Charlie Chaplin Slept Here. No, Really.

Chaplin in character in the 1910s

$1.50 a day on a $1,250 a week salary

If you’ve ever tried to rent a vintage apartment in Hollywood chances are you have been told that Charlie Chaplin, Valentino and/or Marilyn Monroe built it/used to live there/now haunt it and/or that Gable & Lombard used it as a “love nest.” These assertions, which often stretch the bounds of sheer logic, are frequently accepted as fact as long as enough people repeat them. My favorite is when people say a place was once home to Laurel & Hardy. Both of them? They were close, but…well.

So with all the spurious Chaplin residences about town I found it refreshingly ironic that the owners of a place Chaplin really did live, don’t mention it in their advertising. The place I’m referring to is the El Dorado Lofts, a newly-opened condominium project in Downtown’s revitalized Old Bank District @ 416 South Spring Street. From what I’ve seen, it looks like the developers of this once-run down property, Downtown Properties, have done an excellent job of creating modern living spaces while restoring and preserving the building’s many original charms. The ever-vigilant Curbed L.A. has been keeping up with sales at the El Dorado on their site. Their latest intelligence can be found here.

An early postcard view of the Stowell and its neo-gothic facade.

The El Dorado Lofts is what had originally been the old Hotel Stowell. When the Hotel Stowell first opened its doors on Spring Street in 1914, the area was rapidly gaining a reputation as “The Wall Street of the West.” Architects Frederick Noonan & William Richards finished the Stowell’s long narrow façade in green glazed brick and tan stone that provided a striking addition to the downtown silhouette. N.W. Stowell, the hotel’s namesake owner/builder, was a booster of the local economy and was quite proud that the hotel was built almost exclusively of local materials including cement from Riverside, Terra Cotta from Tropico (Glendale) and tiles from Pasadena. So much local material went into the hotel it led the Los Angeles Times to declare it “a representative ‘made-in-Southern California’ exhibit in itself.” Rates at the Stowell originally ranged from $1.50-$5.00 a day with guests treated to several unique innovations including a “no tipping” policy and a “wives stay for free” policy, presuming they were with their husbands. In addition to the usual amenities, each bedroom had running ice water and its own vending machine, a grandfather of the mini-bar, which, for 25 cents, one could purchase “Tooth brush, tooth powder, cold cream, talc powder, shaving soap, and safety razor.”

The Hotel's beautiful all-tile registration desk. Batchelder tiles were used in the floors of the Lobby.

The twelve-story, 264-guest room Stowell was designed to cater to those with business in the financial district, but it also had its fair share of motion picture and theater people in residence. In his imaginatively entitled 1964 autobiography My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin described the hotel (which he remembered as the “Stoll”) as “a middle-rate place but new and comfortable.” Chaplin, who could have lived in far grander quarters but was too cheap to do so, had taken up residence here in 1915 while making films for Essanay Pictures. In his book he related a humorous incident that took place at the hotel after learning of a telegram making the then eye-popping offer of $25,000 for a two-week engagement at New York’s Hippodrome. He immediately called his current employer G.M. “Broncho Billy”Anderson in San Francisco to ask for the time off, but with connections such as they were in 1915, he wasn’t able to reach Anderson until 3AM. “My bedroom window opened out on the well of the hotel, so that the voice of anyone talking resounded through the rooms. The telephone connection was bad. ‘I don’t intend to pass up twenty-five thousand dollars for two weeks work!’ I had to shout several times. A window opened above and a voice shouted back. ‘Cut out that bull and go to sleep, you big dope!'” Although he only remained at Essanay and the Stowell for a year, it was a critical period in the life and career of Chaplin and the development of his “Little Tramp” characterization.

Miriam Cooper may have needed that gun while staying at the Stowell.

Early silent screen star Miriam Cooper was staying at the Stowell about the same time as Chaplin. She later wrote in her 1973 autobiography, Dark Lady of the Silents, that she moved to the Stowell from the Gates Hotel in order to save money, writing that her weekly rent was a mere $7 and dinner could be had in the hotel dining room for 35 cents. Cooper may have needed to stay at the Stowell to make ends meet but the same could not be said for Chaplin: During his residence here he was earning the then-astounding salary of $1,250 a week, not including a $10,000 bonus he had received for just signing his Essanay contract.

Miriam Cooper did not have a happy experience at the Stowell. She wrote in her autobiography “Many a night, whoever occupied the room next to mine jiggled the door handle to see if he could come in. I was lonely, but I wasn’t that lonely.” It wasn’t long before Cooper took up residence elsewhere.

The Stowell/El Dorado Lofts Today

The Stowell remained a popular destination until the Depression. By then, the character of the district was changing and the Stowell, now renamed the El Dorado, was converted into a single occupancy residential hotel.  The El Dorado continued to decline, like the rest of the area, until, by the end of the 1980’s, it was completely abandoned. But in 2001, the hotel was purchased by Gilmore and Associates whose plans to restore the hotel into condominiums have now come to full fruition. Prices start in the $200,000’s.

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4 Responses to Charlie Chaplin Slept Here. No, Really.

  1. Myrna Loy says:

    Love this!

  2. do you guys have any thing on the rosslyn hotel? I stayed there for two nights in the late sixties,what a terrible place it was ,but IM sure it also had a bit of history as well…ths,,

    • Steve says:

      Hi Gerard: Great question and, oh yes, the Rosslyn has a wonderful history. Sadly, it’s pretty run down today, but in L.A. we’re just grateful it’s still here. I should work up on a post on the hotel since there’s been very little written about it. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll get the ladies to work on it.

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