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REX NELSON: The old resort hotels

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I have long been a fan of old hotels. When I was little, my dad took me to a trade show in Dallas in November every year at the Baker Hotel. With its doormen and elevators, I considered it the height of refinement.

The hotel closed and the downtown Dallas building imploded years ago, but I still use a wooden hanger from there and remember eating my first raw oyster at his restaurant, the Baker’s Dozen.

Trips to Hot Springs at the time meant stopping at the Arlington Hotel to pick up a copy of that day’s Chicago Tribune. Sometimes lunch in the basement cafe followed.

One of my favorite things to do these days is sitting in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and people-watching. Greenville, Mississippi, writer David Cohn was right when he said in 1935: “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg … If you’re standing near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks waddle and sleepy turtles, you’ll see everyone who is anyone in the delta. “

I admit my bias when it comes to hotels. When I think of the iconic structures of Arkansas, most of them – whether it’s the State Capitol in Little Rock or Old Main in Fayetteville – are in the public domain or not for profit. When it comes to private buildings, the two most iconic structures are the Arlington and the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.

I’m not alone. I’ve been blogging since 2009, and the posts that received the most responses were about Arlington. I heard from a lot of people again at the end of October when this newspaper ran an article titled, “Hailed Plans for Hot Springs Hotel: After Years of Waiting, Restoration of Historic Structure Needs to start. “

No plan, mind you, has been announced for desperately needed room renovations. But you have to start somewhere.

In the story, which originally appeared in The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, David Showers wrote: that his president of operations said he was a “significant investment” in the building, which overlooks Central Avenue superior since 1925.

The certificates allow the hotel to apply for building permits to install new windows in all 656 rooms and renovate exterior brick and stucco. In 2017, the city said an engineering report – that the previous owner of the hotel ordered after an unsafe condition notice the city issued the hotel in June 2016 – indicated that ingress of water could cause parts of the exterior to fall. “

Scott Larsen, president of operations for Arlington owner, Sky Capital of San Antonio, said, “The building is going to get a big top-to-bottom bath. Decorative tiles at the top of the building will be left in place and sealed with protection. As we descend from the building, all the items that need to be fixed will be fixed. “

Post Oak Preservation Solutions of Austin, Texas was hired to work on the project. Ellis Mumford-Russell of Post Oak said: “We found that the original color of the stucco was probably some sort of ivory color. Right now it’s pretty yellow. We’re planning to come back with an off-white with a bit of warmth for her, so an ivory or eggshell color. “

This is the third version of the Arlington. During Reconstruction, railroad magnate Samuel Fordyce offered to finance a luxury hotel with Samuel Stitt and William Gaines as business partners. The Arlington was the state’s largest hotel when it was completed in 1875. It was across from Fountain Street from where it is today.

In 1893 the first building was demolished and rebuilt on the same site with more rooms and upgraded amenities. The construction of the elegant Eastman, Majestic and Park hotels in downtown Hot Springs had necessitated an update.

“On April 5, 1923, an employee noticed smoke coming from an electrical panel,” writes Michael Hodge for the Arkansas Encyclopedia of the Central Arkansas Library System. Authorities were alerted as a fire slowly began to spread. William Pinkerton, founder of the famous security service and guest at the time, was so certain the fire would be brought under control that he sat on the veranda and smoked a cigar rather than picking it up. his things. “

Pinkerton lost everything when the fire brought the hotel to the ground.

The current building was completed in November 1924. It was designed by famous architect George Mann and included two Mediterranean-style towers. Now people all over Arkansas are waiting, hoping the San Antonio owner does well with this historic Arkansas structure in need of capital investment.

Unlike Arlington, the Crescent is in its first building. It was built by Eureka Improvement Co. in 1886. The business was run by former Governor Powell Clayton, who purchased 27 wooded acres and hired an architect from St. Louis to build a facility that would stand the test. time.

The building’s 18-inch-thick limestone was carved in a quarry near the White River by Irish workers. The stones were transported to the construction site by specially constructed trains and wagons.

Like Hot Springs, Eureka Springs has drawn visitors in search of healing waters from across the country. Journalists from across the region praised the hotel.

According to a story from the Shiloh Crescent Museum of Ozark History in Springdale: “The cost of this hotel, declared America’s most opulent resort, was $ 294,000. The hotel opened to the public on May 1, 1886, with an open house two weeks later. On May 20, a banquet was held for James G. Blaine, the 1884 Republican presidential candidate.

“The Crescent was successful for many years, but as the economy deteriorated, the hotel only opened during the summer months. The owners formulated a plan to use the facility year round. In 1908 they opened the hotel as an elite girls’ boarding school. school called Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. The college operated from September to June, turning into a hotel during the months. summer.

The college closed in 1924. It reopened in 1929 before closing permanently in 1933. After being closed for several years, the hotel was bought in 1937 by a quack named Norman Baker, who claimed to serve cancer patients. . Baker was convicted of postal fraud in 1940 and the building was empty again. It reopened in 1946 and was billed as the “Castle in the Air, on Top of the Ozarks”.

In 1996, Marty and Elise Roenigk from Connecticut visited Eureka Springs on the advice of a family member. They fell in love with the resort and in February 1997 bought the downtown Basin Park Hotel with the idea of ​​converting its sixth and seventh floors into a two-level apartment. While in town, they also visited the Crescent, which had become dilapidated. The couple also bought this hotel.

They came up with a 10-year plan that included restoring the top floor of the Crescent, which was badly damaged in a fire in 1967. They announced the plan at a huge garden party in May 2000 and then went on to elected domicile on the top floor. Marty was killed in a car accident in 2009. Elise continues to live in the hotel.

The 10-year plan included annual upgrades to 20 rooms. A former servant’s quarters that hadn’t been used for nearly a century has been transformed into four suites, according to plans developed by interior design students at the University of Arkansas.

In 2008, famous architect David McKee designed four two-bedroom cottages that blend into the woods in the style of E. Fay Jones. The cottages on the edge of the Crescent property have become popular with weddings and family groups.

Shortly after arriving at Eureka Springs, the Roenigks hired a veteran manager named Jack Moyer. He has since overseen the Crescent and Basin Park. The Crescent is now touting itself as “America’s most haunted hotel”.


Rex Nelson is editor-in-chief at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.