The bathhouses on Bathhouse Row on Central Avenue were the early main attraction to Hot Springs (Garland County), but as the city grew, it expanded in the direction of the Ouachita Avenue Historic District. The district encompasses the portions of Ouachita Avenue and Central Avenue from Olive Street to Orange Street and includes Pratt Street (once known as Parker Avenue).The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 23, 2011, and is considered locally significant as a commercial center supporting Bathhouse Row and the surrounding residential community of Hot Springs. The neighborhood’s period of National Register significance begins in 1905, after a fire in 1905 destroyed all the structures in the area.
The neighborhood’s boundaries encompass at total of thirty properties; one has an ancillary structure and one property is a ruin. They are mostly brick commercial structures and multi-family residential buildings, the exceptions being one single-family residential structure, a church, and a building ruin. Contributing buildings in the district range in date from 1905 to 1961 and retain many of their original features. The historic integrity of this community is seventy-three percent intact, which contributes to its status as a historic district. The identity of this area is defined through its remaining historic structures and its location near Bathhouse Row.
Around 1890, this commuity was mostly residential with a few stores and three small hotels. These structures were mainly frame construction. In 1905, a fire destroyed the greater part of the commercial area of Hot Springs, including this entire district. Because of its popularity and proximity to Bathhouse Row, it was immediately rebuilt under an ordinance that required all new structures to be fireproof. The community was quickly resurrected but with more commercial businesses and fewer homes. Although some homes were rebuilt in the area, the majority of the lots at this time housed small businesses, hotels, and apartment buildings.
Ouachita Ave. still has several of the one- and two-story brick structures built after the 1905 fire. The majority of the structures have an Italianate influence, such as arched window openings, parapet walls, and decorative brick coursing and friezes. Central Avenue also has a few Italianate-influenced commerical structures built at this time.
As Hot Springs grew, this area continued to acquire new businesses and buildings. In 1913, another fire severely damaged this part of the city. Again, the area’s success enticed business owners to rebuild immediately. Many of the multi-family and hotel structures built during this era were influenced by popular early twentieth-century revival styles. The Colonial Revival style—using full-length front porches, prominent columns, front gables, and dormer windows protruding through the roofs—was the most prevalent one used in the district at this time. The burned Orange Street Presbyterian Church was built on another lot on Orange Street, in the Classical Revival style.
As new structures in varying architectural styles went up, the area drew more merchants and new residents. By the early 1920s, most lots were full. Ouachita Avenue merchants built one- and two-story brick commercial structures with simple but decorative brick friezes and flat parapet roofs. Central Avenue had the Central Theater, which was constructed in the Art Deco style. In the early 1930s, two buildings, one on Ouachita Avenue and one on Central Avenue, were built in the International style.
During the 1950s, suburbs and new lakes were developed on the south side of town, resulting in homes and businesses being led away from the downtown community. Less business traffic and the elimination of casino gambling, along with a waning bath industry and closure of several Bathhouse Row bathhouses, left the downtown in economic decline during the 1960s and 1970s. Its abandonment and the urban renewal movement resulted in some derelict buildings in the area being demolished.
During the 1980s, some public interest in the downtown returned. Activists fought destruction and abandonment of the downtown. In the mid-1980s, the Downtown Historic District was named, and the late 1980s saw the restoration of one of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row and rehabilitation of a few downtown structures.
In the mid-1980s, extensive remodeling was conducted on two buildings on Ouachita Avenue. The architect combined the two buildings using catwalks and employed the open space between them as a courtyard. The district has also attracted new construction to the area, adding a bank, in the Post-Modern style, to the corner of Orange and Ouachita avenues in 2000.
Today, the area has several rehabilitated buildings. After Central Avenue, Ouachita Avenue is the busiest street in the district. Most of the structures within the district are in use and in good shape. Several multi-family apartment buildings sit along Pratt Street, along with one on Orange Street and two on Olive Street; these range in shape from fair to abandoned. All of the buildings on Central Avenue are in use, except the Central Theater, which was purchased by a new owner in 2011 and is in the process of being remodeled.
For additional information:
Abernathy, Mamie Ruth Stranburg. History, People, Places, Events of Hot Springs Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park. N.p.: 1997.
Johnson, Antoinette Fiduccia. “Ouachita Avenue Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form, February 2011. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.
———. “Ouachita Avenue Historic District.” The Record 43 (2012): 151–166.
McCully, Audrey Wenger. “The Pappas Brothers Confectionary: Home of the Incomparable Three-Way.” The Record 28 (1987): 22–29.
Megginson, W. J. The Heritage of Garland County: A Preliminary Inventory. Hot Springs, AR: 1983.
Scully, Francis J. Hot Springs Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park: The Story of a City and the Nation’s Health Resort. Little Rock: Hansen Co., 1966.
Antoinette Fiduccia Johnson
Johnson Consulting: Historic Preservation & Interior Design