Sun sets on South­west

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Rex Nel­son Se­nior Ed­i­tor Rex Nel­son’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. He’s also the author of the South­ern Fried blog at rexnel­son­south­ern­fried.com.

Last week’s sale of the Ar­ling­ton Ho­tel at Hot Springs marked the end of ho­tel own­er­ship for South­west Ho­tels Inc., a com­pany that once had a port­fo­lio of well-known hostel­ries in Arkansas and sur­round­ing states. At one time or an­other, the com­pany founded by H. Grady Man­ning owned the Ar­ling­ton and Ma­jes­tic ho­tels at Hot Springs; the Mar­ion, Grady Man­ning, Albert Pike and Lafayette ho­tels in down­town Lit­tle Rock; and ho­tels in Mem­phis, Kansas City and Vicks­burg.

The com­pany’s founder was born in March 1892 in ru­ral Scott County. When Man­ning en­rolled in a busi­ness col­lege at Fort Smith, he be­gan work­ing in the din­ing room of a Fort Smith ho­tel to pay for his ed­u­ca­tion. Man­ning liked the work and later took a full-time po­si­tion at the East­man Ho­tel in Hot Springs.

“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 20th cen­tury,” Nancy Hen­dricks writes for the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas His­tory & Cul­ture. “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.”

Man­ning be­came the as­sis­tant man­ager of the Mar­ion Ho­tel in 1917. The ho­tel opened in 1907 and was the state’s tallest build­ing un­til 1911. Her­man Kahn, the Mar­ion Ho­tel founder, had moved to Lit­tle Rock from Frank­furt, Ger­many, in 1870. Kahn’s great-grand­son, Jimmy Moses, has been the driv­ing force be­hind many of the de­vel­op­ments in Lit­tle Rock in re­cent decades. The Mar­ion was named for Kahn’s wife.

Man­ning be­came man­ager of the Basin Park Ho­tel in the pop­u­lar re­sort town of Eureka Springs in 1919. That ho­tel is still go­ing strong. Man­ning later was named man­ager of the Gold­man Ho­tel in Fort Smith and formed South­west Ho­tels in the 1920s.

South­west Ho­tels owned the Mar­ion in its fi­nal decades. The ho­tel closed in early 1980 and was de­mol­ished along with the Grady Man­ning Ho­tel (also owned by South­west Ho­tels at the time) in Fe­bru­ary 1980 to make way for the Ex­cel­sior Ho­tel and the State­house Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. Lit­tle Rock tele­vi­sion sta­tions pro­vided live cov­er­age of the im­plo­sion of the two ho­tels on a cold Sun­day morn­ing. The Grady Man­ning Ho­tel had opened in 1930 as the Ben McGe­hee Ho­tel.

The Lafayette Ho­tel opened on Sept. 2, 1925, at a time when Lit­tle Rock was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing solid growth. An en­tity known as the Lit­tle Rock Ho­tel Co. owned the Lafayette. A.D. Gates of St. Louis was the com­pany pres­i­dent, and John Boyle of Lit­tle Rock was the vice pres­i­dent. The Great De­pres­sion slowed travel na­tion­wide, and the Lafayette closed in 1933. The build­ing re­mained va­cant un­til a hous­ing short­age, caused by an in­flux of sol­diers at Camp Robin­son, in­creased the de­mand for ho­tel rooms and apart­ments. The Lafayette was pur­chased by South­west Ho­tels and re­opened in Au­gust 1941. The Lafayette closed in 1973, and the build­ing now houses of­fices and con­do­mini­ums.

The Albert Pike, mean­while, op­er­ated as a ho­tel from 1929-71 when Lit­tle Rock’s Sec­ond Bap­tist Church bought it and trans­formed it into a res­i­dence ho­tel. The 175-room ho­tel was con­structed at a cost of al­most $1 mil­lion. At the time the Far­rell Ho­tel Co. opened it, it was con­sid­ered to be among the finest ho­tels in the South. The Albert Pike fea­tured tiled roofs, ex­posed beams, dec­o­ra­tive inside tile, iron work and stained-glass win­dows. The Albert Pike was pur­chased by South­west Ho­tels in the late 1960s.

In Hot Springs, what later be­came the Ma­jes­tic was built in 1882 and was known as the Av­enue Ho­tel. The name was changed to the Ma­jes­tic in 1888. A yel­low-brick build­ing was added in 1892. The orig­i­nal ho­tel was razed in 1902, and a brick build­ing with 150 rooms was added. Later ad­di­tions came in 1926 and 1963. South­west Ho­tels pur­chased the Ma­jes­tic in 1929 and closed the ho­tel in 2006. The yel­low-brick build­ing burned in a huge fire in Fe­bru­ary 2014. The re­main­der of the ho­tel, which was boarded up and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing badly, was torn down last year.

The cur­rent Ar­ling­ton (two other build­ings that ear­lier housed the ho­tel were on the other side of Foun­tain Street) opened in Novem­ber 1924. It was de­signed by Ge­orge Mann, the pri­mary ar­chi­tect of the state Capi­tol. South­west Ho­tels pur­chased the Ar­ling­ton in 1954.

Grady Man­ning was only 47 when he died in Hot Springs on Sept. 4, 1939. He re­port­edly drowned. His widow con­tin­ued to op­er­ate South­west Ho­tels be­fore pass­ing own­er­ship of the com­pany to the cou­ple’s only child, Joy Man­ning Scott, who died in June 2014. She grew up in her fam­ily’s ho­tels and later mar­ried Morin Scott. They were mar­ried for 55 years and had their pri­mary res­i­dence in Austin, Texas.

Con­trol of the com­pany even­tu­ally went to Monty Scott, the son of Joy and Morin Scott. Monty Scott, who was born at Austin in 1949, worked for a time at the in­vest­ment firm Gold­man Sachs and in the oil and gas in­dus­try be­fore join­ing South­west Ho­tels. He died un­ex­pect­edly in Jan­uary 2016, and soon af­ter­ward the Scott fam­ily be­gan en­ter­tain­ing of­fers for the Ar­ling­ton, the fi­nal ho­tel owned by a com­pany that once op­er­ated 10 ho­tels.

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