October 18, 2006 Edition

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Remembering The Majestic

By John Bland

Many Arkansans are familiar with the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs. It was announced last week that the hotel will close on Sunday after 124 years of business. I spent many nights at the Majestic during my childhood and youth and have a sentimental attachment to the unique and historic place.

The owner said he is in negotiations with several parties concerning the future of the property. Despite my attachments, I would agree that the hotel needs a major renovation to compete with such modern hotels as the Embassy Suites. Although the lobby has been updated in recent years, the overall structure has not.

Let me share what made the Majestic special.

It is really four different hotels, as different parts were built in different eras and in totally different styles.

The yellow section is the oldest. Its doors have transoms (windows that can be open above the doors) designed to keep air flowing before the days of air conditioning. The ceilings are tall and the hallway floors slope. On the ground level of the yellow section is an old-fashioned soda fountain and gift shop that we called the drugstore. Chocolate malts and shakes, with an optional raw egg, were their featured item and our favorite. I believe this section of the hotel had occupants who stayed there for extended periods.

The red section, which contains the main lobby was probably built in the 1930s or 40s. It had the first elevator that I knew of that opened on two sides, lobby or poolside.

The Lanai Suites portion is a modern three-story motel-style structure that was built to overlook a beautiful swimming pool and landscaped patio gardens. The Lanai Suites and the pool area were probably all constructed in the late 1950s. This pool has always been heated, which allowed for swimming year-round if you didn't mind the chilly dash to your room.

The last section of the hotel, the Majestic (Lanai) Towers, was built in the early 1960s. This modern tower connects to the red section of the hotel and features a glass elevator, a pretty cool attraction at the time. The Majestic Towers stand at the beginning, or end, of Central Avenue, where a fountain serves as a turnaround for motorists. Just down the famed Central Avenue is the more formal Arlington Hotel and then Bathhouse Row.

In the 1960s and even 1970s, Central Avenue was much less of a family tourist mecca than it is now. Famous nightspots, such as the Black Orchid, still flourished at the time. People watching from the balcony was much more interesting than anything on TV. On one corner is a Catholic church, and we once watched a wedding held in the church's garden on the side of the mountain.

The Majestic's four distinctly different hotel additions connected in a circle around the pool area and made for great exploration. Of course the hotel also had its own bathhouse with the famous Hot Springs mineral waters.

Many people stayed at the Majestic when taking the baths or when in the city for other health reasons. St. Joseph's hospital was once located next door, and the rehabilitation hospital is still down the street.

The Majestic was meant for rest and relaxation ~ a slower pace. There were front porch chairs for rocking, card tables for bridge and overstuffed lobby furniture for visiting, reading or writing a letter.

People today seem more interested than ever in visiting resorts that offer "R & R," not to mention spas. However, it seems The Majestic's era for providing that service is now history.

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The Shepherd Care clothing ministry has begun its annual drive for donations to fund such expenses as rent and utilities for the building. The Lawrence County Ministerial Alliance has placed an envelope for donations in this week's TD. Please remove the envelope and consider a donation now or in the coming weeks.

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The annual Kiwanis Radio Auction is always a lot of fun. Tune in this Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. on KRLW AM 1320 or FM 106.3. We have some great items donated by local businesses and professionals, and the money raised help various children and youth projects in the county.

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