Morrison Hotel and the Original Hard Rock Cafe

LAXG: Morrison Hotel

Morrison Hotel

and the Original Hard Rock Cafe

In Downtown Los Angeles you can still visit two sites where The Doors were photographed for their fifth album, Morrison Hotel, in 1969.

The Story of Morrison Hotel

It’s one of the most famous stories in rock and roll history. The Doors, along with photographer Henry Diltz, were knocking around Downtown Los Angeles on a photo shoot for a forthcoming album. They were headed for the Morrison Hotel, a low-rent SRO (single-room occupancy) hotel on Hope Street that keyboardist Ray Manzarek had spotted a few days before.

When the band showed up, Diltz asked the gent working behind the desk if they could take some photos of the boys around the hotel. The man told them they couldn’t without the owner’s permission — and the owner wasn’t around. So they all headed back outside where Diltz took a few photos of the band members standing around outside the hotel.

While they were taking the exterior shots, Diltz noticed the clerk had left the desk and got into the elevator, leaving the lobby empty. Diltz took the opportunity and had the band rush back inside. The group quickly set up for a photo, and Diltz shot a roll of film in five minutes — including the image that would become the cover of Morrison Hotel. The band paid homage to the hotel on the album as well — Morrison Hotel is the name of the album’s second side (the last five songs).

The front and back covers of Morrison Hotel, the fifth studio album from The Doors. The front cover features Morrison Hotel while the back cover shows off the Original Hard Rock Cafe.

Morrison Hotel Today

The Morrison Hotel has been around since 1914, and for years it operated as a SRO, providing a place for down-on-their-luck folks in DTLA to lay their heads. But, sadly, it’s been boarded up for more than 13 years, taking away one avenue of much-needed low-cost housing in Los Angeles.

The front window of the Morrison Hotel, boarded up after a slight cosmetic makeover from 2020. Photo from the author’s collection.

The optimistically named Relevant Group, a Los Angeles developer with eight other properties scattered around Downtown and Hollywood, owns the building now, and they have been trying to turn it into something fancier for almost five years. Their website for the project states the site ” … will feature an 80-room hotel, restaurant, nightlife and eclectic entertainment offerings …” with more residential, retail, and hotel rooms in the neighboring building.

This is markedly different from a project plan filed with the city, titled The Morrison Project, in 2018 that calls for a 15-story and a 25-story tower with a combined 135 residential units and 450 hotel rooms, plus a basement bar and lounge with 215 underground parking spaces.

Artist rendition of the development project at 1220 Hope Street incorporating the Morrison Hotel. Photo via the Relevant Group

The new building was scheduled to break ground in 2020, but the arrival of the Pandemic and legal trouble for former developer-friendly (maybe too friendly) City Councilman Jose Huizar seems to have slowed all that way down.

Jim Morrison’s presence still haunts the vacant Morrison Hotel. Photo from the author’s collection.

The last time the hotel was used for anything was the fourth annual “Day of the Doors” event in January 2020, when the Relevant Group and Rhino Records had the front window re-created to look like it did back in 1969 (and Dennis Quaid sang Doors songs while Robby Krieger played guitar). And that’s pretty much how it looks today — except it’s been all boarded up since that event ended.

The front window of the Morrison Hotel. It probably won’t look like this for much longer. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Original Hard Rock Cafe

As the story goes, after The Doors and Diltz finished up at the Morrison Hotel, Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors (struggling with alcoholism) wanted to get a drink. The boys headed on over to Skid Row and wandered into a corner tavern (a “wino bar” according to the tales) by the name of the Hard Rock Cafe.

As the band drank and swapped stories with the tavern’s regulars, Diltz took more photos, including the one that would become the album’s back cover and inspire name the first side of the album (the first six songs).

These days, the Hard Rock Cafe name is quite famous because of the chain of rock-n-roll themed restaurants scattered across the world. But it all started right here on 5th Street in Los Angeles. The year after the release of Morrison Hotel Peter Morton borrowed the name (with Jim Morrison’s permission) when he launched the first the Hard Rock Cafe in London in 1971.

That’s a pretty good rock pedigree for a tiny Skid Row dive bar. But the location has another entry in pop music history — it appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video from 1987.

The building is still there today, but these days it’s home to the Green Apple Market.

The Green Apple Market / Green Apple Grill, formerly the Hard Rock Cafe. Photo from the author’s collection.

Nearby Explorations

As long as you’re in the area, just one block away from the Green Apple Market (to the northeast along Wall St) you can see Kenny Scharf’s 66-foot-tall Sacred Heart Mural painted on the facade of the Los Angeles Mission.


Morrison Hotel

The Original Hard Rock Cafe


Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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