LOS ANGELES — When it comes to legendary haunts, DTLA has plenty to boast of and for Neel Sodha, who founded Downtown LA Walking Tours, one of the tricky parts is choosing which sites to take visitors to.
His tour company has been dormant through much of the pandemic, but he decided it was time to ease back into things and with Halloween just around the corner, Sodha has been taking small, socially-distanced groups to some of the city’s most notorious buildings.
“Each one has its own ghostly tale,” said Sodha during a recent tour, looking at some famous hotels with mysterious pasts. “Some are more about the haunting, some are the true crimes and the mysterious.”
Sodha has always had a passion for L.A. and its colorful history. In 2009, he left the accounting-finance world to start Downtown LA Walking Tours.
“I love sharing stories. I love sharing my passion for Los Angeles. I think L.A. has a lot of amazing charm and untold stories, and I just like to uncover all that for the guests,” he said.
Sodha offers many different tour themes throughout the year and said that Halloween time tends to bring out the locals.
“Most people want to know about the unknown and unexplained in their own neighborhood,” Sodha said.
One popular stop is Pico House. Ghostly sighting and unexplained noises in the former hotel are said to stem partly from the building’s proximity to one of the worst race riots in L.A. history — the Chinese massacre of 1871 — which saw a racist gang kill some 20 Chinese immigrants.
No one has ever been brought to justice for those killings to this day.
Another notorious site is the Hotel Barclay, famous for housing the “Skid Row Slasher,” and for a number of other mysterious deaths, one as recent as 2017.
Sodha said the public seems to have a bottomless appetite for mysteries like these.
“They want to give a thought, an idea, as to what really took place and maybe solve the crime that people are still questioning what really happened,” he explained.
People are still asking questions about the apparent accidental drowning of a Canadian tourist in the water tower on the roof of the Hotel Cecil. The Cecil was also the part-time hideout for one of the most famous serial killers in L.A. history, Richard Ramirez, aka the “Night Stalker.”
The tour ends with perhaps the most notorious murder mystery of all: the tale of Elizabeth Short, aka, The Black Dahlia.
The Biltmore Hotel, which borders Pershing Square, was where Short was last sighted before her body was found, mutilated and neatly bisected at the torso in nearby Leimert Park. To this day, the identity of Short’s killer is unknown, although many have proffered theories over the years.
Jay Lyle, a recent tour-goer, loves the spooky and macabre, but said he felt totally safe taking Sodha’s walking tour.
“I really like how it's capped at nine people,” said Lyle. “I really like that everyone's masked. I really like we don't touch anything, and we don't go inside anywhere. It felt safe, but it also felt fun.”
A little fun is what Neel Sodha says people need right now.
Said Sodha, “We want to get back and provide entertainment and some sort of distraction in a very difficult time period for many people.”
For those who are not comfortable safely going on a group tour right now, Sodha’s company, and several others based in DTLA, offer online virtual tours as well.