Southwest Detroit's Hotel Yorba

Detroit, Michigan (Map)

Spring 2015



Finding myself home around Donnie's birthday, it was obvious we were going to head over to Detroit to spend the night. After a late start to the day, it would follow the standard pattern of late - heading over to the west side to grab some Elmer's Hamburgers before anything else.

hotel far street

That would be where the standard day would stop as Donnie had read somewhere that the Hotel Yorba still rents rooms. Long obsessed with the I-75 and Southwest Detroit landmark, he finally had a favourable answer to the question he always asked me, about what was going on in terms of it being a hotel.

So this is where we would be staying tonight, alongside long-term rentals and permanant residents, and possibly even, men who had just been released on parole and had nowhere to go. (Unbeknownst to us at the time, the Hotel Yorba stopped being a parole release point sometime in the last 5 years, apparently.)

hotel close showing vertical sign

Donnie & I were tasked with going inside, while Steve waited out in the car.

There were a few people in the vestibule, but they didn't seem to be too concerned with us. While people could look out of place in this area, I figured enough fans of the White Stripes stop here to make it normal.

You see in addition to being a pillar where I-75 curves south after the Ambassador Bridge, the Hotel Yorba is more well-known from being on the cover of the White Stripes first hit album, titled Hotel Yorba. Of course growing up in the area, I had heard The White Stripes plenty on 89x, but apparently there was even a Hotel Yorba-titled song that was their first step to fame before Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground.

Reading the online reviews of the Hotel Yorba now, I'm happy that I didn't read them before this day in April. It seems like a lot of White Stripes fans come and ask about the pool and the copious amounts of vacancy that are referenced in the song. I can only imagine that the desk clerk or owner grew tired of the joke about 10 years ago. (Then again, I don't see many pictures showing any of these people actually going inside. Regardless, one reviewer says that she tried to stay here & was told that they no longer welcome White Stripes fans? This seems fishy considering how it went for us.)

front entryway

Stunning wood doors and complimentary windows led into a lobby that was entirely modest in comparison. Stepping inside, there were a few people in the vestibule, with a few coming and going from the adequate lobby area. Where I thought we were going to be questioned, it was almost eerie how quiet the residents were & how little they cared about us. I suppose one lady broke that silence, making crude "locker room" jokes that would make even piggish Trump blush. She wasn't making them towards us though, so it was more hilarious than anything.

Approaching the glass enclosure that held the hotel proprietor, I stretched my neck and studied her space, finding mail boxes for each room that looked like they hadn't changed since the place opened in 1923. Various candies & toiletries were for sale & an old tube TV hummed along.

"You need to get 2 rooms." we were told bluntly. Donnie tried to reason with the woman that we didn't care about sleeping wherever & that the 3 of us could share a room. "No. You will not. We had two brothers staying in a room a little while ago & they fought one another. So, now, we don't rent out 3 people to a room."

The logic escaped us in terms of there being a problem with 2 brothers that now made a policy for 3-people stays. We were determined to get a room however, so we didn't try to find the reason behind much of anything. Another example was that once we decided on two rooms and handed her the right amount of money, she then said she needed 5 more dollars and would give us 3 back. "But we have $2 right here." "No, give me the $5 and I'll bring you back $3." Again, confusion between Donnie & I as we looked at each other with raised brows. The crass woman yelled another comment at a man leaving the lobby. The two of us stood there for another 5 minutes, thinking that something would come up & prevent us from staying here, but just then, the woman finished up and handed us three singles.

One last thing was that Donnie had to leave his I.D. at the front desk. This amused me more than anything, mostly because it made him really uncomfortable throughout the rest of the night.

house jeffer showing more

We went back outside all wide-eyed and talkative, sharing with Steve the confusing experience of being in that lobby & acquiring a room. Steve tried to talk about people walking around outside, but was quickly talked over by Don.

sunset showing turret dome

We went back out into the evening and hit up this old house-turned-seniors complex on Jefferson, now with Nailhed alongside. The old home was awesome and if it wasn't for the setting sun and the 40s inhibiting my photography skills, I'd probably make a standalone update for the place. Regardless, we hung out on old furniture in the attic and sipped 40s, while wandering outside the odd time & trying to stay out of view of the Big Boy, nearby apartment complex and nearby funeral home.

in transportation bldg

We also checked out this old Department of Transportation warehouse in Southwest; pulling the whip right into the building.

But of course Nailhed wanted to get over & check out the Hotel Yorba himself. We didn't stay at the warehouse for long.

fire doors

Heavy fire doors leading into our hallway.

For all of the worry about bringing Nailhed inside and having a 4th person in our party passing the critical front desk lady, we had turned and were through these doors safely in no time.

horse blanket

Back when we checked in, our two options for rooms were $35 for a room with a bathroom or $25 for a room without a bathroom. Donnie took one of the rooms without a bathroom for himself, which instead of a bathroom, came with an in-room sink and an amazing horse blanket!

I wish I could remember 5% of the things Steve was going on about the horse blanket, but my God did he love that blanket. For the next half hour I think we carried on about the hilarity of a horse blanket not only in a house, but in a hotel. (There's a bit of an inside joke here too involving majestic creatures on blankets - wolves, eagles, horses, etc.) We were laughing and carrying on to the point that I thought we were going to be reprimanded, but no one came by.

Don was going to sleep well with his horse blanket.

our room with the hallway

I splurged on a bathroom room for Steve and I.

hallway mensbath

The toilet was clogged from the get-go & I simply ended up using the shared bath in the hallway. Which was fine because I liked them anyway (there were also weird, small rooms that seemed like they added a toilet to a closet. These didn't hold the same charm.)

