Hotel Yara

Hotel Yara (1946)

Every hotel has its hallmark. In this case, it’s the property’s name, plethoric with symbolism and patriotism for Cubans, although, the property was actually named after Josefa Luz Carballo Benet’s nickname, since she was born on October 10, 1901, and was also the wife of Arganza, the owner.

Every hotel has its hallmark. In this case, it’s the property’s name, plethoric with symbolism and patriotism for Cubans, although, the property was actually named after Josefa Luz Carballo Benet’s nickname, since she was born on October 10, 1901, and was also the wife of Arganza, the owner.

The property is located at Contreras No. 45, between Jovellanos and Ayuntamiento streets. As is the case of many hotels in the city, the edifice was not built specifically as a hotel, as expressed in the First Registration of the property, which indicates the existence on this site, in 1858, of two stone masonry houses with tile roofs, marked with the numbers 45 and 47. Later, according to the title deed dated September 6, 1884, Mr. Navarro built another stone masonry building with roof, on the plot of land where both houses had originally stood, marked with number 45.

hotel-yaraHotel Yara en la actualidad

Erected during 1858 and 1884, the building is considered a work of the second half of the nineteenth century. According to Joaquin E. Weiss in his book on Cuban colonial architecture: “[…] it is one of the best and elaborate classic structures, with striated pilasters, well defined cornices crowning the windows, and a Dorian frieze whose metopes are decorated with Greco-Roman style reliefs.”

The house was inhabited, during different periods, in the following order: first by Alvaro Lavastida, member of an honorable family; then by Governor Victor de Armas, Fernando Lles, a prominent writer and philosopher from Matanzas (his daughters continued to live there until Casimiro Arganza and Manuel Castanon, proprietors of La Sortija department store, bought the property). In 1945, Casimiro bought Castanon’s share and rebuilt the property as a hotel catering especially to traveling salesmen. The hotel began operating in June 1946, according to the date jotted down in Yara´s missal, which later passed on to her sister Maria Luisa (Chona), who until recently considered 1945 as the year of its inauguration until one day, while leafing through the missal, she discovered that her sister had recorded the date of the event.

Due to a strange coincidence, two of Cuba’s foremost women poets, Dulce Maria Loynaz and Carlilda Oliver Labra, lived intense moments of great passion in the hotel: the first, during her honeymoon with Pablo Alvarez de Cana, a social columnist of La Marina daily; and the second, possibly the site of a amorous suicide pact with Hugo Ania, or perhaps something more, as she later recognized in the book Cinco noches con Carilda (Five Nights with Carilda) by Vicente Gonzalez Castro, that “he had rented the room for a reason that had nothing to do with suicide and I did not accept it.” Carilda defined the hotel as “small, though very pretty.”

When Fidel entered Matanzas in January 1959, the rebel soldiers were accommodated in the hotel. Chona still has photos of that moment and revealed that because the hotel was very close to the city hall, the chickens that Fidel and his entourage ate were cooked there.

The hotel was nationalized in 1968, together with Hotel Dos Amigos, by Francisco Diaz, director of the Instituto Nacional de Turismo (National Tourism Institute – INIT), who had received instructions on how to treat the owner, since she was a very amiable widow. At the time, the hotel had one employee and only offered accommodation, not meals. The owner calmly accepted the state’s intervention and asked to be compensated, since the hotel was her only source of income. This was done to her satisfaction; however she did not receive all the installments, due to her demise.

During the period following the state’s intervention, the hotel began to exhibit the same dire state of disrepair as other properties. Word has it that the popular duo Las Hermanas Marti had to move out because of its poor conditions. In 1986-87, it was refurbished and turned into a school hotel.

The spatial distribution of Hotel Yara is very similar to that of Hotel Louvre. All related services – lobby, bar, restaurant, kitchen – are on the ground floor while the rooms are situated on the top floor, connected by a gallery or continuous balconies, with wrought iron railing surrounding a central patio,. The presence of semicircular arches in the areas adjoining the patio is also typical, as are the screens which prevent guests from entering the restaurant from the lobby.

The central patio is divided by a wide gallery or corridor with by rooms.

The woodwork consists of panel doors combined with French blinds, according to the case, with large skylights covering the arches.

Baseboards and railings are used to differentiate the various rooms.

The lobby has a marble staircase with iron banister leading to the rooms.

At the end of the ground floor, small iron stairs lead to a third level with three rooms, independent from the rest, built over the planking roof with wooden beams. Presumably, the rooms were added later, together with an iron spiral staircase which allows access to the roof.

Two bronze doorknockers in the form of large hands are noteworthy elements of the building, as well as the excellent nineteenth century glazed ceramic tiles, glassworks with exquisite design, especially those set in the semi-circular arch, and the wrought iron staircase, of which there are only a few examples in the city and therefore considered a rarity. The spiral staircase leading to the roof (also in cast iron), is also considered valuable, despite of the existence of others very similar, for example, the one in the Provincial Library.

The difficult economic situation in the country, following the fall of the socialist block and the beginning of the “special period” in 1990, caused the deterioration of services and the neglect of the hotel’s facilities, eventually leading to its closure. As the Velasco and Dos Amigos hotels, the Hotel Yara does not offer hotel services. Yara and Velasco hotels have been included in future reconstruction programs.