Sun sets on Southwest
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.