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Cover image courtesy of the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection.

If you’re driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles (or vice versa), about halfway in-between the two cities is the census designated area of Baker, California.

Both in place and name, Baker is the result of the railroad; in 1908, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad built a train station here and named it after Richard C. Baker. Along with his business partner Frances Marion Smith, Baker helped build the railroad and would later become its president.

After I-15 was built in 1957, Baker became the perfect stop between Southern California and Las Vegas. As a result, motels, restaurants, and gas stations started popping up all around the small town that now billed itself as “The Gateway to Death Valley”. One of those motels was Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel.

Aloha From the Desert

Picture postcard of Arne's Royal Hawaiian Motel back in its heyday.
Postcard from Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel back in it’s heyday, c. mid-1970s. Public Domain.

The tiki-themed Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel opened in 1957, right around the same time as the interstate. During its run, the 43-room motel featured much appreciated amenities for those driving across the desert like air conditioning and not one, but two pools! There was also color TV, kitchenettes, tennis courts and a recreation room. Right across the street was a restaurant that was open 24 hours.

As the I-15 expanded and Las Vegas started building more and more glitzy hotels, people just didn’t stop in Baker like they used to. Still, the Royal Hawaiian hung on. When the Great Recession hit in 2007, however, well, it just couldn’t hang on anymore. (To be fair, however, Great Recession or not, the motel was probably on its last legs anyway. According to Yelp reviews from the time, guests complained of mold, water stained ceilings, rusty pipes in bathrooms…you get the picture.)

The Royal Hawaiian closed its doors in 2009 and has sat abandoned ever since.

Aloha Also Means Goodbye

Picture of abandoned Arne's Royal Hawaiian Motel, today.
The abandoned Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel today.                Image: el-toro, CC by 2.0, via flickr.

After falling victim to vandals over the years since it closed, the motel today is just the bare-bones of its former self. The interior of the office lies nearly stripped bare, though the beautiful Polynesian-inspired wood roof still remains. (And, by the way, it looks very similar to the roof of a chain of certain pecan shops that once dotted the highways).

One of the pools is filled in while the other sits as empty and dank looking as a drained sink in an abandoned house. In the rooms, furniture is gone or lies in broken heaps on the floor, walls have been torn out exposing plumbing and broken toilets, and nearly every window is broken.

Nevertheless, even in this shape, the motel still gets visitors. There are vagrants and transients who don’t mind sleeping in the rubble of an open-air room. Then there are road trippers like Adam the Woo who stop by to explore what has become a roadside attraction of sorts (and the nearby “World’s Largest Thermometer”, too). And of course, there are the countless urban explorers who stop by to take a quick peek and a few pics to upload on social media.

Today, the motel is still for sale as it has been since 2009.  Realtors have assessed the land at $214,808 and calculate that improvements will set you back another $243,533. So, if your dream has always been to own a tiki-themed motel at the gateway to the Death Valley and you got half million dollars just lying around, here’s your chance to make that dream come true.

Photo of a t-shirt that reads "Stuckey's. Eat here and Get Gas!"
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Whether it’s checking out an abandoned motel in the middle of the desert or you’re headed to an extravagant hotel along the Florida coast, be sure to take some Stuckey’s along for the ride.

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Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!

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Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!