The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa is one of the most striking landmarks of Hot Springs. The building’s Spanish-Colonial architecture and two domed towers are an eye-catching sight as one ventures down Central Avenue. Home to 478 rooms within an eleven story central portion and two seven story wings, the benchmark hotel is also the largest hotel in Arkansas.
As one of the first luxury hotels built in the area, the building is situated at the end of Bathhouse Row and surrounded by Hot Springs National Park. The Arlington has been a popular gathering spot throughout its 137 year history. Many famous guests and dignitaries from around the world have attended functions there. Currently, the hotel is set to serve as headquarters for the
upcoming Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (October 12-21), which begins this weekend.
General Manager Bob Martorana says what stands out about the hotel is its colorful history. Guests have included a range of famous names, from Presidents to actors, athletes, and gangsters. Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Andrew Carnegie and Joe DiMaggio are among the hotel’s notable visitors.
“It is well-known that gangsters visited Hot Springs and even stayed at our hotel,” said Martorana. “A Hot Springs historian, Harry Reinert, tells of his uncle who worked as a clerk at the front desk of the hotel. He once stopped a guest that was about to enter the dining room and told him he could not enter without a tie. The guest begrudgingly went to his room to get one. The clerk later learned the guest was Al Capone! His uncle spent the rest of the evening looking over his shoulder.”
Over the years, the hotel has been witness to the city’s varied history. “Many people may not know that Hot Springs was used as spring training for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs and Babe Ruth would stay here,” Martorana said. “Or that [during World War II] the Arlington and four other hotels were commandeered in 1944 by the US Army for use as a recreation and redistribution center until the end of 1946. The army took over the main dining room for a mess hall and the Fountain Room was used for the officers’ mess. The hotel Ballroom was converted into a movie theater.”
An unusual bit of trivia: the Arlington has been built three different times. One of the financiers behind the first venture (in 1875) was railroad mogul Samuel Fordyce, the namesake of both the Fordyce Bathhouse and the city of Fordyce. This hotel was actually located across the street from its current location—in what is now Arlington Park. It was torn down and rebuilt 18 years later. In 1923, a fire spread in the hotel and the building burned down. The hotel was built for the third time a year later, in the present location.
“I was surprised, and think others would be, to learn that after the second Arlington burned in 1923, it took only 11 months and three days to complete construction on the third much larger, and current hotel,” said Martorana. “This was surely quite a feat for that time.”
The ambiance of the 20s is present in the hotel today. The Crystal Ballroom, Venetian Room and lobby are date back to the original 1924 structure. Around from the main elevator you’ll find an original bath house elevator that is still manually operated.
The hotel has undergone various upgrades and renovations over the years. “It is very interesting to find surprises when renovations are done,” said Martorana. “Like the Italian tile floor found in the Fountain Room when carpet was pulled
to be replaced, or the beautiful wooden rail on the winding staircase that was painted black at some point. The hotel has seen many décor styles and changes over the decades.”
So what is something that is often misunderstood about the Arlington? “That would have to be that the Arlington is haunted by ghosts,” said Martorana. “We are often asked this question by guests or ‘ghost hunters.’ But I can honestly say that to my knowledge, the Arlington is ghost-free. This is based on my personal experience and those of employees who have worked here for many years.”
According to Martorana, the Arlington has families who return generation after generation. “I meet guests who return year after year, some who first came to the hotel as children with their grandparents and are now bringing their children,” he said. ”Many say it is like home to them and they have wonderful memories of being here. I find this very rewarding and am pleased to be a part of a business with such a rich history in Hot Springs and Arkansas.”
The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa is located at 239 Central Avenue. The hotel has a full spa service and the Thermal Water Spa, which offers guests a chance to bathe in hot spring water that is pumped directly into the hotel.
The hotel also has two restaurants, and the Lobby Bar of the hotel has been noted in Esquire Magazine’s list of the best bars in America. More details on the Arlington can be found at 501-623-7771 or at www.arlingtonhotel.com.