Santa Monica police closed a stretch of Ocean Avenue after a suspicious suitcase was found in the Georgian Hotel on Monday morning. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

OCEAN AVE — An abandoned suitcase that forced the evacuation of the Georgian Hotel and nearby buildings for nearly four hours on Monday was determined to be harmless, Santa Monica police said.

The suitcase was left in the Ocean Avenue hotel at approximately 9:30 a.m. by a man who said he was leaving it for a person staying at the establishment. Hotel employees said that no name matching that person was on the hotel’s registry, prompting the man to flee. Alarmed by the incident, staff members called the police who ultimately called in the L.A. County Sheriff’s bomb squad to investigate the situation, SMPD spokesman Sgt. Richard Lewis said.

The 1400 block of Ocean Avenue was closed to traffic as a precaution and the hotel and parts of nearby buildings were evacuated, including the Senior Center across the street in Palisades Park.

The evacuations came just as the Senior Center was preparing to serve free lunch, forcing nearly 55 seniors and five staff members to flee the building, employees said.

People attempting to return to the cordoned off block of Ocean Avenue began to gather at the corner of Broadway hoping to learn when they would be allowed to re-enter the area.

The manager of the Ocean View and Shore hotels, Robert Farzam, was trying to gain access to the Ocean View when he was told by police on the scene that nobody was allowed past the perimeter.

Farzam said that guests and staff remained in the building during the incident, but was assured by an employee that they were safe while they waited for the all-clear from authorities.

“We have pretty good security,” Farzam said. “I’m sure they are handling the situation.”

The suitcase was ruled harmless by bomb squad personnel after an X-ray determined that clothes and other personal items were inside. They would later destroy it with a high-powered water canon.

It made a loud boom when the canon was discharged, alarming the small group gathered beyond the police tape. Officers were quick to assure the crowd that the sound was not an explosion.

Police are now searching for the man who left the suitcase behind, calling him a white male in his 40s, weighing 180 pounds and standing 5-foot-10.

“We’ll be looking at surveillance video,” Lewis said. “But, we’re not sure if it was a crime at all.”

Traffic was allowed back in the area at approximately 1:30 p.m.

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