Friday, May 29

Spook City: Ghost stories elevate otherwise unremarkable experience at Bullocks Wilshire

The Bullocks Wilshire building was a department store in the 1930s, but eventually became the Southwestern Law School. Despite the artistic modernization of the building, some believe the building to be haunted. (Ken Shin/Daily Bruin).

(Claire Sun)

Los Angeles is supposed to be the City of Stars, but once those stars fade, where do they go? Do they stay behind, forever attached to their final location, spooking guests who dare to enter their domain? Or do they just simply disappear? Each week, Daily Bruin columnist Eli Countryman will set out to discover the truth by exploring supposedly haunted places in the Los Angeles area, rating their spookiness so you don’t have to.

The task was simple: find evidence of paranormal activity in the Bullocks Wilshire building.

However, as a college student, I had to first plan a method of transportation to make it to my ghostly meetup. As any skilled ghost hunter knows, Uber works wonders. En route to Bullocks Wilshire, now the Southwestern Law School, my gang of travelers and I discussed the building’s history as our driver Letty played “Monster Mash” to set the mood.

The building was used throughout Prohibition, and its former owner, John G. Bullock, is said to have created secret passages running through the building. Rumor also has it a young girl was once pushed to her death into the elevator shaft while the building was still an elite department store in the 1930s. Seeing as there was no documented evidence, we were prepared for an underwhelming adventure as we pulled up to our destination.

After bidding Letty goodbye – and requesting she call the police if we went missing – the tour began. Hillary Kane, the school’s chief communications and marketing officer, led us through the now-revamped basement, where two manual elevators stood, poorly lit and raised a few centimeters so they do not sit flush with the ground. We traveled to the top floor of the building, where an old-fashioned machine room with the old elevator engines sat in the dim light.

As we entered the elevator, Kane shared her stories of the little ghost girl – who she playfully calls Evelyn – messing with late-night guests. During late nights at work, Kane said she would often enter the elevator and click the button for the fifth floor but would be brought to the second floor instead. “She wants me there,” she joked of the little girl. She made note that the elevators on one side of the hallway were the seemingly cursed ones, often malfunctioning.

Thinking nothing of her story, we entered one of the six elevators and pressed the second-floor button, but quickly changed our tour path to go to the third floor instead. The button briefly lit up but darkened again. After pressing the button two more times, we were finally taken to the third floor. I brushed off the occurrence as a mechanical glitch, despite the coincidental nature of the story Kane had shared moments before – I did not yet know that others would tell me similar stories about the second floor.

Other notable sights were the secret compartments in the dean’s office – hidden within the room’s wooden walls and used to hide alcohol from upstairs parties during the Prohibition era – and the many mirrors scattered throughout a French-themed floor, playing with the shadows in unsettling ways.
The ceiling in certain one portion of the Bullocks Wilshire building emitted a quiet rattling noise, and certain floors had themes based on the original store’s designs – with one floor revolving around French furniture. (Ken Shin/Daily Bruin staff)

After having found no concrete evidence of spectral activity, and only being slightly creeped out by the rattling noise from a certain room’s ceiling, I had become thoroughly convinced there were no ghosts in the area. But as Kane went to switch the lights off for the final room, we toured her personal office, which was a modern room tucked behind a door on the French floor. They would not turn off. Multiple attempts and clicks were met with a still-bright bulb, a sign the little girl wanted Kane to stay, she said. I, however, wanted to leave because the little girl was not my favorite mysterious entity – despite Kane’s insistence that she is actually rather sweet.

We went downstairs to meet with the security guards after the guided tour, sure they would deny any abnormal occurrences. Fortunately, officers Cindy Lopez and David Mendoza were on duty and had stories to tell. Lopez told us she refused to do any more graveyard shifts after a glass door of her office mysteriously shattered one night. She was pregnant at the time, and was the only one in the room, with no external force that should have been affecting the door, she said. Mendoza also pulled up a surveillance video in which a metal-framed food menu in the cafeteria pivoted back and forth about its center before flying to the ground. The instance took place in the middle of the night and there was nobody in the room.

Though maintenance claimed the video could be explained through air flow in the building, Mendoza said the paper only fell one time, even though it’s placed in the same location each day. Air vents also don’t explain other strange happenings that have taken place. Lopez said security footage has captured gym doors opening up even though nobody was in the building, and she heard a piano being played inside a locked room, only to find it unoccupied when she went in.

Allegedly, the Southwestern Law School cycles through its overnight staff quickly – the guards often quit following spooky experiences. Lopez said she doesn’t plan on quitting, but she had plenty of strange nights in the building, including elevator glitches that led her to the second floor, similar to Kane.

The guards’ stories spooked me more than the building itself, but probably because I didn’t stay overnight like they had. One thing was clear: Each of the guards and Kane had separately expressed annoyance with the elevators’ functionality at night, all mentioning the second floor in the process. Maybe the ghost of the little girl is real, after all – maybe she’s lonely.

But I don’t want to find out.

(Pauline Ordonez)


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