|City/Town: • Hot Springs|
|Location Class: • Hotel/Motel|
|Year Built: • 1926|
|Year Abandoned: • 1987|
|Status: • For Sale • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Grant King|
The first certified fire-proof building in Hot Springs opened in 1926 as the Howe Hotel. It was a seven story building featuring 150 rooms, a coffee shop in the lobby, and an additional lounge on the second floor. It also hosted the mineral spa baths for which Hot Springs are famous. Later, in the 1940’s the Howe was purchased by the Asimos’ and renamed to Hotel De Soto. His inspiration for the name was influenced by the famous explorer, Hernando De Soto, who visited Hot Springs in 1541.
Hernando De Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States, and the first documented to have crossed the Mississippi River. De Soto’s North American expedition ranged throughout the southeastern United States searching for gold, silver and a passage to China. De Soto, as discovered in the diary of a Portuguese member of his expedition, visited what Native Americans referred to as the Valley of the Vapors, now called Hot Springs, Arkansas. Members of many tribes had gathered at the valley over many years to enjoy the healing properties of the thermal springs. De Soto and his men stayed just long enough to claim the area for Spain exactly one year before his death in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River in either Arkansas or Louisiana.
Before reopening as the Desoto Hotel, features were added to the existing building. The lobby, coffee shop and lounge were all completely remodelled and with new furniture added. In addition a new mural room was added combing a coffee shop and dining room. The mural room is so-called because of its now famous Desoto murals adoring its walls.
A new Square motel was added an the back of the hotel with the pool and additional bath houses, and all of it was fully air-conditioned. It is said that this was the first hotel in Arkansas to be fully air-conditioned. A new sun deck opening off the mezzanine floor were comfortable lounges and chairs where patrons could bask in the sun and watch the world go by on Central Avenue.
The hotel was widely popular to the many people who regularly visited Hot Springs. Records show that some patrons were seen to stay every January for twenty-five years in a row.
In the late forties and fifties the hotel was used as overflow for the Army Navy hospital during World War II when soldiers were being treated for war injuries servicemen from battle zones were sent to the Hot Springs facility for rest relaxation and rehabilitation.
It is said by many Arkansas historians that the “Pinkertons” or FBI agents were notorious for staying on the top to watch Al Capone over at the Arlington hotel, where he stayed most of the time. There are very many rumors of violence relating to what actually happened while they were watching him, but none of them have been proven true yet.
In the 1980s after getting renamed back to the Howe hotel, the back of the structure caught fire and burnt the pool and motel portion of the hotel to the ground causing it to be demolished shortly thereafter. Of the original seven-story building only the front remains, along with a small portion of the additional bath houses on the bottom of the back section. Inside you will find peeling paint, mostly empty rooms and a few bathtubs, spa chairs, and some old medical equipment probably used during the overflow. Mold is growing on the ceiling and floors, and the basement is flooded. The future of the upper portion of the hotel is unknown, however the lobby was saved and was turned into clothing stores, ice cream shops and is currently the De Soto rock ‘n’ gift shop. If you want to learn more about the history, swing by and take a look at this amazing shop.