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Preserving history: manager of two historic Hot Springs hotels continues renovation and restoration.

Since 1875, the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa has been an integral part of life in Hot Springs.

Shirley Abbott, a Hot Springs native who recounted her childhood memories in a 1991 article for Smithsonian, remembers the Arlington as a "stately" edifice that "towered over the town like a tiara."

During the Roaring '20s, ladies and gents in formal attire danced the night away at the Arlington's Crystal Ballroom.

Al Capone had a favorite suite at the hotel he visited seasonally. From room No. 443, Capone possessed a commanding view of the downtown gambling activities.

Tourists flocked to the spa city, eager to experience steamy mineral baths. More than 750 baths were taken at the Arlington on one day in 1946.

The Arlington Hotel has been witness to most of Hot Springs' heydays from its grand structure on historic Central Avenue at Fountain Street. But the hotel has worn three faces.

The first Arlington Hotel, built in 1875, was a three-floor building with 120 guest rooms. It was torn down and replaced by a new, 300-room structure in 1893.

When the second building was destroyed by fire in 1923, its successor was a 560-room facility known still as the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

Several additions through the years have resulted in a sprawling, full-service hotel. It boasts three restaurants, an underground mall, a convention center and meeting rooms with accompanying suites, two exhibit halls and a parking deck.

With 45,000 SF of available space for conventions, group events dominate the Arlington's yearly revenues.

The Arlington is a sister hotel to the Majestic Resort-Spa at Hot Springs.

Located within walking distance from each other, the two hotels are owned by the H. Grady Manning family. The Majestic has been owned by the Manning family since 1928, the Arlington since 1954.

The family operates the hotels through its corporation, Southwest Hotels Inc.

Manning's daughter, Joy Manning Scott, practically grew up in the Majestic, says one hotel employee. She continues to play an active role in hotel operations.

Although Southwest Hotels owns several other hotels, the two at Hot Springs are part of the Manning family.

Take-Charge Manager

Horst Fischer was hired by Southwest to manage the Arlington in 1979. Soon thereafter, he launched a major renovation plan to enhance the Arlington's historic features and update the decor.

In 1989, Fischer requested the position of general manager at the Majestic.

"It made sense," he says. "By combining the two hotels, referral business and buying power are intensified."

Fischer initiated a renovation plan at the Majestic similar to but more comprehensive than the Arlington's face lift. Fischer says the Majestic's business has climbed 10 percent each of the last three years.

"In the '70s, the Arlington's business slacked off a bit while the Majestic prospered," Fischer says. "During the '80s, the Arlington picked back up when the flow of conventions became steady and the Majestic fell behind. My goal is to get them both moving along in the '90s by catering to different markets."

The atmosphere of each hotel's lobby illustrates Fischer's attempt at cultivating distinct images.

The Majestic, built in 1882 as the Avenue Hotel, features dark wood paneling and subtle hues to create a warm atmosphere in a cozy lobby. Because it is not the focal point of the hotel, many guests pass through the lobby only to check in and out, according to Fischer.

"The Majestic has been called homey," Fischer says. "The Arlington can be overwhelming."

The spacious lobby of the Arlington is a gathering place for regular hotel guests and tourists.

Vibrant greens and pinks dominate the color scheme. Two large murals, featuring exotic plants and animals, adorn opposite ends of the lobby. Exposed marble floors magnify the sounds of a live band and dancing.

Unlike the Majestic, the Arlington's lobby serves as the center of attention for the hotel.

The lobby has been renovated in recent years to uncover historic details once hidden.

"There was a phase in the '50s when people tried to modernize old hotels," says Marge Grandt, an administrative assistant who has worked at the Arlington for seven years. "Today, it's very popular to restore old structures. People love the atmosphere and mystique of the grand old hotels."

The lobby's marble floors had been covered with carpet and the wooden banisters along the winding staircase had been coated in thick, black paint. Both were stripped and restored to their original appearances.

Arched windows above the entrance were found to have intricate iron frames. The windows had been hidden by latticework.

Bobbie Lucas, the Majestic's executive secretary, says that while the Majestic's lobby has undergone renovations each year, its original appearance has been well maintained.

The seven-story building or annex, where the main lobby is located, was the first of three additions to the original hotel.

The annex was built in 1923. Lanai Suites, a more modern motel section, was built in 1958 and Lanai Towers in 1963.

Renovating The Original

Lucas says the old lobby in the original building has been a focus of restoration efforts.

The old lobby serves as an airy gathering place for guests to read or play cards.

Lucas says wood paneling had been covered with Sheetrock and a vaulted ceiling had been lowered for a more modern feel. Both paneling and ceiling have been restored.

Most of the Majestic restoration concerns the three floors above the old lobby. Only six of 140 rooms are rented to guests.

"Historic hotels are tough to keep open," Fischer says. "It often takes more money and time to make changes than to start from scratch."

The rooms are being renovated in phases.

Fischer currently is working on 75 rooms. They will feature antique furnishings, unique upholsteries, larger bathrooms and individual heating and air conditioning units.

Renovations cost as much as $10,000 per room, according to Fischer.

"We're trying to maintain the structure's historic features, while enhancing modern amenities," he says.

For instance, bathrooms will have antique tiles and bathtubs, but also modern hair dryers and shower heads.

The Majestic's penthouse suite and other rooms in the annex have received fresh paint, upholstery, curtains and bed spreads.

At the Arlington, heavy renovations on hotel rooms were completed in the early '80s. However, Fischer says some sprucing up always is required.

"Renovations are an ongoing process," he says. "Without them, a hotel can fall far behind and possibly never catch up.

"The Arlington is special because each room is unique ... There are so many different designs and decorations that a person could stay here a dozen times and never see a room he recognizes."

This originality is part of the charm of older hotels that is fading away, Fischer says.

"At a modern hotel, you know what to expect every time," he says. "The furniture, colors and decor are consistent from room to room."

Fischer and his staff are working hard to maintain each hotel's unique qualities.

Each hotel features a bathhouse in original condition. Arlington guests enjoy the privacy of a manually operated elevator that carries them from their rooms to the bathhouse, located between the third and fourth floors.

The Arlington's Crystal Ballroom has been maintained.

"If you look at old pictures, you'll see nothing really has changed except maybe the paint and upholstery," Grandt says.

The Majestic's sundries shop features the city's only antique soda fountain, says Lucas, a 20-year employee of the Majestic.

The '50s atmosphere includes posters of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and female employees wearing poodle skirts.

Historical features such as the 1920s ballroom and the soda fountain are advantages older hotels have over new ones.

"When you go into an old hotel, you should expect to get the feeling that it's old -- windows that open, slower elevators, antique furniture and such," Fischer says. "But, along with that, you should get more personal service and a special charm.

"Every year we are losing more grand hotels. There are very few left in this country. It takes money to keep them going and owners get very little financial reward. All they really have is the satisfaction of saving them."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Southwest Hotels Inc.; Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa; Majestic Resort-Spa
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 20, 1992
Words:1350
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