Pico House – Ghosts of Old Los Angeles


Earlier this year, we spent several weekends exploring some of the neighborhoods and buildings around “old” Los Angeles – the area in and around which the city of Los Angeles was founded. Some amazing locations with a rich history can be found in this area, including Union Station, the Hall of Justice, the Sepulveda House and the oldest house in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe. It was during this time, one building in particular across from Olvera Street caught our eye – the Pico House, located at 430 N. Main St, which is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Monument. We decided to arrange for a tour of the location to see if we could learn more about its history and perhaps, its hauntings.

When the Pico House (Casa de Pico) opened in 1870, it was the most luxurious hotel not only in Los Angeles, but also south of San Francisco. Built on the southwest corner of the Los Angeles Plaza (currently known as the “Old Plaza”), the Italianate style hotel designed by architect Ezra Keysor boasted indoor plumbing, opulent gas-powered chandeliers, a fountained courtyard, an aviary and a French restaurant. At that time, Los Angeles was a relatively small but growing city and the Plaza was the epicenter. Los Angeles was still in a transitional phase, 20 years after its incorporation as an American city after the ending of the Mexican-American war.

The streets around the Plaza were not only filled with businesses and elite members of society but they were also subject to a certain “wild west” lawlessness. Brothels, gambling halls and saloons were prevalent and many different cultures co-existed within a few blocks of each other under an atmosphere of racial tension. Vigilantism was not uncommon as vigilance committees or “lynch mobs” took to the streets, taking the law into their own hands.

Wealthy businessman and one time Governor, Don Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor under Alta California, built the Pico House with funds he obtained from selling off a portion of his land grants. The lavish new hotel was a success, upstaging it’s rival hotel, the Bella Union. But the success did not last long.

Racial tensions in the city came to a head with the Chinese Massacre of 1871, which occurred in and around the Calle De Los Negros adjacent to the Plaza and spilled into the Plaza as, by varying accounts, 18 to 23 Chinese men and boys were brutally murdered by an angry mob of whites and Mexicans. An employee of the Pico House at the time later recalled the scene: “The street was a madhouse of frenzied, armed men and terrified, stampeding horses. From the entrance of the Pico House I could see a mass of men flocking toward the Aliso street opening of Nigger’s Alley [sic] and heard a steady roar of guns. I remember one fellow, big, hatless and coatless, with bulging maniacal eyes as he ran passed us, brandishing huge butcher’s axes.”- (Michael M. Rice, I Saw the Wild West Tamed!, Los Angeles Times, May 13 1934, G12).

After the riots, and with the influx of people brought in by the railway, the town’s business center began to move southward and the neighborhood degenerated into seediness over a period of years.

Pio Pico was known for throwing lavish parties and being a heavy gambler as well as having a penchant for the ladies. His signature cane displayed an ivory female leg poised in the air. In addition to his extravagant lifestyle, the financial strain of some bad investments along with his falling victim to the fraudulent dealings of other businessmen helped contribute to his eventual loss of wealth.

As the neighborhood and his fortune declined, Don Pio continued to entertain at the Pico House for 10 years until 1880, when he lost his hotel to foreclosure. The building became a flophouse and spent many years in decline before eventually passing into California State hands in 1953. Today, the Pico House belongs to El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument and is both a California and National Historic Landmark.

Given the rich history of the building and the surrounding neighborhood, it is not surprising that some believe the Pico House may be haunted. As we learned on our tour, which included the three main floors, the inner courtyard, the basement and tunnels and the adjacent old Merced Theater, security staff have reported hearing mysterious footsteps from the upper floors late at night and seeing shadow figures leaning over the balconies of the inner courtyard. Perhaps Don Pio Pico himself is still entertaining guests in his beloved hotel. With regard to the living, tours of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District can be arranged here: El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Historic Monument .


Additional Photos from our tour:

25 thoughts on “Pico House – Ghosts of Old Los Angeles

  1. Pingback: Jagger
  2. Damn David was just there this weekend was in front of the hotel reading a plaque on the history w a friend. When we hear something bang on the hotel doors the doors have glass windows you can see into the hotel and yes no one was there we didn’t make a big stink out of it kept reading until it happened a second time. Then it got a little freaky my friend was a little freaked out aswell we left I tried to rationalize maybe a draft going thru there anyway don’t. Know what it was but we went to another jhistoric spot Coles beef deep n bar that place is cool heard the famous gangster Mickey. Cohen used frequent there.


