Dateline 1980: Like many of us, I got hip to The Doors after reading, then rereading, No One Here, Gets Out Alive. 1983: My first visit to LA, my hostess seems quite perplexed that the first thing I want to see is a small motel on the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica. The Alta Cienega. To room #32. I knock and a vaguely actor type of guy in his 20’s answers the door.
“I paid $220 for the week you are the fifth person here in two days, you have two minutes to look around.”
Inside, I found a regular little motel room ordinary in every way except for one thing: James Douglas Morrison chose this place to hang his hat.
In ’83 all the fixtures in the bathroom were original. I walked into the bathroom, firmly grabbing the doorknob, touching the sink, the window, opening my mind’s eye. Yes, this was the place. So much history happened within these walls. No graffiti at all except two small notes behind the wall mounted TV, scribbled in pen by different hands. The first said plainly:
“Jim Morrison lived here from 1968-1971.”
The next missive was a bit more obtuse: “
Jim Morrison is alive and well in South Africa”.
There was one other non regulation non sequitur to be found outside the room’s only window, visible from the street in eight inch print, drawn in pencil:
Soon after, I did manage to get a paperback of JDM’s The Lords and The New Creatures. From reading those words, I too, became inspired to write poetry of my own and to live the life of a poet by honing my writing skills and generally living life to excess.
And that’s just what I did for the next 10 years or so. Then along comes Wilderness the “lost” poems of JDM. Some of you may ask why I refer to Jim as JDM? I did not ever meet “Jim” through a song or in person, it was the words he left that tell me that Jim wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. He signed his books of poetry, James Douglas Morrison.
Since this is how he wanted to be presented to me, his reader, I honor this. It’s too cumbersome to write out every time so I use JDM, feeling that just saying or writing “Jim” is somehow not appropriate.
So along about 1990, I find myself reading Wilderness. On page 84 I stumbled onto a gem of a poem that makes mention of the green hotel, rm. 32, JDM’s Alta Cienega.
Iam a guide to the labyrinth
Come & See me
in the green hotel
I will be there after 9:30
I will show you the girl of the ghetto
I will show you the burning well
I will show you strange people
haunted, beast-like on
verge of evolution
-Fear the Lords who are
secret among us
And then for me it happened, gradually at first. I began to devour all things related to JDM and the Doors. I had to have every scrap of the puzzle that was The Doors. All the facts and myths, photos, music. Only the tacky collectibles were safe from my appetite. Id’ get a book or two to read and reflect on during the winter months. Many made mention of The Alta Cienega as well as other West Hollywood spots, Barney’s Beanery, The Palms, and The Phone booth.
My curiosity only grew about much of JDM’s life. But the most puzzling thing to me (and the most
The author’s obsession
to the Alta Cienega
enviable) was his lack of want for material goods. And while he could have lived in a fine home or hotel, why did he choose this little motel? I could speculate for pages, but my underlying belief is he just didn’t want the responsibility of maintaining a home and all that entails. Plus it was right across the street from work, cutting down his commute time.
Basically I feel we all search for some piece of JDM, be it in the music, the poetry, books on his life, posters, photos, autographs, you name it. I am sure that’s what brings everyone to Paris to see where he lived and was buried. I labored hard and long on the decision to go this year.
Flashbacks of a Who concert gone awry I attended years ago to this day make me leery of crowds. I needed a plan. I decided that going to the Alta Cienega would be the thing to do. To get the famous “Jim Morrison Memorial Room.” (This was what the brass plaque on the door to Rm. 32 indicated when I was there the previous month.)
About three weeks prior to the anniversary of JDM’s death I contacted the resident owner/manager Charlie Yang. I had met Charlie briefly the previous visit. When I arrived at the motel then, the door to the famous room was open for cleaning. Video camera in hand I climbed the same stairs I had 18 years ago. The same stairs JDM climbed all the time in his day. The room was very much as I remembered it with one glaring exception, now an entire wall was devoted to graffiti most of which was very sophomoric.
As I was checking in that day a young tourist from the UK was right behind me, inquiring about “that room.” Obviously he was on the trail of JDM much like myself. A brief discussion about JDM ensued. From behind the motel counter stood Charlie Yang, a Taiwanese immigrant in his early 60’s. Charlie has most unusual eyes, blue colored and mismatching like a husky or malamutes. I asked him:
“Do you like Morrison?”
The corners of his mouth tightened slightly before a smile spread to his face and he replied with his native accent:
“Oh Yes, I like Jeeem!”
Charlie had told me then that until recently a photo of “Jeeem” had been in the room but was recently stolen.
“Not a problem I assured him, I’ll be sending you a new one.”
That night I slept in Rm.14, but I reasoned there was a chance JDM had slept in many of the rooms there, checking in and out many times. That night I was determined to go walk and drink where the man had done so, so many years before.
