Henry Grady Manning was a leader in Arkansas’s hotel industry. The company he founded, Southwest Hotels Inc., continued his work after his death. Several incarnations of Manning’s legacy hotels still exist in the twenty-first century. Manning’s properties included the Albert Pike Hotel, Grady Manning Hotel, and Lafayette Hotel, all in Little Rock (Pulaski County), as well as the Arlington Hotel, Majestic Hotel, and Hot Springs Country Club, all in Hot Springs (Garland County). Manning made many charitable and civic contributions to Arkansas and was a member of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
Grady Manning was born on March 14, 1892, in rural Scott County. His parents were Dr. Henry Manning and Virginia Fuller Manning. Called by his middle name from a young age, Manning attended local public schools before traveling to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to attend business college. To help defray the costs of his commercial course, he took a job in the dining room of a local hotel, which also provided meals.
Discovering he enjoyed working in the hotel business, he moved to Hot Springs, where he took a job at the Eastman Hotel. With the town’s thermal waters said to offer medical benefits, Hot Springs became known as the “Spa City” and was one of the premier resort destinations in the country during the early twentieth century. Many of its visitors were affluent travelers who had “taken the waters” at the leading spas of Europe and expected superior service at lodgings in Hot Springs.
Manning traveled to Niagara Falls, Canada, where he was employed as a clerk at the Queen Royal Hotel, which was said to be one of Canada’s most exclusive. Manning became renowned for his outstanding service and courtesy, a reputation that followed him when he returned to his home state of Arkansas.
In 1917, he became assistant manager of the Marion Hotel in Little Rock. The hotel was named for the wife of its founder, Herman Kahn, who built the Marion in 1905. At eight stories high, it was the tallest building in Arkansas until 1911. In 1919, Manning became manager of the Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Springs (Carroll County), a popular summer resort. His success there led to his being named manager of the Goldman Hotel in Fort Smith. In the prosperity of the 1920s, Manning formed Southwest Hotels Inc., which then sought ownership of a number of landmark hotels. Manning married Ruth Seaman around this same time.
Manning’s properties in Little Rock included two that were placed on the National Register for Historic Places. The Lafayette Hotel opened on September 2, 1925, on the northeastern corner of West 6th and South Louisiana streets. After a slump in business during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Southwest Hotels renovated the Lafayette and reopened it on August 23, 1941. It was listed on the National Register in 1982. The Albert Pike Hotel was built in 1929 in the Spanish Revival style at 701 South Scott Street in Little Rock. It was purchased by Southwest Hotels in the late 1960s and was listed on the National Register in 1978.
Little Rock was also home to the Grady Manning Hotel, built in 1930. It stood at the northwestern corner of Main and Markham streets. (On February 17, 1980, the Grady Manning Hotel was demolished, along with the Marion Hotel, to make way for the Statehouse Convention Center and what was then the Excelsior Hotel.)
His hotels also included some outside Little Rock. The Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, which traces its history back to 1882, was acquired by the Manning family and Southwest Hotels in 1929. Longtime hotel staffers recalled Manning’s daughter, Mary Jane Joy Manning Scott (1923–2014), growing up in the Majestic. Scott and her family continued to play an active role in the hotel into the 1990s. The Majestic went through a number of additions and renovations through the years, including the red-brick annex that housed the Grady Manning Dining Room. In later years, the hotel’s Dutch Treat café was renamed Grady’s Grill. In 1932, Manning constructed the Majestic Lodge on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. The lodge was known for its beautifully decorated lobby and outstanding view of the lake. The Majestic Lodge was destroyed by fire in 2010. Also in Hot Springs, the Manning family purchased the iconic Arlington Hotel in 1954. The legacy property still anchors the northern end of historic Bathhouse Row.
Manning died in Hot Springs on September 4, 1939, at age forty-seven. Sources refer to a “tragic accident,” which was said to be drowning. The Little Rock City Council called Manning’s death an irrevocable loss and passed a resolution stating that Manning would “always be remembered as a man of the highest integrity and devotion toward the welfare of his community, the State and the Nation.” He is buried at Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.
During the time before his death, he was working with the City of Little Rock on building a municipal auditorium, which the mayor considered to be one of the city’s most pressing needs. When it opened in 1940, the building was named the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium for the deceased Arkansas senator.
The Manning family, led by his widow, continued the work of the company he founded. His daughter became president of Southwest Hotels, which ultimately managed ten hotels in Little Rock; Hot Springs; Memphis, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
For additional information:
City Council of Little Rock. Resolution No. 1468. September 25, 1939. http://web.littlerock.state.ar.us/weblink8/0/doc/86676/Page1.aspx (accessed January 6, 2015).
Herndon, Dallas T. Centennial History of Arkansas Volume 2. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, page 17.
Obituary of Joy Manning Scott. June 12, 2014. http://hosting-22183.tributes.com/obituary/show/Joy-Manning-Scott-101442322 (accessed November 3, 2014).
Garland County Historical Society