  3. We shot a commercial last night at the Pico House. Many members of the cast mentioned strange feelings about the Pico House and felt uneasy. A couple of cast members observed the locked glass doors pushed towards them and then pull back by themselves. It was not windy. They went over to the glass doors to try to open them. They tried to push and pull them, but they didn’t budge. It was very strange!


  4. The Pico House sounds like fun!! Based on my experience, L.A. is littered with haunted old; buildings, hotels and places. I live in one of them. I run into all sorts of ghosts on a daily basis. I see and hear them. I am not a ghost hunter, I am a ghost observer. I was raised in New England, have traveled around Europe, ghosts are a frequent occurrence all around. Ghosts are old news to me. I usually prefer to acknowledge and then ignore them. For folks who do not believe, that is their loss!


      1. Hi Peter…I have to agree with you. R. Burke discribed my whole life, with the exception of growing up in New England. I grew up in a victorian home (haunted) in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in a family of sensitives. I couldn’t discribe it better than R. Burke. Thank you R.!!


  5. I used to question the p;aranormal until I began having dreams that came true and then saw a spirit for the first time. Since then I have had probably ten different expriences of varying degree. Not one was alike. When you see your first shadow ghost, you will change your mind.


  6. there is no such thing as ghost etc…. it’s a bunch of bs and people who are weak minded and scared of every thing. the noise that they are hearing is only the wood of the building making the sounds cuz of the weather. the voices and shadows they see is only in their mind. i suggest them and other believers to see a psychiatric dr. and a psychologist. they do have severe problems.


    1. Just because you have not had any personal experiences, does not mean that it does not exist. You can say that you do not believe in that sort of thing, but I assure you… there is most certainly such things. Thousands of people throughout history and MANY cases documented by science, does not lie. Im sorry that your ignorance has kept you with a closed, shallow mind.


    2. Hi. I’m not insane. I didn’t ask for this stuff to happen, Curtis. I just noticed that one day, it did. I live a normal life – Peter Grenader. Look me up on WIkipedia. So normal life aside, the building i live in is haunted and I’ve documented it;


      I think you’ll see from the way I’ve written it that I am not the type to believe things easily and didn’t… until NOT believing was the point of denial. But when you roll tape [sic – digital recorder] , speak to an empty room, then playback the tape and get a message WITH YOUR NAME IN IT…at that point, it’s time to stop disbelieving and re-think some things.


    3. That is because you have never had such an experience witnessing something like that. Unfortunately I have and it was different from these claimed shadow things. Our mind can play games on us and cause us to see things, especially if we get apprehensive. When I was an unsuspecting kid I seen a huge life sized gray cackling thing come out of my grandfathers closed bedroom door. It appeared 2 weeks after my grandfather had died and at the same time of death. I never told anyone about it because it was confusing to me. I was only 11 years old and this was in the daytime. I had just got up to go to the bathroom. No agenda. I went straight back to bed after that. I can only say that my faith in the Lord Jesus was solidified because if there are these whatever they are things around, then certainly there is a living God. I suspect you may be an agnostic or something, but I respect your disbelief of spirits. It is certainly your free will to do so. Take care…. CD


    4. You have a limited mental capacity. My Uncle said the same thing for years until he was rudely awakened, grabbed by the ankles (cold hands) and totally pulled out of bed onto the floor at THE FOOT OF THE BED. His mental capacity expanded immediatly.


    5. Please go back to school and concentrate on the lessons involving English grammer. You need some work in this area Curtis. Your ridicule has more impact if you sound educated. Thanks 🙂


  7. Both of you can visit your local paranormal investigative groups online and at least one group would have you on one of their visits. Just make sure you research the site they intend to visit first so you know what to expect. If you hit the right spot, an area where an intense haunting is happening it will change your perception for ever. It worked for me!


  8. Hello David, my name is Rene and I think just like you…I love paranormal activities, I would like to join a researchers or investigators and see if my mind changes.


  9. This question may come odd, but I do not believe in ghosts and the paranormal, but always wanted someone to challenge this. I want to find a group of paranormal researchers/investigators who can allow me to spend one night one their quest, and see if my mind changes by the next morning. Please contact me ASAP. Thank you.


    1. Well David someone took the Challenge. and it’s on now. I would like to go but no lie i think i will shit in my pants if i was dared to go in here.


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