I have always been a fan of old hotels. When I was a boy, my father would take me to a trade fair in Dallas every November at the Baker Hotel. With its gate and elevator operators, it considered it the pinnacle of sophistication.
The hotel closed and the building collapsed in downtown Dallas years ago, but I still use a wooden hanger from there and remember eating the first raw oysters at his restaurant, Bakers Dozen.
Flights to Hot Springs at the time meant stopping at the Arlington Hotel to pick up a copy from the Chicago Tribune that day. Sometimes lunch follows in the basement café.
These days, one of my favorite things is to sit in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and people watch. Greenville, Miss., writer David Cohen 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 stand near a fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks sway and turtles roam, you’ll see both Is anyone in the delta.”
I admit my bias when it comes to hotels. When I think of famous Arkansas structures, most of them—whether the Capitol Building in Little Rock or Old Main in Fayetteville—are in the public or nonprofit domain. When it comes to privately owned buildings, the two most popular buildings are the Arlington and Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.
I’m not alone. I’ve been writing a blog since 2009, and the posts that received the most responses were about Arlington. I heard again from a lot of people in late October when this newspaper published an article titled: “Plans Promoted at Hot Springs: After Waiting Years, Restoration of Historic Structure Will Begin.”
No plans, remember, announced for much needed room renovations. But one has to start somewhere.
In the story, originally published in The Sentinel-Record at Hot Springs, David Showers wrote: “The Certificates of Suitability issued by the Hot Springs Historic District Committee to the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa last week gave the hotel the green light to make improvements which its chief operating officer said represented A “significant investment” in the building, which has dominated the top of Central Avenue since 1925.
“The certifications allow the hotel to apply for building permits to install new windows in all 656 guest rooms and to renovate the brick and exterior stucco. In 2017, the city cited an engineering report — the hotel’s previous owner ordered it to be commissioned after a notice of unsafe conditions that the city released the hotel in June.” 2016 – indicated that water penetration may cause parts to fall from the outside.
“The building will have a large bathroom from top to bottom,” said Scott Larsen, chief operating officer of the owner of Arlington Sky Capital in San Antonio. “The textured tiles on the top of the building will be left in place and sealed while keeping the sealant. Items that need repair.
Post Oak Preservation Solutions in Austin, Texas, was contracted to work on the project. Ellis Mumford-Russell of Post Oak said, “We found that the original color of the grout was probably some kind of ivory. It’s completely yellow now. We’re looking forward to going back as off-white with a bit of warmth to being an ivory or eggshell color.”
This is the third version of Arlington. During the reconstruction, railroad magnate Samuel Fordyce offered to finance a luxury hotel with Samuel State and William Gaines as his business partners. The Arlington Hotel was the largest hotel in the state when it was completed in 1875. It was located across Fountain Street from the present site.
In 1893, the first building was demolished and rebuilt on the same site with more guest rooms and increased amenities. The creation of the elegant Eastman, Majestic, and Park hotels in downtown Hot Springs has prompted a necessary update.
“On April 5, 1923, a staff member noticed smoke coming from an electrical panel,” Michael Hodge wrote for the Arkansas Central Library System’s Arkansas Encyclopedia. “The authorities were notified when the fire slowly started to spread. William Pinkerton, founder of the famous security service and guest at the time, was so certain that the fire would be controlled that he sat on the balcony and smoked a cigar rather than retrieve his belongings.”
Pinkerton lost everything when the entire hotel was set on fire.
The current building was completed in November 1924. Designed by famous architect George Mann, it included two Mediterranean-style towers. Now, people all over Arkansas are waiting, hoping the owner of San Antonio will do it right with his historic Arkansas structure in need of capital investment.
Unlike Arlington, Crescent is located in its first building. It was constructed by the Eureka Improvement Company in 1886. The company was headed by former Governor Paul Clayton, who purchased 27 wooded acres and hired a St. Louis architect to build a facility that would stand the test of time.
The building’s 18-inch-thick limestone was carved from a quarry near the White River by Irish workers. The stones were transported to the construction site by specially designed trains and wagons.
Like hot springs, Eureka Springs has drawn visitors in search of healing waters from all over the country. Newspaper writers across the region praised the hotel.
According to Crescent History from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale: “This hotel, advertised as America’s most luxurious resort, cost $294,000. The hotel opened to the public on May 1, 1886, with a house opening two weeks later, and on May 20 a banquet was held. To James J. Blaine, the 1884 Republican presidential candidate.
“The Crescent enjoyed success for many years, but as the economic situation worsened, the hotel opened for business only during the summer months. The owners made a plan to use the facility all year round. In 1908, they opened the hotel as an elitist girls’ school. A school called Crescent College and Conservatory for Girls. The college operates from September through June, and converted into a hotel during the summer months.”
The college closed in 1924. It opened again in 1929 before closing for good in 1933. After being closed for several years, the hotel was bought in 1937 by a charlatan named Norman Baker, who claimed to serve cancer patients. Becker was convicted of mail fraud in 1940, and the building was once again empty. It reopened in 1946 and was called “Castle in the Air, Highest Peak of the Ozarks”.
In 1996, Connecticut’s Marty and Elise Roenick visited Eureka Springs on the advice of a family member. They fell in love with the resort town and in February 1997 they bought the Basin Park Hotel downtown with the idea of converting the 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 upper floor of the Crescent, which was badly damaged in the 1967 fire. They announced the plan at a massive garden party in May 2000 and then took up their residence on that upper floor. Marty was killed in a car accident in 2009. Elise still lives in the hotel.
The 10-year plan included annual upgrades to 20 rooms. Former servants’ residences that had not been in use for nearly a century have been converted into four suites, using plans drawn up by interior design students at the University of Arkansas.
In 2008, acclaimed architect David Mackey designed four two-bedroom cottages that blend into the woods in the style of E. Fay Jones. Cottages on the edge of the Crescent estate have become popular with wedding parties and family groups.
Shortly after they came to Eureka Springs, Ronigkes hired a veteran manager named Jack Muir. Since then he has supervised the Crescent and Garden. The Crescent now advertises itself as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel”.
Rex Nelson is a senior editor for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.