A squalid West Anaheim motel that was a locus of human trafficking, prostitution, illegal drug use, and criminality has been shut down by city authorities, who described conditions at the Covered Wagon Motel as “inhumane” and “deplorable.”

A team of about 20 city officials descended on the Covered Wagon on March 29. The officials came from various city departments: Planning & Building, Code Enforcement, Anaheim Police, City Attorney’s Office, and city administration. They were accompanied by City Net outreach workers from the Community Care and Response Team.

Approximately 25 people were living in the Covered Wagon, including families and seniors. They were paying between $1,000 and $2,000 a month in cash, using an ATM in the motel lobby. Some residents were living in rooms that were boarded up. One man paid $1,000 a month to live in a storage container at the north end of the property.

According to sources, the team encountered conditions in the dingy 70-room motel they described as horrifying. The property is split between north and south sides. Most of the north side rooms are boarded up and unfit for occupancy, according to the city.

Officials found human waste and filth in the ruined motel rooms, and often were littered with drug paraphernalia. The occupants of one room fled upon the arrival of city officials, leaving behind syringes, pipes, drug tinfoil, knives, and stolen gift cards.

When city officials knocked on the door of one room, it was answered by a young child who was crying because his mother had been gone for hours.

The city “red-tagged” the dilapidated Covered Wagon Motel for a raft of public health and safety violations including, open electrical wiring, water leaks, sewage problems, no smoke detectors, mold, filth, and squalor.

The red-tagging is part of a city effort to address issues with motels on Beach Boulevard and ensure they are operating safely and according to basic standards, according to city spokesman Michael Lyster.

“While some motels operate well, others contribute to serious problems on Beach, including human trafficking and prostitution, chronic drug use including fentanyl and methamphetamine, and illegal gambling,” said Lyster.

The onsite restaurant, Christi’s, is owned separately and will continue to operate. Officials from Code Enforcement and the Orange County Health Care Agency visited the restaurant on March 31, and are evaluating its continued operation.

Motel Residents Relocated

In the days before the red-tagging, city officials were able to relocate five families living at the motel. After the property was shuttered, the city relocated the remaining residents using motel vouchers – except those who were engaged in criminal activity. Voucher recipients were screened for long-term residency.

“The red-tagging and clearing was a balancing act of need to clear inhumane and unsafe conditions while also working to relocate people in a human and orderly way,” said city spokesman Michael Lyster in response to inquiries.

The city has secured the property with security, floodlights, and cameras. The motel owner has filed with the city for a demolition permit.

“I am incredibly grateful to the team that has been working all week at the Covered Wagon,” said District 1 Councilman Jose Diaz.

“Thank you to our amazing staff from nearly every department at City Hall – from the Anaheim Police Department to code enforcement and public works, and so many more,” said Diaz. “And a special thank you to our partners including City Net and Be Well OC. You have all shown such dedication to improving the lives of those relocated from the motel as well as all Anaheim residents living nearby.”

From Mid-Century Modern Glory To Crime Haven

The Covered Wagon Motel began as The Bahia Motel in 1961, one of a string of Polynesian and Googie-style motels that dotted Beach Boulevard. They were classics of mid-century modern style and destinations for vacationing families visiting Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm during Orange County’s decades of booming growth.

Like other Beach Boulevard motels, it went into decline in the 1990s as the boulevard itself became a center of illicit activity. As recently as 2013, owners of these motels mounted a vain effort to improve their image and clientele.

“This is the most disgusting, filthy, no linens, toilet paper, towels and full of roaches!!!!,” reads a December 1, 2021 Yelp review. “The wi-fi doesn’t work, no hot water, air conditioner doesn’t work, and the female owner has the people who live here fix whatever needs repaired – which is everything. Code enforcement needs to called to come look at this place.”

“This motel is a hangout for drug users/dealers, criminals and prostitutes, Not a safe or clean place to stay. If you have to advertise that you are bed bug free, then that spells problems. DO NOT STAY HERE,” reads a 2015 review.

The city is engaged in a determined effort to finally revitalize the historic corridor.

“Long term, our planning calls for the redevelopment of the 1.5 miles Beach running through Anaheim with new apartments and townhomes, sidewalk businesses and as an inviting, walkable street,” said Lyster.

Last year, the city acquired and demolished the Americana Motel. It was the third run-down Beach Boulevard motel to be cleared: the Silver Moon Motel was torn down in 2002, and Lindy’s Motel met its end in 2017.

This weekend, leasing offices opened for Nolin, a new 65-townhome community going up at northeast Beach and Lincoln.