The Alexandria Hotel, once a showplace where guests included U.S. Presidents and Hollywood celebrities, has degenerated into the worst drug trafficking spot in the Central City, the Los Angeles city attorney charged Monday .
Unless the hotel's owners immediately eradicate what was described as a major cocaine sales and distribution center, City Atty. James K. Hahn said he will move to shut its doors.
"Drugs are an epidemic problem in our city and the situation that has developed at the Alexandria is a symptom of that epidemic," Hahn told a news conference on the patio of the Los Angeles Theatre Center across the street from the Alexandria.
At Hahn's side was Mayor Tom Bradley, who declared that the 512-room hotel has become "a magnet for parasites of this society."
Police from Central Division and vice units told the news conference that since the beginning of last year, almost 600 arrests have been made at the Alexandria, mostly for selling crack cocaine, and that a crack laboratory was uncovered on the hotel's 12th floor.
"Right now, this is the worst spot in the Central City," said Officer Emmett Bader, who has been patrolling the Spring Street area around the Alexandria for 10 years.
To put muscle behind their call for a cleanup, Deputy City Atty. Pamela A. Albers filed a narcotics abatement lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday against the hotel's owners, Martin C. Yacoobian Sr. and his wife, Bertha, of Encino, who have owned the hotel since 1979. According to Albers, their son, Martin C. Yacoobian Jr. of Tarzana, manages the hotel.
The Yacoobians own at least 16 properties, mainly in Los Angeles, including two other Skid Row-area hotels: the Baltimore and the King Edward, according to prosecutor Albers and property tax records.
The city lawsuit charged the Yacoobians with violations of the state's drug and prostitution statutes. The drug law was used last January in Los Angeles against what Hahn said was another major drug-dealing center, also in the Central City--the Travelers Hotel at 553 Ceres Ave. That 27-room hotel has been closed since Jan. 14.
Albers said the Yacoobians' attorney, Gary Starre, agreed Monday afternoon to sign a stipulation listing 18 separate orders with which his clients will have to comply.
"They require much more aggressive screening" of guests, Albers said, "and much more visible and active security."
Under the court orders, the hotel's owners must verify the source of income for each registrant and evict 38 hotel residents arrested there in the last six weeks on drug offenses.
A judge will sign a preliminary injunction this week implementing the orders, she said, and if the violations continue the hotel could be closed down for a year and the owners fined $1,000 and/or ordered to jail for six months for violating each order.
Carlos Banos, who said he has been the hotel's premises manager for the last eight years, expressed surprise at the charges.
"You can see it's clean," he told reporters in the hotel's once ornate, darkly lit lobby. "I don't know nothing" about drug trafficking, he said.
Banos said the owners would call a reporter to respond to the charges, but neither they nor their attorney did so.
If the charges are true, the once-proud Alexandria has indeed fallen on hard times.
The structure's main eight-story building on the corner of 5th and Spring streets was built in 1906 with a 12-story annex added later. Soon afterward, it became host to the world's famous and rich, including U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and William H. Taft, and to Theodore Roosevelt when he was assistant secretary of the Navy, and celebrities including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith. Even a young Winston Churchill stayed there.
Bankruptcy in 1932
But the hotel went into bankruptcy in 1932 and did not open its doors again for five years. Since then, although it had fairly high occupancy levels, it never again achieved its glittering status.
Now, police charged on Monday, the place is a law enforcement nightmare, a hub for drug-running, prostitution and associated crime, including murder.
"It wasn't too long ago that I used to eat lunch at this hotel," City Atty. Hahn said. But now, he declared: "Drug dealers and buyers congregate to do their business in the regular hotel bar and a juice bar on the ground floor. Police describe the staircases in the Alexandria as virtual freeways for drug dealing."
Mayor Bradley has been pushing to overhaul seedy Spring Street, once the city's financial district, to make the area, as he put it on Monday, "the center of revitalization of downtown." But it has been a difficult task.
Holding the news conference at the Los Angeles Theatre Center was seen as more than just a convenient location across the street from the Alexandria.
The $16-million Theatre Centre, considered one of the street's most important projects if the area is to be restored, expects to run a deficit this year of almost $2 million and wants more bailout cash from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. Additionally, the state is building a new office building nearby, a popular night club occupies the former stock exchange building and old office structures on Spring Street are being refurbished between 4th and 7th streets.
But CRA officials and investors are worried that the street is still suffering from a high crime rate that could adversely affect their properties and profits. Clamping down on the Alexandria is seen as a major step in cleaning up the street.
A sign over the Alexandria's registration desk, ordered there by the police, tells a lot about the hotel's changing times and the concerns of city officials about the future of Spring Street:
" . . . Prostitution and narcotics will not be allowed and the LAPD makes frequent inspections."