First stop: The Palms. Located in the same spot all these years, it is a narrow long bar lined with mirrors. The only thing that has changed in all these years seems to be the bar’s clientele. It took me a drink, then another to head toward the patio out back. For perhaps two minutes I labored under the misconception that there was a high percentage of women there.
Then, while negotiating between some chairs, I was briefly harangued by a lesbian. Suddenly I realized that there was a high percentage of women there, me being the only man. To cut to the chase, West Hollywood is a very gay area these days. Gone are the topless bars and pool halls of JDM’s time. Now frozen yogurt stands and tanning parlors lie in their wake. Still I met a new friend named Vicky and we proceeded to walk down Santa Monica to the famous Barney’s Beanery.
As we walked by a small two-story building near the corner of La Cienega, now Benvenuto’s Ristorante, I paused to a light a smoke and peered toward the former Doors office.
At Barney’s I told Vicky why she had found me at a dyke bar in West Hollywood. She seemed interested that such a man’s man had frequented the popular “dyke bar”. I suggested the bar had only turned gay since JDM had left LA. I joked too, that many women had probably jumped the fence after JDM’s untimely demise.
More drinks and back to my room, I had an early flight. It was then that I decided I needed to go back on the thirtieth anniversary of JDM’s death.
Once home, I began to assemble the necessary items for my return. I obtained a copy of my favorite JDM picture and had it matted and framed. Next I did the same to the poem previously mentioned. Then I assembled all the poetry books I had of JDM’s; various photo books on the Doors and, of course, every tick of Doors music in the house. A red votive candle, enough beer and brown liquor to stagger 20 men or women and various sundry items.
My best friend, Linda, shares a birthday with JDM, mine is on Pamela’s (22 December). She shares my passion for all things Morrison and agreed to make the journey with me.
I had reservations for the 2nd and 3rd. From my home in New Mexico, it is about a fourteen-hour drive to LA. On the 30th of June we set off toward LA, more specifically JDM’s LA. Twelve hours and change we were driving up La Cienega. Almost everything we did was centered on The Doors and JDM and West Hollywood. Now in the early morning hours a full two days ahead of schedule, we arrived.
A quick drink at Barney’s then we headed to the motel. Charlie’s wife, Mrs. Yang, checked us in. Giddy and grinning we fell asleep in an upstairs room that night. The next morning Charlie told us we could move into Rm. 32 a day early. Gone was the brass plaque that hung so proudly only weeks before. Replaced by another sign that read “House of Jim Morrison 1968-1970.” Nearby Room 31 was labeled accordingly “Friend Of Jim Morrison.”
Not only did Charlie like Jeeem he also seemed to like Jeeem’s friends! Babe Hill, January Jansen and Michael McClure all spoke of staying in an adjacent room at times. Odds are good that one of them actually used that room. So I thought it appropriate. I brought lots of everything. Pictures of JDM to give out, poems printed on parchment. I figured there would surely be lots of well-wishers on such a momentous day.
Over the next three days I got to know the area very well and cornered Charlie Yang as often as possible. Many of the questions I posed to him were in regard to the building and surrounding area. Charlie it seems had purchased the motel just after JDM checked out.
As it seems the “Green Hotel” still is green. The trim has always been green. The main body of the building has varied from sand to beige was painted it’s present only slightly darker version in 1994. Around this time the motel underwent further restoration to include new bathroom fixtures and shower doors, carpet etc.
I set off on many walks in all directions eyeing the skyline and making mental calculations as to what buildings may or may not have been visible 30 plus years ago. To walk out the rear of the motel is surely the shortest route to Monaco Liquors as well as the Doors office. This is assuming there has always been a set of stairs from the alley to Monaco’s. A safe bet since the retaining wall there and parking area surely date to the time of the building. Naturally the preferred route to Barney’s and The Phone Booth would have been through the front.
According to many locals I talked to, this was not considered a bad motel in the day. More or less standard fare. And, at $10, not the bottom of what was available. There are no phones in any of the rooms. Not to worry though should you receive a call or are needed by the desk, there is a buzzer in the room. Painted over, still on the wall in room 32 is a small button that in turn would buzz the front desk. Down the steps you go to the phone located in the tiny lobby. Outgoing calls are placed at one of two pay phones located near the foot of the stairs. This was a phone booth in the era of JDM.
Sunset strip is a good walk but just up the top of a steep hill as one exit left out the motel entrance. To the right is now the remainder of the Garden District once known as Restaurant
displeased by the Doors’
demands on Jim?
