The Royal Park Hotel is a hulking brute of a building in Los Angeles’s Westlake neighborhood, a few miles from downtown. With its chain-link barricades, its entry passage through an underground garage, and its strict security procedures for visitors, it would feel like a fortress against the squalor of its surroundings if the blight weren’t even more pronounced on the inside.
Guests at the Royal Park looking for drugs don’t even have to leave the building to find them; in fact, the motel is where people in the neighborhood come to score. “You got people who come in the front of this building at 2, 3 in the morning,” says Monica Nixon, whose family is staying at the motel. “And they’ll ask, ‘Can you go up there and get me crack? Can you go up there and get me meth?’ I call it the Twilight Zone.”
Monica and her family outside their room
Monica moved into the Royal Park Hotel in August, after being evicted from her apartment. She and her four kids—Honesty, Johnny, Steven and Savannah—live in a unit that looks to be around 150 square feet between the bedroom, the bathroom, the closet and the kitchenette. When it’s time to go to bed, Monica’s kids curl up on two mattresses. Monica sleeps on a couch donated by Savannah’s school.
The crowded halls of the Royal Park present dangers in their own right. On Christmas Day of last year, a fire ripped through the motel (then known as the J.J. Park, and before that the Nutel Motel: the building’s name, like its clientele, is transient). A tenant had left a hot plate unattended. Six people were injured, but that number could have been higher if residents hadn’t pulled together to help one another out of the burning building. “A lot of people here have walked a hard road,” Monica said. “But when tragedy happened, we saw the heart of those who still got heart left.”
Monica started out paying $270 a week for her room at the Royal Park, but once she became a long-term tenant, the motel manager reduced her rent to $870 per month. Even in LA’s overheated real-estate market, Monica’s rent is not cheap. But for indigent families like hers—and there are dozens of them staying in just this one motel—saving up enough cash for first, last and security on a regular apartment isn’t an option. Nor, in many cases, are a credit check, a bank statement and a list of professional references.