Our room also had a microwave and a fridge! Now I've stayed in some pretty decent places that didn't even have a fridge, but I guess I don't know if fridges are out of vogue and the moneyed folk who stay in expensive hotels cherish throwing out their food? lol. Myself, I always appreciate a hotel/motel fridge.

blue doors in our room

While Donnie didn't seem impressed with the rooms, Steve and I lazed about in our room of blue doors and courtyard views. The windows were wooden, old & heavy; clearly unlikely to have been renovated since this place opened. I don't remember Donnie's room having a window, but I could be mistaken.

And while Donnie was unimpressed, I stood quite impressed. I actually even enjoyed the place, as it reminded me of hotels I stayed at in New Zealand. Wooden, creaky floors, small rooms, good rates - this place had everything I loved about those New Zealand hotels! Hotels like this being a big reason why I liked the land of kiwis so much.

hallway showing toilet

Back to The White Stripes for a second. They also claim that their title track was recorded here in room 206, something I hadn't previously researched to go check out. By the time they got around to making the song's video, there's only about 5 seconds of footage from either in front of the building or alongside, since White Stripes front man Jack White says that they're banned from the actual building for some reason.

As for why Jack White was so obsessed with the Hotel Yorba, it's because he grew up near here & had heard rumours throughout his childhood about The Beatles staying here. He'd later come to learn he'd only heard the old "oh, said famous person stayed at that hotel back in the day!" fable, as The Beatles never actually stayed at the Hotel Yorba.

staircase walking

It's rare enough to find the steel skeleton that used to hold roof letters in Detroit, but the Hotel Yorba prominently still spells out its name to millions of passersby on I-75.

Of course this is something we wanted to sneakily go check out. The rooms were left behind and we dived into the maze of staircases and hallways that is this place. Throughout the exploratory walkthrough, we didn't hear or see very many people, even as we probably weren't being the quietest. Maybe if you live in a place like this, you grow to ignore random hallway noise.

courtyard ladder fence

Donnie & I split off from Nailhed and Steve at one point, trying to get to the side of the building and up this certain staircase. Opening up a door into a courtyard, there was the thought of maybe there being a fire escape, but no thought of the door closing behind us.

The two of us looked at each other at the same time, realizing what just happened. Hoping that it wasn't locked, of course it was locked on the courtyard side. So now we had found ourselves 6 stories down in this u-shaped courtyard, with a giant fence on the end. There was nothing around to climb or scurry up either.

It was only once we got near the fence, that we discovered there was a brick passageway to the other courtyard. And once we walked into there, voila! There was a ladder lying on its side in the corridor. Leaning it on the fence, the two of us took turns skeptically climbing the old wooden bars, then balancing on the fence top and dropping down.

We'd land off the fence with the same fear as when the door closed. Instead of there being an alleyway behind the Hotel Yorba, it is directly back-on to a house. A house which we dropped into the backyard. There was an initial pause and hope that no dog was present to attack us in this enclosed area, before we then hurried to the quickest fence and out of there. Neither of us were keen on hanging about a backyard in a rough area, where people have to be able to defend their property by any means necessary.

zug night

We went back out after that, cruising around Mexicantown and Delray.

my our room morning

Come morning, Steve & I both had a pretty good night's sleep in our $35 room, if not for it only being a little short on the sleep part. Donnie apparently didn't care for his lonely, $25 room, so he went and slept in the car before finally growing tired of that & deciding to come disturb us. WTF, I was having a good sleep here!

The funniest thing was how bothered Donnie was by the whole experience. He wanted no further part of being in the Hotel Yorba, but didn't really have much explanation. Also, he sure didn't look impressed when I told him I'd probably think about staying here again if I needed a room in Detroit sometime. Heck, I was disappointed he didn't like it because it would have meant dollars saved and a new reliable place to stay now that they renovated the Corktown Inn.

lobby pop machines

Donnie would retrieve his i.d. without incident.

For all the sheltered nonsense I talk about wondering if people are going to bother me, I was taking pictures outside of the entryway & old sign this morning, when a nice man came out of the hotel and remarked on the pleasant, old yellow sign. I agreed with him, we exchanged smiles & he went on his way.

From what I saw, the Hotel Yorba provides a clean place with reasonable rates for those who need it (full disclosure: I know nothing about the passing man's life; whether he needs the Yorba or not, whether he struggles, whatever. To know those things, I'd have to do more than stay one night gaining some superficial impression.

grits chili omellette

Breakfast was a chili omelette with a side of grits. As I long for obtainable Detroit chili, this was a nice reward for a winter of shovelling.

dray church

We'd cruise around a bit this morning since we had plans to stay here for 2 days and 1 night. Like always though, we get worn out and cut time short. I knew this could be my last time in Detroit until December 2015, so I bothered my friends to drive around a bit, checking out this old church in Delray, as well as the swath of land that the new bridge might wipe out.

victorians park ave eddystone

Lastly, we went downtown to check out the site of the new Little Caesars Arena, which at the time was being held up as Illitch wanted to destroy both the Hotel Eddystone & Park Avenue Hotel (the two skyscrapers in the back). He would win half the battle by being allowed to destroy the Park Avenue Hotel in order to build loading docks, but amazingly the Hotel Eddystone is supposed to be included in this "District Detroit" thing that's supposed to span 50 blocks around the $5 Hot N' Ready Are...I mean Little Caesars Arena.

little caesars arena

Today they were getting close to knocking down a few last 2-story buildings that stood directly in the footprint of the new arena. If you were to climb this same fence today (Oct 2016), the entire scene would be dominated by a new, gigantic ice palace.


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1 - Detroit's Historic Hotels and Restaurants By Patricia Ibbotson, 2007
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