The Hill Wheatley Downtowner Motor Inn, located at 135 Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs (Garland County), was constructed in the mid-1960s in the Modernist style of architecture by the noted Little Rock (Pulaski County) firm of Eichenbaum and Erhart. The hotel, built by Hot Springs real estate magnate Hill Wheatley, thrived during the late 1960s and the 1970s as one of only a few buildings in the downtown area to have a Modernist design. It became the Springs Hotel in 2006 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Construction on the ten-story building began in 1963 and was completed at a cost of $2 million. It was part of a construction boom in Hot Springs during the early 1960s—in 1964 alone, more than $24 million was spent on new construction in the city. The building’s site had previously been occupied by the Virginia Apartments and a Greek confectionary, which were torn down to make way for the new hotel.
The Downtowner was designed by Little Rock architect Nolan Blass Jr. Blass, who had developed a name for himself by integrating art into his work, also designed the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Cancer Center, the Arkansas Justice Building, and Baptist Health Medical Center. At the time of the Downtowner’s construction, Blass worked for Eichenbaum and Erhart. Wheatley wanted his new hotel to have a progressive look. He had a special interest in the project, as he and his family would occupy the 9,000-square-foot penthouse suite that covered the entire tenth floor.
When it opened in 1965, the Hill Wheatley Downtowner Motor Inn was touted as a European beach hotel without the beach. The sleek ten-floor tower was set back from Central Avenue to allow maximum sunlight and a feeling of openness on the streetscape. With its signature redwood screens hanging on many of its exterior windows, it was a perfect example of the Modernist architecture of the early 1960s. Its rooms came in five different décor styles: English, Spanish, Country French, Contemporary, and “Oriental,” reinforcing the international image of the hotel.
The Downtowner advertised that it was close to three golf courses, many stores, and ample nightlife such as the famous Vapors dinner club. It was also close to the train station and the bus depot. Guests of the Downtowner did not have to leave the hotel and go to Bathhouse Row to soak in the waters of the area’s hot springs, as Wheatley had a direct line built from the springs to the hotel’s spas on the second floor.
Sold and renamed the Springs Hotel in June 2006, the hotel remains open in the twenty-first century. The hotel’s exterior, completely original, has not changed since its opening. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 27, 2016, and is valued as an example of Modernist architecture.
For additional Information:
“Downtowner Motor Inn Hotel and Bathhouse.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/GA0678_nr.pdf (accessed September 1, 2017).
Springs Hotel and Spa. http://thespringshotelandspa.com/ (accessed September 1, 2017).
Hot Springs, Arkansas