A Virtual Tour of the Barclay Hotel: Grand Lobby to Hidden Tunnels

Richard Schave outside Barclay HotelOne of our favorite Los Angeles buildings is the Barclay Hotel (originally the Van Nuys), a Beaux Arts gem constructed in 1896 on the northwest corner of 4th and Main Streets by pioneering architects Morgan and Walls.

We love the hotel because it’s beautiful, but also because it holds so many layers of history, real and fictional. We visit the lobby on our Raymond Chandler tours, for it’s upstairs in room 332 that detective Philip Marlowe finds the man in the toupée with an icepick in his neck, a pivotal plot point in The Little Sister. We also stop on our Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice tours, to share the true life tales of a deranged 19th century millionaire who turned mean drunk in the hotel bar, and of two serial killers who worked their evil in rooms above.

It is our great pleasure to share with a wider audience the Barclay Hotel’s magnificent double-height lobby through the virtual magic and Matterport technology of 3-D photographer Craig Sauer’s lens. You’ll marvel at the ornate plasterwork, the stained glass, the monumental clerk’s cage and the vast sea of tile that distinguish Historic-Cultural Monument #288.

Barclay Hotel basement stairsBut thanks to the generosity of Victor Vasquez—whose family has owned the hotel for decades and was responsible for its landmarking—we can also take you deeper, where we’ve never been able to take tour guests, down marble stairs into the labyrinthian basement, with its tiled passages, sliding wooden doors of the historic stables, lockers decorated by long-dead workers, spiral stairs to nowhere and handsome nooks and arches. It is a true Los Angeles time capsule, a functional environment that has barely changed in 120 years.

As you explore the basement level, you may find your way into that most rare and beguiling bit of lost Los Angeles: an unrestricted L-shaped section of the hidden service tunnels beneath the sidewalk that once criss-crossed Downtown. We can’t tell you if the Barclay’s tunnels were used during Prohibition to move illicit substances, but we did find whole walls covered in mysterious penciled numbers that suggest some informal commerce was practiced here. Sniff around and see if the Barclay’s secrets reveal themselves to you.

If you enjoy Craig’s scans of the Barclay, we also recommend our previous collaborations: The Dutch Chocolate Shop and JK’s Tunnel. What will be the next hidden Los Angeles landmark to get the 3-D treatment? Stay tuned!