Every city has its urban legends and ghost stories, but few places are as ripe for tall tales and weird rumors as Greater Los Angeles. Here, brightly lit city streets can turn into the skinny, dark roads of horror movies in a matter of minutes as the city and suburbs butt up against dry, fire-prone nature. We have it all, from stories of disturbed burial grounds to haunted hotels to mysterious mansions. The hills here hold secrets within their hiking trails and it often has to do with a cult, either rumored or verified. Our ghost stories involve common people whose identities are unknown and the spirits of the famous. Indeed, L.A. is a diverse metropolis and that extends to our tales of terror. Check out a few local spooky spots here.
1. Cathedral High School (Chinatown)
To high school sports fans, Cathedral is known as the Phantoms. Their mascot isn't surprising given the school's eerie location. Situated on the edge of Chinatown, near the 110 freeway, Cathedral High School was built on top of the original Calvary Cemetery site. By the end of the 1800s, though, the Catholic burial ground had outgrown its digs and moved to New Calvary, opened in Boyle Heights. According to a 2009 Downtown News article, the old cemetery lay in ruins for years until the bodies buried there were moved. The problem, though, is that there may have been remains left underground. Hence, rumors of hauntings at the all-boys school have circulated for decades, passed down from generation to generation of Angelenos. In fact, I had heard about Cathedral's reputation from my own father.
2. Anything and everything related to Charles Manson. (Fairfax, Benedict Canyon, Simi Valley)
Want to scare an Angeleno? Mention Charles Manson. The Manson Family's crimes were so horrific that they send chills up the spines of people who weren't even born at the time of the Tate and LaBianca murders. Needless to say, locations associated with these events remain notorious, even when the original structure has been demolished. Take the Tate mansion, for example. That house no longer stands, but Cielo Drive has not lost its reputation. In fact, another resident on that street runs ghost hunts through his own home. I went to one for journalistic reasons and, while it was bizarre, it wasn't really spooky. Meanwhile, the site of Spahn Ranch, once an old film set where the Manson Family holed up, is still home to the Manson Caves in the hills of Simi Valley. There's also El Coyote, the restaurant where Sharon Tate and friends ate their final meal together. Some say that place is haunted, too.
3. Devil's Gate (La Cañada-Flintridge)
Devil's Gate comes with an “only in L.A.” story. Maybe in other parts of the world, you'll find sinister gorges that are said to be portals to hell. Here, though, that kind of location caught the eye of a scientist whose work led to his death and a pulp-fiction writer who went on to found a celebrity-obsessed, clandestine religion. The location's unsettling reputation predates the friendship of Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard, but stories abound about what the two occultists, followers of Aleister Crowley, were up to on their visits. Still, it's eternally fascinating for any Angeleno curious about the intersection of science and magic here.
4. Houdini Mansion (Laurel Canyon)
In true urban-legend fashion, the stories surrounding Houdini's purported pad in the hills is full of weird and possibly erroneous information. There is a spot known as the Houdini Estate at 2400 Laurel Canyon, which can be rented out for parties and film shoots. In 2012, Curbed reported that this house, which had made the news after a fire took the original structure down in the 1950s, actually belonged to Houdini's pal and the magician possibly lived across the street. The video above gives a detailed breakdown of who lived where. Regardless, there has long been talk of hauntings there.
5. Turnbull Canyon (Whittier)
Ask your friends in the San Gabriel Valley for a spot that has spawned many urban legends and they'll probably mention Turnbull Canyon. Located on the outskirts of Whittier, this hiking trail is known among locals for a long history of reported terrors. One person familiar with Turnbull's lore pointed me to Weird U.S.' summary of the spot, which tells of lore involving a cult, a fire and a strange accidental death, but it also notes that this was also a site of verified deaths, due to vehicular accidents. Moreover, Turnbull Canyon was the site of a gruesome discovery in 2011, when authorities found the body of woman down an embankment. The suspect in what became a murder case pleaded not guilty last spring.
6. Vanderlip Mansion (Rancho Palos Verdes)
Every section of L.A. has a place that's said to be haunted, and the South Bay is no different. Those who grew up in the vicinity of Rancho Palos Verdes will tell you that Vanderlip Mansion is seriously spooky. Located little more than a mile's drive from Portuguese Bend Reserve, Vanderlip Mansion is part of a nook that was bought and extravagantly developed by East Coast finance whiz Frank Vanderlip. That it's haunted seems to be undisputed by some locals, but the reasons why are up for debate. Urban legend sites convey several different tales that are so grisly they seem far-fetched, particularly considering that members of the Vanderlip family lived there as recently as a few years ago. The local Easy Reader News tried to dispel the rumors, but there's just no end to haunted house tales.
7. Hotel Figueroa (Downtown)
L.A. has its share of old hotels with haunted reputations. In some cases, the stories don't even make sense: Why would Marilyn Monroe's spirit roam the Roosevelt when she didn't die there? Other spots are so damn scary that even a name change can't calm the goosebumps. Yes, I'm talking about former Richard Ramirez residence the Cecil Hotel (now Stay on Main). In between all that, there's Hotel Figueroa. A friend mentioned this to me when I asked around about favorite spooky urban legends and it seemed to be the best fit for this list. The stories here are of the typical murder-leads-to-ghosts variety, but the building itself looks as if it could be home to dead souls that prompted a hard-boiled detective to prowl the streets of downtown in noir black-and-white.
8. Gravity Hill (Sylmar)
For the Valley kids, tall tales and (sub)urban legends often lead us to the hills. As an adult, I think I now understand that creepy fascination with mountains that surrounded us. They're nature's barrier between us and the rest of the world filled with impossibly narrow, winding streets, little (if any) light and really big houses rumored to give out full-sized candy bars on Halloween (If you can get past the gates). Gravity Hill, though, is situated on the north end of the Valley. While I haven't tried rolling up, I have driven through the area at night and, well, it's pretty spooky, with little light and locals who can take the curves much faster than you will. The upward roll, though, is an an optical illusion. UC Riverside has an article explaining the phenomenon, which isn't isolated to the San Fernando Valley.
9. Suicide Bridge (Pasadena)
Technically, the old scary crossway in Pasadena is called the Colorado Street Bridge, but it's more frequently referenced as Suicide Bridge. Built more than 100 years ago, this beautiful feat of engineering has a dark side. Since at least 1915, it's been a suicide destination. The L.A. Daily Mirror writes that, in the early 1930s, police patrolled the area for potential jumpers before a fence was built. That fence, though, didn't do much to stop people from ending their lives here. In fact, you'll still see news stories about people who jump, or try to jump, from the Colorado Street Bridge. And, as one would expect for a place with such a sad history, this bridge is also subject to rumors of hauntings.
10. Rancho Los Amigos (Downey)
Los Angeles Magazine reports that the original name of what became Rancho Los Amigos was L.A. County Poor Farm. With a name that unfortunate, it was bound to become the stuff of urban legend. The large, now-abandoned community in Downey is certainly creepy. That Los Angeles article accompanies a series of photos that look like stills from a horror movie. Any ghost stories may be tall tales, but if you hear anything about mummies, that's based in fact.