As much as I love trains, I'd only ridden the LA Metro once before this weekend, and it made me cry. It reminded me too much of New York—not making me homesick, but reintroducing a past life that I think is better off left behind.
I don't live near a Metro stop (yet—if the Purple Line Extension ever gets to Beverly Hills), and generally it would take me nearly as long to drive to a train station and park-and-ride as it would to just drive to my destination and find parking.
But I'm somewhat of a subway tourist. I first fell in love with the underground at the London Transport Museum, and since then, I've taken advantage of special occasions to ride the subway in New York, just for the sake of riding the subway. It was more about the ride than the destination.
So, in keeping with that spirit, I decided to join a tour of the "Haunted" Red Line hosted by Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles (GHOULA).
We began our journey at Union Station...
...which is even more gorgeous at night...
...and far less crowded than during the weekday commute.
From in front of Union Station, we looked out at the various haunted sites of Downtown Los Angeles, like City Hall—which was not only cursed by angry spiritualists, but was also built at the site of the city's gallows. Guards at the security monitors frequently catch a glimpse of someone wandering around in the locked rooms upstairs, and when they go to check, find nothing.
Pico House, the failed luxury hotel otherwise known as "Pico's Folly," is notoriously haunted. Ghost-hunters attribute this to the victims of the Chinese Massacre of 1871, and sure, some of them might've worked at the Chinese laundromat that delivered clean sheets to the hotel. But it's more likely that the ghost who lingers here is that of Pio Pico himself, the last governor of California when it was still Mexico, who fell from a position of great power and died a pauper.
Philippe the Original, the famous purveyors (and at least one of the originators) of the French Dip sandwich, now glows under an appropriately-colored red neon sign on the edge of Chinatown. This was once the Red Light District of LA, and the building that Philippe currently occupies used to be a high-class brothel. You might hear some "activity" if you take your meal upstairs to a dining room in one of the former bedrooms.
Of course, Union Station itself must be pretty haunted. Its construction displaced all of Old Chinatown. And if the victims of the Chinese Massacre are haunting any building, it's probably this one. The trees many of them were found hanging from were right next door. We could've spent all night talking ghosts in that one location.
But it was time to move onto the next Red Line station, two stops down at Pershing Square.
Each of the Red Line stations has kind of its own theme and own array of public art. Pershing Square has some nice neon.
It also has its share of ghosts.
There have been sightings of a naked woman walking through the front door of The Pershing Building, thought to be the ghost of a woman who'd been caught in the throes of passion with another woman. Unfortunately for her, she was on top when discovered, pulled off by an appalled policeman who'd responded to the "screams" coming from within, and thrown out the window. She fell to her death.
The Subway Terminal Building is also probably haunted, at least by a little red-headed girl who's been sighted on the tracks of the abandoned subway tunnels that go from there to the Millenium Biltmore Hotel and beyond. And The Alexandria Hotel (now Alexandria Apartments) can easily be considered the second most haunted hotel in LA (unless you count the Queen Mary, which is really more of a ship). Apparently every type of paranormal activity happens there all the time, and more than once, the bartenders downstairs have witnessed a collection of glassware rise up off the bar, levitate for a moment, and come crashing down—completely on their own.
Pershing Square is also the site of what could be LA's oldest ghost story—that of a Native American woman who insisted on bathing and washing her dishes in the LA River, where she contaminated the water that flowed through the Zanja Madre (LA's first aqueduct—the "Mother Ditch") to the farms, homes, and businesses in the area. She is also seen levitating, but that may be because the original zanja was a couple of feet higher than the sidewalk is now.
Bypassing MacArthur Park, Los Feliz, and East Hollywood, we got back off the train at Hollywood & Vine, where Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera himself) used to haunt his favorite bus bench, until it was replaced by a new one that could carry advertising.
The Art Deco Pantages Theatre might be haunted by the ghost of Howard Hughes, who once owned the building and occupied one of its offices. He would sometimes step away from his desk and pop into whichever movie was playing to sit in the back of the balcony and clear his mind. Sometimes he still does.
But Hughes might have a turf war with the theater's namesake, Alexander Pantages himself. He's been seen poking around the auditorium, especially during construction and renovations. Who knows what's happened in the bar? And since the old Hollywood Mortuary used to be right across the street (now a parking lot), the dead bodies—if not the ghosts—of scores of movie stars have graced this section of Hollywood Boulevard at least once (including Bela Lugosi's final stroll, in a hearse whose driver had no control over it for several blocks).
When you finally reach the Hollywood & Highland station on the Red Line...
...you hit the mother lode of ghost stories.
The Hollywood & Highland shopping center was built on the site of The Hollywood Hotel, which was notoriously haunted by the ghost of Rudolph Valentino, who might place a "spirit kiss" on the lips of a woman who stayed in a particular room. But Valentino's ghost gets around: he's also been spotted at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and The Roosevelt Hotel, which is probably the most haunted hotel in LA.
Of course, the El Capitan Theatre must be haunted too, right? Legend has it that in the theater's glory days, patrons would purchase their tickets from the outer box office and then be held in the "outer lobby" under the marquee, outside the front doors, until a big crowd collected there. Nightclubs do this all the time now outside of the velvet rope—create a crowd to attract more people, because if that many people are waiting to get in, it must be good. The theater manager would sit perched in a second story window to monitor the crowd below, and when it reached a critical mass, he would signal to let them in.
Every now and then, someone walks up to the theater now (which is owned by Disney and runs all Disney movies) and asks the box office attendant, "Who's that guy in the window staring down at us?"
Nostalgia Train Ride
Photo Essay: MTA Vintage Subway Train Ride for the Holidays
Photo Essay: A Last Ride on the Last Red Car
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public