder drama The Unfaithful, about 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Lew Ayres turns his car from a tunnel onto a street where you can see the hotel.

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