The Aztec Hotel’s astonishing facade has drawn travelers for decades as they journeyed down what was once a part of historic Route 66 in Monrovia, California. For nearly as long, it’s has been ringed with rumor, scandal, innuendo, and suspicions that unrestful ghosts may roam its halls.
Opened to the public in September 1925 with a star-studded debut party, the hotel almost immediately ran into serious financial trouble. According to author, photographer, historian, and paranormal researcher Craig Owens, who has spent decades studying the hotel’s history, local religious and women’s groups refused to stay there, repelled by a mural reportedly depicting a Mesoamerican god of lust. To add to the Aztec’s troubles, it didn’t have an electric sign overhead until 1927, making it hard for passing motorists to see it at night. And there was no address on any of the hotel’s promotional materials due to an unrelated civic argument over what the street it sat on should be named. (Today, it is West Foothill Blvd.)
In 1927, the Aztec was repossessed by the bank, and for a time, its fortunes began to turn around, aided by two things: a new director and the creation of Route 66, which was designated the same year. Business immediately began to increase, weddings and parties started to take place in the lobby and courtyard—and, with the arrival of more guests, crime and vice started to increase too.
Throughout the late 1920s and early ’30s, the Aztec became the site of rumors of iniquity and vice. A speakeasy in the basement was the most persistent one, given some credence by the fact that the formerly sleepy hotel suddenly began throwing large and suspiciously well-attended New Years’ Eve parties. But the Great Depression caused business to flag again, and it was once again repossessed by the bank in 1930. In 1931, Route 66 was divided, and the Aztec fell onto the wrong leg of it, which saw barely any traffic. The hotel closed again in September of 1932, remaining in limbo for the next five years.
In 1937, with Prohibition over, the Aztec once again reopened, this time its popularity aided by the addition of a cocktail lounge. Over the next decades, though, the same dark rumors started to circulate: that it was a site for organized crime, gambling, sex work, violence, and a suspicious number of guests abruptly dying in their sleep.
After a long period of decline, the Aztec was foreclosed on again in 2009. In 2012, its new owners said they were renovating the property with an eye towards restoring it to some of its former glories. While you can get a drink at the attached Mayan Bar, there’s only one way to tour the hotel: with Craig Owens, the researcher and ghost hunter who also serves as the Aztec’s ancestral memory. Owens says he’s experienced paranormal events in the hotel’s halls, but gently describes the ghosts themselves as “grumps” who will mostly leave visitors alone. Should you go, tread lightly, and try not to disturb their fitful rest.
Know Before You Go
The Aztec Hotel itself isn't currently operating as a hotel. You can enjoy a drink in the Mayan Bar, or, for a fascinating tour and a glimpse at the rooms themselves, join a small public tour with Owens' company, Bizarre Los Angeles.