Row. Just across Santa Monica heading south, one today, finds The Clear Thoughts Building. (947 N. La Cienega) Once the home of Themis, Pamela’s boutique. JDM also rented office space up above where he headquartered editing of the films Feast of Friendsand HWY. I expected a grand building with such a grand name. You can expect early American strip mall.
Closer still to The Alta Cienega is the former home of Elektra Recording at 962 La Cienega. Going further down the block reveals many old restaurants and antique stores and Barney’s Beanery.
From Barney’s continue to the East on Santa Monica to Sweetzer Ave. turning right onto Norton Ave. There at 8216 1/2 is the last address of JDM in the USA. An unassuming white stucco building, JDM’s publicist, Diane Gardiner, lived downstairs at 8216. This small area of West Hollywood was JDM’s universe for a time. From the locations of Pamela’s home and business and given the size of LA, it is safe to assume that while she may have disliked the business of the Doors and it’s demands on her man, she did position herself very strategically.
While in LA we were often wondering what was going on in Paris. Searching the daily papers for news there was none save for a small article that appeared in the July 2nd edition of the LA Times, which predicted a turn out of 100,000 fans in Paris.
Our days fell into a somewhat of a regular routine. Up at the crack of noon, then off to lunch usually at Barney’s. Our totals are not added yet but I think we spent $600 there in four days. Too bad JDM carried a MasterCard instead of a Visa because I thought of the perfect commercial. Motel Bill: $260, Bar tab at historic rock and roll hotspot: $600, listing your address on one hour photo as 1005 N. La Cienega #32, Priceless… Well, you get the picture.
Curiously enough during our stay not a single fan showed up at the motel. We had the privacy JDM may have enjoyed in the era. As the folks in Paris were awaking to some over priced ouefs (eggs to the rest of us), served up by a rude French waiter, on the morning of July 3rd, almost thirty years to the minute that the fire brigade of the 4th arrondissement was arriving at 17 rue Beautreillis, I was testing my theory that if you drink enough Jim Beam you can sing like Jim Morrison. Karaoke at Barney’s.
I was doubtful I’d even get called. There were some regulars who were quite good. After about five Jim Beams the ringers were done and some bad singers followed. I couldn’t do much worse. I had chose to sing LA WOMAN, a song I lament was never performed live by JDM. The time was 12:25 am 3 July 2001, with the time change almost exactly thirty years to the minute.
Faced with a few seconds of dead air and a live mic I started in with “bring out your dead, bring out your dead,” then started singing, back to the audience in sweet memory of “our injured leader.” I’m not sure I was any good. I’m not sure the crowd knew the significance of the day or hour but I am sure I really felt JDM’s presence with me there.
The day of the 3rd we headed off to Griffith Park Observatory and then to Venice Beach for the afternoon. JDM spoke of Venice in the “60s as a “beach town, with a dying arcade feel”. It still has that flavor to this day. It just never died.
Back to the motel in time to see the best part of Oliver Stone’s film about The Doors, the end credits. For our last night in LA we went to the former Doors office, Benvenuto, for dinner. Nice, fancy Italian food like my Momma never made. Fueled by some after dinner espresso, it was back to Barney’s for a nightcap.
The morning of the 4th we bid farewell to Charlie and The Alta Cienega. True to my word I presented him with the framed photo of “Jeeem” and the poem I am A Guide To The Labyrinth. We got to know Charlie well the few days we were there. When pressed, he admits to wanting to retire in the next year or two and tour Europe.
He also revealed there is interest from parties on the East Coast about buying the motel. This confirmed my fears that in a few years this location may be a McDonald’s or a 7 Eleven. Where are the historic preservation nerds when you need them? If you get to LA, go see this place before the bulldozer gets it. Two acres in LA has got to be worth some big bucks by now.
When you get there tell Charlie, Michael sent you. Keep your graffiti to the already wrote on portion of the walls. Before we left I could not resist adding my own:
Ode to Jim Mo
They said he was always reading
carrying a book
Long haired film student
gotta get that look
Before we could leave LA there was “still one place to go”.
South on I-5 we headed to see Pamela’s resting spot. At the Fairhaven Cemetery in Santa Ana in a small crypt lies the ashes that once was Pamela Susan Courson. One would think she is in the fancy historic mausoleum, however she is not. As one goes through the gates, she is located in a set of vaults to the left of the gate in a set of collumburs known as Garden Courts.
The air was dank and humid as we found her crypt. The smell of fresh flowers was overwhelming. We found our mood suddenly change to a sullen remorseful silence as we stood and made photographs. The air and the quietness seemed to engulf us and we pondered the inky blackness of those who sleep in the dust.
Someone had already placed a small corsage of peach carnations with baby’s breath and fern. We felt no need to leave the ones we had brought. After reciting Orange County Suite and stepping back into the fading light of the late afternoon, we contemplated the many miles that lay between LA and Paris.