|City/Town: • Hot Springs|
|Location Class: • Disappearing Town • Hotel/Motel|
|Year Built: • 1882 | Year Abandoned: • 2006|
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Grant King|
Forever Majestic Film – Documentary (Official Trailer)
“For a town like Hot Springs, Arkansas, The Majestic was more than just a hotel — it held an important place in the collective memory of the citizenry. Despite multiple owners and frequent promises to renovate, the building would sit empty and eventually catch on fire in 2014. Complicated and deeply personal, FOREVER MAJESTIC considers the financial opportunity born of that fateful fire and questions who is best served by its demolition.”
Can’t wait to see you there!
History of Majestic
The Majestic property was originally the site of the Hiram Whittington House in 1870. The Avenue Hotel was the first name given to the hotel, built in 1882, featuring an electric dining room and gas-powered guest rooms. Streetcars arrived and departed every five minutes to transport guests to and from the bathhouses. She was renamed the Majestic Hotel in 1888 and was named after the Majestic Stove Company although no one really knows why. Perhaps someone there had an interest in the company or just simply liked the name. The newly named hotel featured a brand new invention, the elevator. In 1902, owner Harry A. Jones demolished the old wooden structure and replaced it with a five-story yellow brick building. She reopened a short time later in 1903 with a fully equipped greenhouse, distinctive bull’s-eye windows and rounded brick corners. The Majestic Hotel was one of the first brick buildings in Hot Springs, featuring 150 rooms, 50 of those with private baths. This was also the grand opening of the famous restaurant known as The Dutch Treat Grill. A non-operational windmill hung over the restaurant’s front doors while window boxes full of fresh flowers wrapped her in beauty.
The hotel became the home of the Pittsburg Pirates during spring baseball training from 1901 to 1916 and then again from 1920 to 1923. Babe Ruth reportedly considered The Majestic hotel his favorite place to stay. The Majestic was also frequented by the Boston Red Sox and in the 1920’s Bugs Moran, known as Al Capone rival arrived for respite. The two held a “peace pact” while in Hot Springs and reportedly never scuffled while in town. In 1926 the Annex was added, featuring local A.W. Griffee’s flint faience, marble and stone fountain in the spacious, wood-adorned lobby. The fountain bubbled with the world-famous natural spring waters. This is the still-standing; eight-story, red brick building that later housed The Grady Manning Dining Room, named for the new owner in 1929. His company, Southwest Hotels, renovated the structure adding a front porch, drug store, new bathhouse and a brick terrace. The Annex also housed the soda fountain, a gift shop, a beauty parlor and a garage/gas station just adjacent to the hotel. These renovations helped the hotel to survive The Great Depression and Stock Market Crash of ‘29. In 1932, Grady Manning constructed The Majestic Lodge on Lake Hamilton the year it came to be. She boasted a beautifully decorated lobby with an incredible view of the new lake.
Radio Station, KTHS, owned a tower atop the Majestic Hotel and featured wonderful music including that of the “Southerners Orchestra”, complete with a banjo picker. The stations call letters stood for, “Kome To Hot Springs”. Directly across from the red brick Annex was the aforementioned Majestic Parking Garage at the corners of Arbor Street and Park Avenue. She was lovely with her white modern columns and signage reading, “Storage, Oil Changes, Parking”. She once housed the famous Clydesdale horses during the wedding of August A. Busch, founder of Busch-Budweiser beer. He was married in the lobby of The Annex building.
In 1944, as their contribution to the war effort, the hotel offered her service as a redistribution center for the US Army for approximately 18 months. GIs were housed in the hotel upon return from overseas as they awaited reassignment or discharge. On December 15, 1945, the hotel reopened and this grand opening was attended by the famous actor, Alan Ladd, known for his television show, “Candid Camera”. Phyllis Diller, Guy Lombardo, Hubert Humphrey, Liberace and Tiny Tim also stayed at the Majestic. Air conditioning was added to the hotel and all guest rooms in 1950. Highway 70 East was completed this year and moved traffic off of Park Avenue. This hurt the hotel immensely. Despite the highway and subsequent decline in use, the hotel added the Lanai Suites in 1958. The suites surrounded a waterfall and pools that were frequented by a scantily clad, Phyllis Diller, who drew quite a crowd in her bikini. The suites boasted the first of the modern sliding glass doors. In 1963, the 10-story Lanai Towers were added and was home of the famous “glass elevator” and two-level parking garage.
A major $1 million renovation took place in 1982 and was completed in October 1983. This was under the new president of Southwest Hotels, Monty Scott. The hotel, towers and suites all overlooked picturesque downtown Hot Springs and “the Crystal Fountain”. On windy days, one could touch the mist and sprinkles from that lovely lighted anchor of downtown.
130 rooms of the original yellow brick building were closed due to a continued decline in occupancy in 1988. In 1989, The Arlington and Majestic Hotels were combined and in 1990, The Majestic Hotel was home to five permanent residents. Five years later, in 1995, the original yellow brick structure was renovated. Despite this effort, occupancy rates continued to sink.
On October 13, 2006, Monty Scott, president of Southwest Hotels and owner of both The Arlington and Majestic Hotels, announced the closure of The Majestic. She was donated to Ark of Arkansas (a non-profit organization) in 2007 with plans to renovate and create affordable housing but the plans never materialized. On May 23, 2010, fire completely destroyed the Majestic Lodge on Lake Hamilton.
The beautiful, historic Majestic Hotel sat empty and forgotten until her sale to Gary Hassenflu of Garrison Properties, LLC, in January 2012. He announced plans to create retail space and apartments with the hotel property. On an unseasonably warm evening in February this year, fire robbed us of our historic treasure. February 27th, just days after the front page of the Hot Springs Sentinel Record displayed pictures of city workers boarding up her broken and vandalized windows, she was gone. Engulfed by flames that required 22 hours and as many as 75 men to extinguish her, she fell to a heap of rubble. Tears fell and hearts ached as lifetime residents and visitors alike watched the cruel fate of a neglected treasure. She’s gone but not forgotten. Her loss has ignited a fire of frenzy in the young and the old. Residents and many nationwide supporters have united to save this city. We will prevail! The loss of part of this great giant has a silver lining that will forever remain in the history of the revitalization of downtown Hot Springs!
Written by Brenda Brandenburg (Liz Robbins, Director of the Garland County Historical Society along with Connie and Gary Jackson of Hot Springs presented this history of The Majestic Hotel on April 21, 2014)