NOTICE: The majority of The Majestic Hotel burned down in February of 2014.
Hot Springs Arkansas has a rich history. Built around the natural underground springs the bath houses and spas attract people from all over the country. In the early 1900’s major league teams would bring their players here to get the players in shape for the coming season, and even the likes of Babe Ruth frequented the hotels including The Majestic. Since the end of the civil war, Hot Springs had become a favorite destination of Gangsters who would come to enjoy illegal gambling, and take a break from their lives of crime. Most notably, Al Capone would stay at the Arlington Hotel, just down the road from the Majestic where one of his most hated rivals Bugs Moran would stay. It was an unspoken agreement that while in Hot Springs everything else got left behind and didn’t spill over into this oasis of rest and relaxation. The story of the Majestic Hotel situated in the heart of historic Hot Springs begins in 1876, “when the Avenue Hotel was built just north of where the Majestic now stands. In 1888, the Avenue’s name was changed to The Majestic Hotel before the structure was removed in 1902. A larger, five-story brick building took its place, and this is the yellow brick section that still stands on the east end of the hotel property.” “The 1963 addition of the Lanai Tower brought the Majestic’s guest room total to 400. But the hotel’s heyday couldn’t last forever. Despite more updates and additions to the Majestic over the years, the shutdown of illegal gambling in 1964 took a toll on the popularity of the Majestic and other Hot Springs hotels. The Majestic underwent further renovations through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but nothing seemed to attract the crowds that had flocked to the hotel during its glory days. As the Majestic entered the 21st century, its days were numbered.” “But nostalgia couldn’t prevent the inevitable. The announcement of the hotel’s closing came on Oct. 13, 2006, in the (Hot Springs) Sentinel-Record. Monty Scott, president of Southwest Hotels Inc., which had owned the Majestic since 1929, blamed the Majestic’s demise on the fact that casino gaming was available in states surrounding Arkansas, effectively drawing gaming tourists away from the state. After doing business in three different centuries, the Majestic would close on Oct. 22, 2006.” (Source: Arkansas Life)
People often ask: “ How do you find these old abandoned places?” My answer is “It Depends”. Often it takes quite a bit of research, a little luck, and making the right contacts. When it came to the Majestic Hotel however, I had a little help from an extremely kind stranger. I ‘met’ Dee while playing words with friends on my phone. We played for many months and after a bit of in game conversations she found out I was a photographer and came to admire my work. She had just moved to Hot Springs Arkansas and had been telling me that I should come there to shoot the old historic bath houses and spas. So when my good friend Casey and I planned our epic photo road trip we made Hot Springs a major stop on our trip. While we were planning the logistics of the trip, Dee worked for weeks making phone calls to the owners, tracking down the nice people like the architect who is working on plans for renovation of the hotel, and eventually she had secured us legal access and a key to the front door! She even took it a step further and set up a speaking engagement for me at the “Fine Art Center of Hot Springs” where I gave an hour long presentation of my work and had some of my pieces displayed in their gallery. We met up with Dee bright and early out front of the Majestic. The old vintage signs still adorned the tops of the buildings.
The skeleton remains of what once was a luxurious awning stood bare like protruding ribs.
We unlocked the front door and stepped into the old hotel lobby. The front desk stood littered with debris.
Near the front desk stood a vintage rusted out fan.
In the center of the lobby stood a beautiful ornate vintage fountain, it’s tiles dusty and longing for the natural spring water to flow over them once again.
At the far end of the lobby was the entrance to the Veranda Room. A once upscale dining area softly lit by the afternoon sun shining through the tattered and falling curtains. We explored back into the dark kitchen behind the restaurant.
Heading back to the lobby we ventured towards the other side of the hotel and quickly discovered the old ice cream parlor.
Further down the building we ran into “Grady’s Grill” which was complete with an old rusty deep fryer in the kitchen and sad drooping ceiling fans in the dining area.
Not far from Grady’s was the Spa area. Two sections, one for men, and one for women. This was where the spring water was once pumped in. When the water reaches the surface it can be as hot as 140 degrees creating natural saunas for the spa clients.
We wandered around the ground floor some more and then headed out to the center courtyard and the old round swimming pools. The entire complex wraps around the courtyard 360 degrees.
We started heading to the upper levels and worked out way up to the rooftop.
When we reached the roof, we were standing directly behind the huge letters that we had seen from the street below. From the tenth story we had a beautiful view of downtown Hot Springs.
My best friend Casey hanging out under the Majestic Signage.
Me, gazing off into the distance of Hot Springs.
We found a roof access door that led us into one of the wings of the penthouse suites. Some of the rooms were still in very good condition. Each room had a sliding door with balcony access. The old wood balcony had rotted away in spots and the boards were very soft.
My friend Casey shot a video of me squeamishly venturing out to get a shot of the Majestic sign. Given that below the balcony was 10 stories of freefall I was more than a little nervous as the old boards moved and gave slightly below my feet. Afterwards I was weak-kneed for about 10 minutes! As we explored some of the rooms near the rear of the complex we found a ground level room that had massive overgrowth of vines through the windows and slowly taking over the room!
We spent the remaining time wandering around hotel, poking our heads into dark corners. There was so much to see in the massive buildings and we probably only covered about half of it in the 8 hours we shot there.
According to the Architect, David French, who is overseeing the proposed renovations, they plan to start remodeling in the coming months. The idea is to have apartments for disabled people, and possibly reopen some of the old storefronts attached to the hotel. Who knows, maybe next time I visit Hot Springs they will have brought the Majestic Hotel back to life!