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The Southern Hotel from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” Music Video

Sep 6th, 2017 | By | Category: Michael Jackson Locations

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200229

The Grim Cheaper often accuses me of beating a dead horse.  While I typically don’t agree with him, today’s post is pretty concrete evidence that he’s right, because here I am yet again with yet another article about the diner from Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Beat It” music video.  Today actually marks the fourth time I’ve written about this particular locale, making it the most covered spot ever featured on IAMNOTASTALKER.  (To be fair, I’ve also written about the Walsh house from Beverly Hills, 90210 – my very favorite filming site – on four occasions, though one of the posts was a mash-up of several places from the Fox series.)  This location has also been the most puzzling I’ve ever covered.  I am happy to report, though, that the mystery surrounding it has finally, finally been put to rest thanks to a reader named Dave, who sent me an email in early July that just about made me fall off my chair.

For those who haven’t been following along since the beginning, my coverage of the “Beat It” café started back in March 2010 when I wrote about the Monte Carlo Restaurant located at 109 East Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles.  I first came across the eatery via Google Street View while on a cyber-stalking mission to track down the locale and was struck by its resemblance to what had appeared onscreen.  With its half-green/half-cream walls and curved counter, the Monte Carlo, which is still in operation today, looks like it was ripped straight out of the video.  It is also located smack dab in the middle of Skid Row, where I knew “Beat It” had been lensed.

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The Southern Hotel from Beat It-6109

Despite those seeming connections, though, upon visiting the restaurant in person, I started to have doubts that it was the spot where MJ filmed.  Not only is the Monte Carlo interior much smaller than that of the “Beat It” café, but an address number of 416 could also be seen in the video (it’s denoted with a pink circle below), which does not gibe with the Monte Carlo’s 109 address.

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The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1030192

A sign reading “Special Café” was also visible in “Beat It,” as you can see via the pink arrows in both the screen capture and the photograph below, which was taken from Todd Gray’s book Michael Jackson: Before He Was King.   (Please disregard the additional markings on the photo.  They were added in reference to a since-solved mystery that my fellow stalkers were discussing in the comments section of my first Monte Carlo post).  While it was entirely possibly the eatery’s name had been changed from “Special Café” to “Monte Carlo Restaurant” since filming took place, the discrepancy still gave me pause.  So I opened the quest up to my fellow stalkers, asking for their opinions on the matter.  Many chimed in, sharing their thoughts, but those thoughts didn’t lead to any sort of definitive conclusion.  I re-stalked and re-blogged about the Monte Carlo later that same month in the hopes of clarifying things, but unfortunately, my second visit and post only provided more doubt and confusion – and more conversation amongst readers.  Still though, no one was able to say with any sort of certainty whether or not we had found the right spot.

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Cut to March 2013.  An MJ fan named Justin, who had been following the hunt since the beginning, posted a comment on my original Monte Carlo post in which he shared a link to the 1955 photograph below.   He came across the image via the USC Digital Library archives while searching for historic pictures of Skid Row and East Fifth Street and was floored to happen upon one of a restaurant with signage reading “Special Café,” located next door to a property with a 414 address number – all of which lined up with what was seen in “Beat It.”  The windows and doorway of the eatery in the photograph were also a match to what appeared in the video.

Shortly thereafter, I learned how to search through old digitized Los Angeles phone records and found a listing for the Special Café at 416 East Fifth Street, which seemed to cement everything.  Justin had solved the mystery!  (Or so we thought – but more on that in a bit.)

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As Justin informed me (incorrectly, as it turns out, but, again, more on that later), the café had been razed shortly after filming took place, much to my chagrin, and, after being utilized as a parking lot for close to three decades, a building was finally constructed on the site in 2013.  I immediately ran out to stalk the locale and did a write-up on it, but, unfortunately, that post led to even more confusion thanks to the Historic Aerials website.

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1030787

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1030786

When I pulled up 1972 and 1980 views of the Special Café site while researching for the post, Historic Aerials showed that no building was located there during those years.  Since I knew that the eatery was around from at least 1955 (the year the photograph Justin found was taken) to 1983 (the year “Beat It” was filmed), the building’s absence on Historic Aerials was absolutely mind-boggling!  As my friend/fellow stalker David from Spain stated in the comments section of that post, “Oh my god, that’s a case for Mulder and Scully.”

