On Location (Sort Of) At the El Royale Motel

Heidi and I look for SC showbiz history and get a very odd taste of it.

Maybe you’ve seen the place while parking your car to have dinner at (always a good idea) or on your way to the at the southeast corner of Ventura Boulevard and Vineland Avenue. 

(Of course now you can also cross the street and go to the new on the northwest corner of Ventura and Vineland.  That’s exciting. Surely the Tic Tacs, shampoo and AAA-batteries are so much different at Walgreen’s that Studio City needs two enormous drugstores within spitting distance of each other).

But this column does not instead to get stuck waiting for the light at that philosophical corner.   Our plan— that is, me and the dog—is to write about the El Royale Hotel at 11117 Ventura Blvd., a weedy, seedy, downtrodden establishment that looks bizarrely out of place on this strip of prosperous restaurants and businesses. 

The reason we decided to stop by the El Royale earlier this week on a dangerously hot afternoon? Because, passing by on our way to wherever, we have occasionally seen production crews shooting on location at the El Royale, apparently trying to capture a bit of the sordid past by staging the action amid this clutch of rundown bungalows, each with its own carport.

, but somehow we’d never been near the El Royale at the right time to sniff out what exactly was shooting there. So before our visit we checked it out on the Internet.

First of all, we discovered that the motel was built in 1937, part of a chain of reasonably priced motels that housed tourists and families relocating to the area. But conditions deteriorated, and pimps and hookers moved in.  In the 1980s, rising property values led to a neighborhood cleanup where prostitutes were driven out and some of the older hotels were torn down to make way for new development.

Hollywood moved in, too.  According to unreliable but probably correct web sources, the movies Fool for Love (1985) and Angel (2007) shot here. On the TV side, The O.C. used the El Royale to stand in for a rundown hotel in Ensenada, Mexico, and, in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a woman is found dead in one of these rooms, the only eye-witness to the crime being her pet tortoise.  Quick, let’s get him to trace!

Naturally, with all this lore in hand, Heidi and I were excited about stopping by to talk to the manager all about the motel’s glamorous history. Instead, we felt a little bit like CSI and cadaver dog about to discover something we’d really rather not see.  Even in daylight, this seemed like the kind of forbidding, abandoned location where TV's female CSI’s always seem to show up wearing frowns and four-inch-heels before something really bad happens.

There were a couple of guys in jeans and T-shirts hanging around the bungalows. On the front step of one bungalow was a worn welcome mat that read “Happy Thanksgiving” – I'm guessing probably not. A white pickup truck idled in the otherwise empty parking lot.  A rusty phone booth appeared in no condition to make a successful 911 call.

Heidi and I knocked on the door of the office. No answer—and locked.  The door of the bungalow across from the office was open, but dark inside, with shades pulled. We could catch a glimpse of an unmade bed. We decided it best not to drop in to say hi lest someone—someone not necessarily still living—was under the covers.

It was not until we started shooting pictures that one of the men in the parking lot finally took notice of us. “What do you want?” asked the man, who later, after much coaxing, told me he was manager Michael Wang.

He refused to be photographed with the dog, although it did get a chuckle out of him when I told him Heidi was an actress.  He wanted to know if we wanted to shoot a movie or TV show at the motel.  No, I said, we just wanted to hear about the ones that had shot here already.  He said he didn’t know and that I would have to contact the “man in charge,” who was currently out of town.

“How do I contact him?” I asked.

“You contact me,” he said, giving me a phone number.

“But I have contacted you. In fact, I’m here,” I gently pointed out.

This discussion led nowhere, although now I have a phone number and Mr. Wang has my Patch business card with its perky photo of Heidi and I, probably now in the trash by the dead phone booth.  We’ll try again another day, though probably not soon.  It sounds like the lyrics to an old song in an old movie, maybe shot here: Someday We’ll Come Back to the El Royale Motel.

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