Silver Lake’s Olive Motel draws notoriety of a different kind

"Olive Motel" by William Leavitt | Courtesy of Margo Leavin Gallery

By Lea Lion

Over the years, the Olive Motel in Silver Lake has gained notoriety for many things, including being the site of the 2007 murder of 15-year-old runaway. But the motel also found fame in artistic circles when local artist William Leavitt immortalized it on canvas in 1995. Now you can see Leavitt’s painting “Olive Motel” as part of “William Leavitt: Theater Objects” at MOCA Grand Avenue through July 3.

When Leavitt moved to Silver Lake from the mid-Wilshire district more than 15 years ago, he was struck by the neighborhood’s architecture and it was not long before the Streamline Moderne-style motel on Sunset Boulevard near Occidental Avenue caught his eye.

“I would go by that spot on Sunset, where the Olive Motel was, and then one day I took a picture of it because I record – well, I guess they are not really monuments – but buildings that are interesting to me and I liked the name, and its semi-Moderne architecture,” Leavitt said. “It had something of an older L.A., when maybe Sunset Boulevard was in between two places.”

Built in 1946, the Olive Motel’s signature rounded walls and green neon sign have left their mark on the collective imagination of the neighborhood. While many passersby have doubtlessly wanted to spiff it up with a fresh coat of paint, Leavitt prefers to put his paint on canvas.

“I like it the way it is. I like that there is a small driveway going back in to where the units are,” he said. “And to be honest, I’ve never gone back there or really looked in there. It’s slightly sleazy or something. It could be just perfectly fine. I don’t know. But I think that it is a little preserve of some other world going on there.”

The Olive Motel is not the only familiar sight in the show. “Hillside Lights (Incandescent)” depicts a panorama of Midcentury Modern-style houses nestled into a hillside and “Silverlake Garage and Carport” shows, well, just that. There are also plenty of lawn chairs, banana palms and sliding glass doors.

Leavitt’s penchant for Southern California architecture begs the question: What building will he immortalize next? While he doesn’t have a specific landmark in mind, he does have his eye on a few post-war apartment buildings with cut field stone decoration.

“There’s a kind of cheese factor here in terms of architecture that appeals to me,” he said.


  1. Sorry to go all buzzkilly over what is Leavitt’s wonderful representation of the place, but as someone who lives a 500-foot straight line away from the Olive Motel, I have never once seen an occupant of a car that excretes itself onto Sunset Bouleveard from the butthole of that hellhole that is up to any good.

  2. John Register also did a number of paintings of the Olive Motel that are very cool, I couldn’t find any online to link to. Just thought I’d mention it.

  3. Didn’t know about the 15 yo runaway, that aint cool.

    Much prefer the “stolen bike ring/heroin/counterfeiting” operation that was running out of that place.

  4. This place has been bad news for years. Interestingly it’s probably considered historically significant because it’s on the old Route 66 corridor. The Interior Dept did a study a number of years back and listed a number of building types that were emblematic of the corridor. Among them, roadside motels, of which the Olive is a great example — if only it had different owners.

  5. I too love the moderne architecture and general noir quality of this motel, but I must say it gives me the creeps like few other places in the city. If I have to walk by I find myself almost holding my breath involuntarily. It was totally unsurprising when it was discovered that the young girl was murdered here…

    I do like the painting though – it’s strange to see it depicted as almost peaceful and inviting.

  6. The Olive Motel would be an another amazing Shelter Social Club property. They seem to have a knack for weeding out the rift raft with their updated Inn’s.

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