Thankfully, Dave, an eagle-eyed fellow stalker from across the pond, figured things out.  In his July email, he said, “Check out the attached image of the Southern Hotel, captured from the 1982 Charles Bronson movie Death Wish II.  Compare it with your recent-ish photo of the site, paying particular attention to the red panels on the right hand side, i.e. the lower left of the Southern building.  Everything should be clear!  Do you see it?”  Yes, I did see it – and just about fell out of my chair upon doing so!

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As Dave’s email went on to explain, “The Special Café was never demolished as such – it’s still standing, and forms part of the main Southern building (which it always did).  The storefront windows have been replaced with the red paneling and the door (or at least, a door) is still there, although it’s walled off with railings now.”

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The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200232

To say that I was in utter shock over Dave’s revelation would be an understatement.  The Special Café site still stands?  Say whaaa?

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200234

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200233

He broke things down further, pointing out, “As per the Death Wish II screencap: the doorway/entrance to the Southern Hotel was originally on the right-hand side of the building and classed as No. 412, the Café – on the left hand side of the building – was No. 416, the storefront in the middle – aka the ‘Church on Wheels Heartreach Mission’ – which has now been remodeled into the main entrance to the Southern, would have originally been No. 414.”

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In researching the Southern Hotel, I learned that it had been completely gutted in 2000 – taken down to the studs, “its bones on display like a clanky skeleton,” according to a Los Angeles Times article – before being transformed into a 55-room apartment complex for homeless veterans.  Despite that remodel, though, the building, which was originally constructed in 1920, is surprisingly still recognizable from Death Wish II.

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The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200228

In the movie, architect Paul Kersey (Bronson) books a room at the Southern while on the hunt for the five men who killed his daughter and housekeeper.

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As Dave informed me, Death Wish II isn’t the first Charles Bronson movie to feature the hotel.   Ten years earlier, the actor, playing the role of Arthur Bishop, walked on Fifth Street just west of the Southern in the 1972 thriller The Mechanic.

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Dave also filled me in on – and provided screen captures of – a myriad of the hotel’s other onscreen appearances.  As he told me, Chester (Harvey Gold) and Cooper (Jason Miller) walk by the Southern at the beginning of the 1974 drama The Nickel Ride.  The Special Café exterior can even be seen in the second screen capture below.

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In the Season 3 episode of Starsky & Hutch titled “The Heroes,” which aired in 1977, Det. Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (David Soul) and Det. Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) drive by the Special Café.

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The eatery and hotel were also briefly seen in the Season 4 episode of Starsky & Hutch titled “Starsky vs. Hutch,” which aired in 1979.

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When Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian (Talia Shire) arrive at the Hotel Lorane (which, as Dave pointed out, is still intact!) in 1982’s Rocky III, the Southern is visible in the background.

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The hotel is seen, briefly once again, in the opening montage of the Season 1 episode of Miami Vice titled “Glades,” which aired in 1984.

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And in 1984’s Repo Man, the Southern and the Special Café are just barely visible from the window of Otto’s (Emilio Estevez) car during a driving scene.

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

Big, huge THANK YOU to fellow stalker Dave for finally putting an end to the “Beat It” café mystery, for doing all of the research for this post, and for providing the many screen captures! Smile

The Southern Hotel from Beat It-1200230

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Southern Hotel is located at 412 East Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles.  Special Café, aka the diner from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” music video, was formerly situated in the eastern portion of the building’s ground floor, but is no longer there.  This locale is not in the best of areas, so if you visit, please exercise caution.

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10 comments

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  1. Richard Y says:

    WOW, good eye on all the screen grabs

  2. Her mom says:

    Amazing! Love your tenacity and sense of integrity in claiming locations. Very proud of this post! I love David’s Mulder and Scully comment – he knows you well! Congratulations!!

  3. MM says:

    Great post. But I am still confused…what about the 1972 photo with the parking lot?

  4. Dave C says:

    Ok Linds! This deserves the Academy Award for all time most persistent, and best stalk! Way to go!!!!!

  5. Natalie says:

    Wow! The time and effort you put into your research amazes me! Now come up for some SF stalking!


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. […] The iconic video was actually shot at the Special Café, located just a few blocks away.  You can read all about it here.  Even though this post contains erroneous information, I am leaving it up as it chronicles an […]

  2. […] The iconic video was actually shot at the Special Café, located just a few blocks away.  You can read all about it here.  Even though this post contains erroneous information, I am leaving it up as it chronicles an […]

  3. […] – The Special Café site still stands!  You can read all about it here.  Even though this post contains erroneous information, I am leaving it up as it chronicles an […]

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