The Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs (Garland County) was known as one of the most famous hotels in the South. For more than a century, the five-acre complex anchored the intersection of the main thoroughfares, Park and Central avenues, at the north end of Bathhouse Row in historic downtown Hot Springs. After numerous sales and a disastrous fire in February 2014, the fate of the Majestic property was uncertain. In 2016, it was decided that it would be demolished.
Originally named the Avenue Hotel, the Majestic was built in 1882 on the site of the old Hiram Whittington House. The Avenue Hotel was notable for its amenities such as streetcar service to transport guests to and from the bath houses every five minutes. In 1888, the Avenue Hotel was renamed the Majestic Hotel after the Majestic Stove Company of St. Louis, Missouri, though the precise connection is unclear.
As Hot Springs grew, so did the Majestic. In 1892, the Majestic Hotel was remodeled to include modern conveniences such as elevators, along with the addition that came to be known as the “yellow brick building.” By the turn of the century, the Majestic was known as a luxurious lodging popular with tourists as well as with the athletes who came to the spa city for spring training. In 1896, it obtained an agreement with the federal government for thermal water from the Hot Springs National Park to offer in-house therapeutic baths. When the Little Rock, Hot Springs and Western Railroad began running in 1899, the number of visitors increased dramatically. The original Avenue Hotel was razed in 1902, and a four-story domed brick building with 150 rooms was constructed. Included in this addition was the hotel’s landmark restaurant called The Dutch Treat, which had an eye-catching windmill over the front door. (The restaurant was renamed Grady’s Grill in 1991.)
In the prosperity of the 1920s, greater numbers of average Americans could visit the Majestic Hotel. In addition, the major league baseball teams the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox stayed at the hotel for spring training and fitness programs. Part of their training included hiking four miles from the hotel to their ball field on the southern end of town. During this era, the legendary Babe Ruth frequented the Majestic. The in-house thermal baths at the Majestic also appealed to notorious 1920s underworld figures who did not have to leave the hotel for their spa therapy.
The year 1926 saw the addition of the eight-story annex (a red brick building to the west of the yellow brick building), which later housed the Grady Manning Dining Room. Predicting continued prosperity (though interrupted by the Great Depression), Southwest Hotels Inc. purchased the Majestic in 1929. Southwest Hotels was founded and owned by native Arkansan Henry Grady Manning, who saw the hotel through the stock market crash of October 1929 as well as the Depression of the 1930s.
In the 1940s, the U.S. Army used the Majestic to house World War II–era soldiers. On December 15, 1945, the hotel reopened to civilians. It attracted celebrities such as actor Alan Ladd, comedian Phyllis Diller, and orchestra leader Guy Lombardo.
The Majestic’s parking garage across the street from the hotel sheltered the automobiles of middle-class Americans who came to visit. Air conditioning was added to the Majestic, an amenity that attracted increasing numbers of average Americans as well as celebrity guests in the 1950s. When the Budweiser brewing company’s owner, August Anheuser Busch Jr., was married at the Majestic, the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses were stabled in the Majestic’s garage.
After Hawaii became a state in 1959, all things Hawaiian became popular. The Majestic Hotel opened the Lanai Tower in 1963, with the word “Lanai” referring to one of the Hawaiian Islands as well as to a tropical verandah. The Lanai suites were said to boast the first modern sliding-glass doors. The suites surrounded a waterfall and tropical-themed pool. With the completion of the Lanai Tower, the Majestic became an eclectic mix of architectural styles: traditional red brick, the yellow brick addition, and the tropical-themed Lanai Suites.
As was the case with most of downtown Hot Springs, business at the Majestic steadily declined through the 1980s due to a combination of highway rerouting, medical advances that made spa bathing outdated, and the cessation of illegal gambling in the city.
The Majestic continued to undergo renovations through the 1990s, but it was forced to close in 2006. It went through several sales and various owners who pledged to renovate the building for a number of uses, but the renovations never took place. On February 27, 2014, the yellow brick portion of the abandoned Majestic was destroyed by fire. The remainder of the hotel, in the process of being boarded up at the time of the fire, was condemned. The City of Hot Springs and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality ordered the owner to clean up the rubble left by the blaze, though that effort was stalled. A public auction of the property began in October 2014.
Some groups stated that while the loss of the Majestic was tragic, it may have led to increased awareness of the historic buildings in Hot Springs, sparking an effort to save them. In May 2014, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas named almost all of downtown Hot Springs to the 2014 list of Arkansas Endangered Places. On June 21, 2016, the city's board of directors voted to demolish the Majestic Hotel. After lying empty for more than two years, the Majestic was demolished in late 2016.
For additional information:
Anthony, Isabel Burton. “Majestic Hotel: The History of a Grande Dame.” The Record (2008): 24–56.
Henry, John. “Historic Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs Is Sold to Nonprofit the ARC Arkansas.” Arkansas Business, November 22, 2006. Online at http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/47017/historic-majestic-hotel-in-hot-springs-is-sold-to-nonprofit-the-arc-arkansas (accessed December 2, 2014).
Thomason, Don. “Majestic Hotel Owner Given Two Weeks to Start Cleanup.” Sentinel-Record, Mid-Week edition, October 29, 2014, p. 1.
Garland County Historical Society