Sitting along Foothill Boulevard in Monrovia is what a first glance appears to be some sort of ancient temple, but upon further inspection, it’s actually a hotel, the Aztec Hotel. Last week Patrick and I joined other curious visitors for a tour of this Route 66 oddity, hosted by Craig Owens of Bizarre Los Angeles.
The history of the Aztec is convoluted to say the least, and Owens unravels that history during the tour from the hotel’s early conceptual days to its decline. We started in the Mayan Bar and Grill, moving into the stunning lobby, followed by the former supper club, and two unfinished hotel rooms.
Designed by Robert B. Stacy-Judd, the Aztec, despite its name, pulls mostly from Mayan imagery, as well as design from Toltec and Inca cultures, with a variety of sculpted concrete details and murals throughout. The Aztec had a rocky start, with tepid investors, it was originally suppose to have 100 rooms, but it was scaled back to less than 50, and when it opened in 1925, it did so too not much fanfare, with a handful of long forgotten movie stars in attendance. It is said that early distaste for the Aztec was due to its murals, which featured the gods of lust and death depicted within the lobby.
In addition to its rooms, the Aztec offered a supper club, complete with dancing, and a coffee shop. Today the old supper club and dance floor serves as a makeshift game room for those visiting the Mayan Bar & Grill, while the former coffee shop is home to a cigar shop, but the original stained glass reading “Coffee Shop” is still visible.
As the roaring twenties, well, roared, and illegal booze flowed, it has long been suspected that the basement of the Aztec served as a speakeasy, and it was just the beginning of the variety of illegal activities that took place within the faux ancient temple. In 1934 Santa Anita Park opened, and horse racing bookies regularly made their home at the Aztec. Prostitution and drug deals also occurred within its walls. But despite the unsavory characters, in 1978 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and today it stands as one of the last Mayan inspired pieces of architecture in the United States.
The Aztec also has a long list of questionable deaths take place there, adding to the mystery of the already bizarre looking hotel. Ghosts are said roam the halls, and Owens shared his own experiences with the paranormal during our tour. The rooms we saw did not have much to offer yet in terms of details, as the hotel portion is still undergoing restoration, but I think they will look quite nice when finished.
After struggling for decades with variety of owners, the Aztec faced foreclosure in 2012, and was then purchased by Qin Han Chen who immediately closed it for renovations. More recently the bar and restaurant have reopened under the Mayan Bar & Grill, while the rooms are currently being renovated, with plans to open in the near future. Finished restorations include the variety of murals, hand painted ceiling, and the exterior neon.
Contrary to popular belief that the Aztec was built as a response to the travels of Route 66, it was actually built just prior to Route 66’s arrival, and its time along the famed Mother Road didn’t last long. In 1931 Route 66 was realigned to different street through Monrovia, bypassing the Aztec and likely adding to its early decline.
Interested in taking a tour of the Aztec? Follow Bizarre Los Angeles on Instagram to hear about upcoming dates, as well as other tours of interesting places. In the meantime, you can grab a drink at the Mayan as you await the reopening of the Aztec Hotel at 311 W. Foothill Boulevard in Monrovia.