Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, Arizona at 202 North Central Avenue, is where you’ll find Hotel San Carlos, Phoenix’s original boutique hotel. Designed by architect George Witecross Ritchie in an Italian Renaissance Revival Style, the Hotel San Carlos brings a touch of nostalgia to the Copper Square District of today’s more modern downtown Phoenix. The building was constructed in 1927 and held its grand opening on March 20, 1928. When it was built, it was the first hotel in Phoenix to offer chilled air, and it also had the first elevator in Phoenix. The seven story building, then the tallest building in Phoenix, dominated the downtown skyline. Not two months after opening day, the building’s height would make the new Hotel San Carlos the location of a tragic event.
In the early morning hours of May 7, 1928 a pretty blonde named Leone Jensen walks down the hallway, up the stairs to the roof and jumps to her death. The Arizona Republic covered the story. The details of the story state that Jensen, 22, was dating the bell boy of another hotel, the Westward Ho. Her suicide note indicates that her boyfriend may have physically abused her, causing her to sink into despair and throw herself from the seventh floor roof of the hotel. However, rumor and speculation suggest a much darker possibility– that a (pregnant) Leone may have been pushed to her doom by her boyfriend or a female co-worker who could have been having an affair with the boyfriend. Paranormal investigations of the hotel by sensitives place Leone not on the roof of the building, but having jumped from a seventh floor window instead…
No matter how she fell from the rooftop, Leone Jensen’s despair was great enough to etch itself forever in time. Since her death, people have reported seeing a ghostly apparition of a woman walk down the hallway and up the stairs leading to the rooftop. Though the plight of Leone Jensen isn’t the only tragedy to have befallen this location.
The Hotel San Carlos itself is fairly old, but the history of this location dates back even further. Hotel San Carlos is built on the site of the first schoolhouse in North Central Phoenix — Central Elementary School. It was a one room adobe building built in 1874. But even before that, some 400 years prior, it was the location of a Hohokam settlement. (The Hohokam tribe believed great knowledge came from the natural spring located nearby, so they paid homage to their god of Knowledge and Learning near this spring. It seems a little ironic to have that refreshing spring be the reason for locating Phoenix’s first school in the same place many years later.) In 1879 the Central Elementary Schoolhouse was expanded to a two-story 4-room brick school house. In 1893 it was expanded again to achieve a total of sixteen rooms. At some point in the late 1800’s, there are documented accounts of three young boys having drown in the well. This prompted an eventual declaration that the school was unsafe. In 1916, the building was condemned and the property put up for sale.
The well still exists in the basement of the hotel, though it has taken on a more modern look. Despite being a physical reminder of the site’s history, the well is also speculated to serve as a portal for the paranormal. Whether or not that’s true there are other paranormal tales which have been associated with the well. Most notably, the sound of childrens’ laughter or the sound of a bouncing ball, which is frequently heard in the basement near the old well and also near the basement loading docks. Hotel staff have also addressed complaints from several guests who have decried the presence of such loud and obnoxious children, even when there are no children staying in the hotel. Some visitors even reported hearing a knock at their door. When guests answer the door, the hallway is empty of all signs of human life, but some have reported hearing footsteps and children’s laughter. Some guests have also been annoyed by the 70-year-old elevator, which always makes a mysterious basement stop before it travels to the selected floor.
The Hotel San Carlos ghost tour concludes their tour with the ghostly loading docks where they entice little children to stand on the ramp claiming that the ghosts of the children who drown would then appear in photos as orbs. (At this point, as a skeptic, I will have to decry the use of orbs in photographs as evidence of ghosts or paranormal. Most orbs, about 99% of them, are the result of pollen, dust, moisture, bugs, reflections and incorrect camera settings. In the case of the loading docks, these orbs are likely orbs of dust.)
Hotel San Carlos also has a very rich Hollywood history. Several gold-colored stars dot the sidewalk in front of the hotel commemorating some of Hollywood’s finest stars. The hotel also boasts 12 Signature Guest Suites. These suites are dedicated to the many stars who have stayed at the hotel. Such guests as Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Gene Autry, Jack Dempsey and John F. Kennedy. Classic film “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe was shot at the Hotel San Carlos. Monroe and husband Joe DiMaggio spent their honeymoon in the hotel in what’s now known as the Marilyn Monroe suite. Mae West made the San Carlos her home in 1929 while performing in “I’m No Angel” at the Orpheum Theatre. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were also known to come to the Hotel San Carlos for romantic interludes.
The hallway just outside the Cary Grant room has been called the haunted hallway. Employees call this hallway haunted because they’ve heard nefarious laughter. They have also experienced papers and other objects being thrown onto the floor while they’re in a room. There are currently no explanations as to who this ghost is or any ideas as to why the ghost would be haunting the hallway in the first place.
I’m not sure of the proximity of the haunted hallway to Room #704, but that is allegedly the most tragic room in the building. According to a paranormal investigation of the Hotel San Carlos performed by Lost Souls Paranormal Investigations in July 2001, their sensitives perceived a woman who was raped and stabbed to death in this room sometime in the 1960’s. The sensitives also perceived names beginning with “L” for a man and woman. The man would have been in his 30’s at the time. Historical research of the site revealed the name Leon Harris, son of owner Charles Harris, who would have been in his 30’s in the 1960’s.
Our final haunted hot-spot is the rooftop swimming pool, on the third floor, which boasts the draining of batteries and claims to cause electronic equipment to not function properly. This is not unique to this location at the Hotel San Carlos as there are other locations such as the Triangular Wheat Field at the Gettysburg battlefield in Gettysburg, PA which also cause similar disruption to electronic devices. While this may be the case, as a skeptic, I cannot say whether this is the natural result of some yet-to-be-explained scientific phenomenon related to the natural (magnetic) properties of the Earth or the result of ghostly activity because I do not have enough evidence either way. The effect, I will admit, is quite eerie and is often experienced in places which are reputedly haunted by spirits of the dead.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ghost tour of the Hotel San Carlos, you might want to watch this news story that discusses some of the hauntings in this article. Though, I will warn you that there is loud, annoying music at the start and end of the video:
One stop that’s not on the ghostly tour is the rooftop penthouse. Its story is more strange than paranormal because, despite never being rented out, the hotel staff have no intentions of ever renting it out. Work is always done to maintain the penthouse. It is kept air-conditioned and supplied with electricity. Half-owner of the hotel, Charles Harris, had built the penthouse so his family could live on location, but the property passed into Mr. Harris’ family trust when he died of natural causes in 1946. The family moved out and the trust maintained the lodgings with the intent to rent it out to VIP guests. Why it still hasn’t been rented out, I cannot say… but it is just one more mystery surrounding the Hotel San Carlos.
Whether you’re just visiting Phoenix for fun or for a glimpse into the past– if you’re an avid ghost hunter, you might consider a stay at the Hotel San Carlos.
Hotel’s official website: http://hotelsancarlos.com
* “Hobgoblin Hotel: Is San Carlos Haunted?”, The Arizona Republic life section Monday, October 26, 1998.