Over a year ago, I visited the Lincoln Heights Jail in hopes of learning more about the former Los Angeles prison’s history. With old and creaky buildings, reputations of ghosts and unexplained activity typically follow. Though nothing eerie happened while I was there, I did hear some stories from a woman named Cecilia who, at that time, was the stage manager of the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, a local theatre company that has occupied the historic building’s first floor for the past 35 years. There’s also a city-run youth and boxing gym that takes up the former jail’s fifth floor.
I had written about my visit and Cecilia’s paranormal experiences at Cal State University, Northridge’s Scene magazine blog, a blog maintained by CSUN’s magazine journalism students. Some very delayed e-mail notifications for comments left on the blog entry over the summer finally made it into my inbox (albeit six months late), spurring my curiosity on the spike in activity. It turns out, Cartoon Networks’ new “Othersiders” TV series explored the Lincoln Heights Jail in their first episode in June earlier this year. Ultimately, the teenage team of investigators decided the old prison was haunted after they experienced orbs, a moving chair and recorded electronic voice phenomena.
To read the original blog post at CSUN Scene, click here. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote, along with a few readers’ comments (edited for clarity), including a former employee of the gym who writes about the unexplained happenings he experienced while there:
…Al Capone once spent a night at the jail after he was arrested at Union Station for tax evasion, she said, and back during the Zoot Suit riots of the 1940s, the jail was used to hold those who were arrested. More recently, there was another group, the Aztlan Foundation, that also rented space at the jail, but they were kicked out of the building when it was discovered that the group was also holding late-night raves in the basement, Cecilia said.
Cecilia said she had seen and heard spirits in the building, and she believes they are the ghosts of the now-deceased prisoners. The last time she had any encounters, however, was about 5 years ago, she said. She said the best place to catch any sightings or paranormal activity would be on floors 2 through 4, but unfortunately, they’re closed to the public.
As we wandered up the stairs to the fifth floor to the gym, a voice echoed through the staircase… [read more at CSUN Scene]
Commenter Steve Benitez said he visited the jail with a friend after seeing a TV show about the prison. He and the friend started at the basement and “worked our way up…We felt a cold [presence] and kind of hurried towards a set of stairs…However just as we were a little at ease going upstairs, we heard a voice or two. And we knew there was no one but the two of us there. Needless to say we kind of made a dash up the stairs and found ourselves in the gym room. It was good to see ‘people’.”
A commenter who identified himself as retired LAPD Lieutenant Max K. Hurlbut offered additional insight to the jail’s history, writing, “[it] was opened on 16 December 1931 and closed in 1965 when sentenced prisoners were no longer housed by LAPD. It was the site of the City Stockade until opening of the East Side Division & Jail in 1908. I have a 1911 photo and jail door…”
Another commenter by the name of Miguel Garcia left a lengthy response about his experiences 20 years ago when he was still a teenager who worked at the gym with some friends for one summer. Garcia writes he was hired by Johnny Flores, the boxing gym’s founder (read more about Flores and the gym in boxer Rick Farris’ article for cyberboxingzone.com) to handle maintenance and help the boxing staff. “It was a great summer until the last two weeks of the job [and] weird things started to occur.” The first incident involved a fire hose that inexplicably turned on by itself (they were told it was caused by water pressure). In the second incident, Garcia writes he and his friends were at lunch in the handball court when “a deep and painful voice” was heard “chanting inside the room”, which they assumed was the noise of a passing train; after the noise “lasted for a minute…we ran outta there so fast.” They were later told by the staff about the jail’s “dark history…and all of the ‘strange occurrences.'”
In his comment, Garcia also wrote he and his friends were “warned never to use the service elevator since it would always get stuck in between floors,” and in 1994, “Mr. Flores died in that same elevator.”
In an archived L.A. Times article about Flores’ death, the respected boxing mentor’s’ son-in-law, Daryl Streicher, said it appeared the old building’s elevator “was stuck between the second and third floors. He may have opened the door on the first floor and fell to the bottom. It’s a 12-foot drop, but he hit his head. He was killed instantly.”
“All I know was Mr. Flores was a great man and he treated every one of us with total respect,” wrote Garcia in his comment. “It’s just a trip that it happened.”