Morrison Hotel – Downtown Los Angeles
Photo by Henry Diltz
The Morrison Hotel, 1246 S. Hope Street is two blocks from my loft. I walk by there usually once a week. There’s really no reason for me to go that way. I’m just kind of drawn to the place. I always stop and try to channel the vibe that was going on that fateful day in January 1970 when Henry Diltz took the image of the Doors looking through the window of the Morrison Hotel that was to become the cover photo for the album, Morrison Hotel.
What really blows my mind (I’m channeling 1970 right now) is the way things were done back in the day. A band member calls a photographer he knows and tells him he has an idea for an album cover photo. The photographer swings by and picks them up in his VW van. The band piles in and off they go. There’s no PR firm, agent, manager, lighting technician, hair, makeup, assistants….none of that crap! They don’t even have to get a property release from the owner. The band sneaks in, Diltz gets the shot, and they’re out of there.
The light post in the recent picture I took can be seen in the right hand corner of Henry Diltz’s 1970 image. If you line them up, you will be able to tell exactly where it was taken.
The Story by Henry Diltz
|“The Doors called my partner, Gary Burden, and I about doing their next album cover,” Diltz says, settling into an oft-told story, one a bit star-crossed even for Woodstock’s official photographer. “We asked, ‘Do you have a title? Any ideas?’ and no, they didn’t. Ray Manzarek spoke up and said, ‘My wife Dorothy and I were driving downtown the other day and we saw this little hotel called the Morrison.’ We drove down there and took a few shots with just Jim and Ray. We walked into the lobby and they sat behind the window and we shot.”This found-money intersection of the decaying “gentleman’s hotel” on 1246 S. Hope St. (on the corner with Pico) and the last name of the lead singer of L.A.’s most decadent rock act was entirely too good to pass up. By January 1970, downtown was well into a post-WW II decline of its own, attested by the bleakly deco “ROOMS From 2.50” sign just below a recently shaved Jim on the cover of Morrison Hotel, Diltz’s best-known photograph.“A couple of days later we brought the whole band down there,” Diltz goes on. “We parked the VW van and walked in. I told the guy at the desk we were going to take a few photos and it would take but a few minutes and he said we couldn’t without the owner’s permission and the owner wasn’t there. I thought, You’re kidding! It was a transient hotel and it was empty! I saw him leave the desk and get in the elevator. Right on the cover, you can see the lit elevator numbers right under the ‘son’ in ‘Morrison.’ I said ‘Quick you guys, run in there!’ They jumped right behind the windows and hit their places without shuffling and I shot. I shot one roll of film, starting close to the window, and then I backed across [Hope] street with a telephoto lens. So we finished the whole thing in about five minutes and the guy never saw us. We pulled it off though, like a guerrilla photo shoot.”|
Luckily for the album’s conceptual shape, the outing didn’t end there, as Diltz remembers. “As soon as we walked out of that place, Jim said ‘Let’s go get a drink,’ and we went to Skid Row, which I believe was on Sixth Street, where it was all bars and pawnshops. We were trying to pick one and on the corner, we see ‘Hard Rock Café’ and we went in, had beers, and talked to the old winos in there. They loved Jim because he wanted to hear their stories.” Henry snapped pics of the band lounging in the Café s Iceman Cometh ambiance. The bar also lent name to side one on the original LP. “Hard Rock Cafe” is a roughneck boozy suite, commencing with the sweat-haunch carnality of “Roadhouse Blues,” piling into the blissed-out proto-punk of “Waiting For the Sun.”