|City/Town: • Stuttgart|
|Location Class: • Hotel/Motel|
|Built: • 1923 | Abandoned: • 1970|
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places|
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Caitlen Taylor|
Designed by Mann and Stern, Architects, the Riceland Hotel is Stuttgart’s largest commercial building and was originally an elegant and commanding example of George R. Mann’s later neo-classic work. The building, constructed during the declining years of a rice boom which transformed Stuttgart’s economy, housed hotels and banks during much of its life. Within the massive frame of the structure’s five stories, much of the intrinsic commerce of the rice industry and the railroad were enacted.
The unlimited affluence of the Grand Prairie and of Stuttgart appeared assured with development of successful rice culture in the early twentieth century. Although dates and accounts of persons involved very, by 1904, the first commercially successful rice crop had been harvested and, by 1906, rice was cultivated in the Stuttgart area. In October 1907, the Stuttgart Rice Mill Company completed the first rice mill in Arkansas and an economic boom began. The prosperity permitted the construction of a brick depot and school in Stuttgart, the town was wired for electricity, and sidewalks were built and streets paved. By 1918, two more rice mills were in operation. To prolong the boom by enlisting new settlers to cultivate still more rice, the Cotton Belt enthusiastically promoted its lands in the Grand Prairie and the Stuttgart Land and Development Company offered free excursion trains to potential farmers.
By 1918, the economy of Stuttgart and the Grand Prairie was inextricably tied to the state’s thirteen million dollar rice crop. The Southern Rice Growers Association boasted that Stuttgart was “the price making rice market of Arkansas … by virtue of her geographical and railroad position in the center of Grand Prairie.” At least one bank also attributed its assets to the runaway rice market. According to W. B. Wall, cashier of the Exchange Bank, his institution’s deposits in 1915 totaled only $118.00. By 1918, they exceeded $800,000 “the greater part…accumulated by the patrons of this bank from three years’ profit in raising rice.”
In late 1919, a number of Stuttgart businessmen formed the Stuttgart Hotel Company. The company, which eventually included forty stockholders, represented all four Stuttgart banks and “every business and enterprise of any nature on Grand Prairie.” A Little Rock architectural firm, Mann and Stern, designed the building, and the E. A. Steininger Construction Company of Missouri was retained as the builder. George R. Mann also drew the plans for the Arkansas State Capitol, the Arkansas Gazette building, and the Marion Hotel in Little Rock. The Hotel Price, which stood on Third and Main Streets, was demolished to prepare for the new structure, enthusiastically heralded as “one of the most modern hotels in Arkansas.”
Construction on the building began almost immediately, as the rice economy of the Grand Prairie collapsed. In 1919, the price per bushel of rice reached a high of $3.50, but, in 1920, it plummeted to twenty-five cents per bushel. The effect on the soaring economy was instantaneous and devastating, “like a bolt out the sky.” According to the Stuttgart Grand Prairie News, the “entire locality was dealt a financial blow that put almost every individual in straits that will take several years … to overcome.” Late in 1920, stockholders ordered work on their hotel suspended and, for nearly two years as owners and creditors battled in the chancery courts, “the skeleton of the building stood as a tombstone to a dead burg.”
In July 1922, the Exchange Bank, the hotel’s new owner, resumed construction and hired W. F. Ault of Little Rock to complete the building according to Mann and Stern’s original plans and specifications. On February 15, 1923, the Riceland Hotel was formally opened. Leased by the Stuttgart Revilo Hotel Company, which operated several hotels across the state, the Riceland occupied the top three floors of the five story building, as well as the lower two floors of that portion of the structure which fronted on Third Street. The Riceland Barber Shop leased a section of the hotel’s basement, while Webb and Son leased part of the ground floor adjoining the lobby for their Riceland Pharmacy. On February 17, the Exchange Bank held its formal opening in the remaining two story portion of the building, which fronted on Main Street.
Following its nearly disastrous conception, the Riceland Hotel hosted a number of occupants. In 1926, the Exchange Bank, which had so solidly staked its success on rice, defaulted and was purchased by the First State Bank. Three years later, the Southern Hotel Company acquired the hotel lease, which it retained until 1957. In 1970, the Riceland Hotel closed. The part of the building previously occupied by the Exchange Bank and its owners houses retail and commercial tenants.
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