The Knickerbocker

A point of interest on the Lost Souls of Hollywood Boulevard GPS-guided audio walking tour.

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Audio Transcript

The former Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel is located just off Hollywood Boulevard at 1714 Ivar Avenue, presumably where you’re standing now. This once-grand hotel is now called The Hollywood Knickerbocker Apartments, and has housed retirement apartments since its conversion in 1970.

Which, to be honest, isn’t that far off since it was originally built to be a luxury apartment building. However, it ended up opening its doors in 1929 as a lavish hotel frequented by the rich and famous. At its height it was grand, with a gigantic crystal chandelier hanging in the lobby that cost $125,000 when it was purchased in 1925, which would be valued much closer to $1.7-million dollars today. And it saw the likes of the truly famous, including Marilyn Monroe who used to grab a drink there with hubby Joe DiMaggio, Elvis Presley who stayed in room 1016 during the filming of Love Me Tender and famous movie director, DW Griffith.

David Wark Griffith, more commonly known as DW Griffith, was considered the most important filmmaker of his generation. While today we see many of his films as they are—racist and guilty of revisionist history—he was actually the man who pioneered the financing of feature films. The film that he is most known for, the Birth of a Nation, is largely touted as the first blockbuster film in US history. Now the film itself is terrible, adapted from the book The Clansman by Thomas Dixon Jr., it is exactly what you’d think it would be—a racist, historically inaccurate film that widely romanticizes the Klu  Klux Klan—a declaration I feel wholly comfortable saying because I have actually seen the film myself. But looking beyond the film’s gross content, it actually made $11-million dollars in the box office worldwide in 1915. That dollar amount with inflation, assuming that it retained its value, actually puts that film in the box office earnings ranking around that of films like The Silence of the Lambs, Neighbors, We’re the Millers and Lilo & Stitch. For the first feature film… that’s not bad.

Griffith lived a fairly lonely life that took place mostly in hotels. And while he’s often touted as a film industry genius today, when he was alive that wasn’t the case. At the age of 73, in 1948, Griffith was living in the Knickerbocker. He had a washed up career and spent most of his time in the lobby bar talking to anyone who would listen or wandering the streets outside the hotel. On June 23, the unconscious body of Griffith was found under that really expensive chandelier in the lobby. The ambulance was called but at 3:42 pm on the way to the hospital, DW Griffiths was pronounced dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was definitely the most famous person to die at the hotel, but he wasn’t the only one…

On November 15, 1962, former MGM costume designer, Irene Gibbons, who worked with notable names like Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Lana Turner was found dead on the awning at the entrance of the hotel. She had jumped out of her 14th floor window earlier that day, after making an early suicide attempt in her room. Gibbons had checked in under an assumed name. She had made friends with actress Doris Day later in her career, to whom she had confided in about her love for actor Gary Cooper who had died the previous year. It’s not known if the two ever had an affair, but she told Day that the married man was the only man she’d ever loved.

Both the ghosts of DW Griffiths and Irene Gibbons are said to frequent the building.

But they're not the only ones, Elvis Presley’s former room, 1016 is said to be a hotbed for paranormal activity. Presley frequented the hotel in life, and apparently appears occasionally in death as well. Marilyn Monroe is often said to frequent one of the women’s restrooms and the ghost of actor Rudolph Valentino pops by every once in a while.

The Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel was also home to an annual séance for Harry Houdini. While Houdini was vehemently opposed to the spirit world, he and his wife made a pact that the two of them would attempt to contact each other after death—they had a code system that they would use if, in fact, the spirit world existed.

The last annual séance took place on Halloween night in 1936. Bess Houdini and a group attempted to contact Harry for over an hour, and the moment they gave up a “tremendously violent thunderstorm broke out, drenching the séance participants and terrifying them with the horrific lightning and thunder.” The storm apparently did not occur anywhere else in Hollywood, and some speculated that Houdini did, in fact, make contact that night.

Let's head back south on Ivar avenue towards Hollywood Boulevard. Here, we'll take a left. Our next tour stop is just a block away at Hollywood and Vine.

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Lost Souls of Hollywood

This POI is featured on the Lost Souls of Hollywood Audio Walking Tour, part of the Tripvia Tours mobile app available for Android & Apple.

All audio walking tours are self-guided and include fully narrated commentary.

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