|City/Town: • Warren|
|Location Class: • Hotel/Motel • Theater|
|Built: • 1916 | Abandoned: • 1970's|
|Status: • Endangered • For Sale|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Caitlen Taylor|
There are some buildings in this world that have a lot more than just 4 walls an opening date and some history. The Coker Hotel in Warren Arkansas may look like an old, abandoned building but the contents found within the structure and personal stories local residents have made here tells quite the story. This hotel once roomed some of Arkansas’s uprising stars. Going upstairs one can still find records, a library, and multiple rooms still occupied with the memories of 20 years gone.
Hotel needed for a growing town
From 1890 to 1910 the population increased from just under 500 to over 2,000 because Warren found itself in the middle boom in the industry of timber. That’s when the town saw an increase in economic needs, including a hotel. Opening day at the original Coker Hotel was a big attention grabber for the fast growing population in 1914. The building was located on Main street. In 1916, the it was completely destroyed by a fire. Later in 1916, it was rebuilt in its current location. This two story “L” shaped building was built by Philip and Fannie Coker whose hope was to house the incoming travelers and visitors to Warren and Bradley County. Many guests came in and out of the Hotel enjoying their stay for over half a century. The rooms had shared bathrooms on each floor and the wood framing and panelling was a sight to see.
P.W. Coker, owner and manager of the Coker hotel, has a reputation as able hotel man who knows how to please patrons. The Coker hotel is a modern 2 story brick building with all the conveniences and comforts found in the up-to-date establishments of this character. The quality of the meals served are widely known over this part of the state due to the habit that traveling men have of telling the inside facts about “hotels they have known,” wherever they go. The fact that the Coker hotel enjoys a good patronage is indicated of Mr. Coker’s success in his line of business. Mr. Coker was born in Drew County near Monticello, but came to Warren in 1904 and has been in the hotel business here since that time. – News Clipping (1916) from Tamara Jolley’s collection
Fire at Warren Destroys 5 Business Buildings
On 4/30/1916, 25 guests staying in the Coker Hotel were forced to evacuate “in their night cloths” as a fire spread across downtown. A business down the street first noticed the flames in their poolroom, which was owned by W.K. Workman. The hotel was nearly destroyed and Mr. Coker suffered nearly $10,000 in damages. Other companies that were affected by the fire included;
- Stoker Photo Gallery,
- Watt Orton’s Meat Market,
- E.M. Reynolds, 4 pool tables
- Company I, First regiment, Arkansas National Guard Armory,
- W.K. Workman’s Poolroom
All documents were destroyed in the fire and the earliest documents of the hotel date back to 1916, when the hotel was rebuilt.
Letters and contents found with-in
For almost 2 decades, the inside the building was a time-capsule full of documents, furniture and other historic items that were quickly becoming a victim of water damage and age. A few years ago, the most recent owner, Betty Lathan and her daughter Tamara Jolley, sold most of the contents for a nominal price to ensure that they were removed before further deterioration occurred. In the process of removing the items, a lifetime of artifacts and memorabilia were found. Correspondence was found dating back to the early 1940’s from a son to his mother, who owned the business. Jolley did tremendous work and spent hours researching and selling the contents within this historic treasure.
“When the Harvey [last owner from operation] passed away and we went in, it was in fairly good shape, but as time went on every time I went in something else was wrong or starting to fall in.” Jolley mentioned. “The last thing I wanted was to see everything destroyed, every-time I went in I found something knew. Hopefully the buyers will give the items will be taken care of in a new home.”
Finding these letters /newspaper articles were able to help Jolley piece together the timeline and family tree of the Cokers. P.W. Coker and Fannie Rowlette Coker had two daughters, Corinne and Kate. Kate married a gentlemen by the name of Frank Cash. Shortly after they were married, they had one son named Ted.
Corinne would help carry on the Coker Hotel name and graduated from Warren High School on May 22nd, 1914. She then attended Henderson Brown College where she graduated on May 31st, 1916. She was one of Warren’s most highly esteemed young ladies and a popular teacher in the schools for quite some time. Corrine married Harvey Donegan, Sr, a traveling salesman from New Orleans, on June 30, 1920 in the lobby of the Coker Hotel. They were married for 18 years and had one son, Harvey Donegan, Jr. They took over the Hotel until, Harvey Sr. unfortunately died on December 22nd, 1938 from unknown causes at the Coker Hotel. Corinne never remarried and ran the hotel after her parent’s death and a steady population decrease in Warren, closing the doors in the late 1970’s.
Letters began with their son Harvey Donegan, Jr. entering college at the University of Arkansas in 1946. The son moved New York in 1954 at the age of 25 years, and he only planned to live there until his first book was published. He graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree and then transferred to Northwestern where he received a Master Degree in Journalism. He served in the Marines for a short period of time. The publishing of his book never transpired and he remained in New York until his death. Many Artifacts, art, posters, historic pieces and influential people were mentioned in his letters and authenticate some of the items historic relevance that are present in this sale. He was a very flamboyant, artistic and eccentric man as can be seen by the diverse artifacts that were recovered in the structure. He frequented operas, plays, musicals ad concerts and memorabilia from most. The method of transportation and or how the materials made it back to Arkansas is unknown. He was friends with such names a Sheldon Harnick, Gore Vidal, Larry Stanton, David Hockney, Andy Brown, Del Shorter, Steve Phillips, Jim Zver and Gordon Lee Boyd. Early publications of Andy Warhol’s paper, the “Interview”, many rough sketchings from Larry Stanton, cards signed by his friends and letters from Gore Vidal were uncovered.
Betty Lathan can still remember her time at the Coker and now that she owns the building, she is hopeful that somehow it can be preserved for future generations. “When I was a little bitty girl, my grandparents sold eggs, milk and butter there. I remember pulling up in my grandfather’s red truck and these ladies would come out just sweating, because they had been inside cooking without air. It smelled SO good, I wish I could eat in there. It cost 25¢ to eat there which was too much for us, and to think I own it now it is still a good feeling.” Lathan said. “And I’m just so thankful for my daughter’s help, Tamara has been an absolute blessing though this whole process, her dedication to this landmark will be the reason the Coker Hotel will never truly be forgotten”
This wonderful part of Warren’s history was and is a key community landmark for the downtown area. According to Preserve Arkansas, the building was almost listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is still within the boundaries of the area which is currently being surveyed for a downtown commercial historic district.
Interested in buying a piece of this history?
When Lathan originally obtained the property, she was so excited to own this piece of history, but wasn’t sure what to do with it. As Warren’s population and economy probably wouldn’t allow for an expensive historic restoration, Jolley is hoping to sell as much as she can from the building to ensure pieces of the building can live on. Everything from bathtubs, dressers, fixtures, you name it. If you have any interest in purchasing/saving anything from the photos below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can put you in touch with Jolley.
Article by AAR Photojournalist Michael Schwarz. Most Research by Warren resident, Tamara Jolley.
THIS OLD HOTEL IS POSTED “NO TRESPASSING” PRIVATELY OWNED AND IS GUARDED! DO NOT GO ON THIS PROPERTY UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION!