Hot Springs is a spa resort located in the south-western part of the state of Arkansas, in the Ouachita Mountains. Its name is derived from the numerous springs of hot water that has been slowly eroding through the earth layers in the last 4000 years. At least, this is the conviction of the Native Americans, who inhabited the land in the old times, as well as the belief that this healing water has exceptional healing properties.
As it is the case with spa establishments in other parts of the world, Hot Springs became the spot for recreational activities meant to keep occupied the time of people who were spending the time in the area for curing their various ailments. Some of these activities, however, were not connected to physical wellbeing, like cycling or hiking through the nearby Ouachitas. Gambling was one of these. The rename of Hot Springs as a gambling centre was also due to the fact that it was allowed here at a time when almost everywhere else was illegal. This way, in the first part of the twentieth century, Hot Springs was one of the few gambling sites of the entire USA.
This was the time of Al Capone and of other known gangsters in the 1930s. It was a time of development for Hot Springs, and this reflected not only in the number of casinos but also in the architecture. Several establishments were erected in Hot Springs in the period between the two world wars, in the popular style of the time: Art Deco. The functions of these buildings were residential and medical. They were placed on the National Registry of Historic Monuments in the last forty years and today they represent tourist attractions and are parts of the Historic Reservation of buildings that form the Hot Springs National Park.
The most iconic of these establishments is the Medical Arts Building, also known as the Central Tower. It is a skyscraper built in 1929 by John Parks Almand, and it is based on a design by Almand & Stuck, the same company which conceived the famous Central High School in Little Rock. It featured local marble and state-of-the-art brass-trimmed elevators. The Skyscraper of Health used to be the tallest building of the entire state of Arkansas, until 1960. It hosted medical offices, medical labs, drug stores. Of the latter, Medical Arts Building hosted Martin Eisele`s drug store, the oldest store of the kind in town, established in 1875. Although most of the building is vacant today and it is on the list of the most endangered sites since 2012, it still displays its arresting fine design details, particularly visible on the entrance door.
Facing the Medical Arts Building, on the other side of the street, there is the Arlington Hotel. The current version was built in 1924 based on a design of Mann and Stern and it still maintains features of the Spanish-Colonial Revival Style, which were typical to the previous establishment. Yet, the Art-Deco elements can be noticed too, particularly in the interior design of the cafe and of its light accessories located on the ground floor of the hotel.
Other iconic Art Deco building of Hot Springs is the Old Army-Navy Hospital, an imposing structure located just at the beginning of the Bathhouse Row, the street where the major bath facilities were historically located in Hot Springs. It was built in 1933, replacing a previous, 1880 version, and maintained by the War Department. Its main role was to provide care to military personnel, veterans, and Public Health services members. Until very recently, it hosted the Arkansas Career Institute, a facility for vocational training, and before this, the ex Army-Navy Hospital hosted for several decades a rehabilitation centre, meant for people with life-long disabilities but also for those with acquired disabilities; this rehabilitation centre in Arkansas was one of the nine existing in the entire USA*.
Notably, the Missouri-Pacific Railroad Depot, which was built in 1917, has features that were later incorporated in the Art Deco style. It cannot be considered an Art Deco building per se, but the mixture of Italian floral decorations and the iron accessories, typical to the industrial architecture of the turn of the century in Europe, makes this railway an inheritor of the Art Nouveau, which in turn represents a serious influence for the interwar Art Deco. The train station, which is a historical monument now, attests to the importance of Hot Springs on the Arkansas map, at the turn of the twentieth century.
The last example of Art Deco-inspired buildings of Hot Springs is a car parking located in the centre of the town. Its brick and stone mixture, as well as the decorations on top and of the metal rails, make it an arresting building against the forest background.
* https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/arkansas-career-training-institute-2236/ [accessed on 21st Aprilie 2020]