Saying goodbye to a grand lady

Thursday evening. Feb. 20, 2014. We turned on our televisions for the evening news and were shocked by the lead story. The Majestic Hotel Resort Spa of Hot Springs was engulfed in flames. It was difficult to absorb the tragedy playing out before our eyes. Firemen with their fat hoses. Crowds bundled in coats against the cold. Somber voices coming from newscasters. It was all surreal.

As a child, I especially looked forward to Sunday afternoons. It was then that Daddy spent his only day away from the store to take Mama and me somewhere after church. Usually it was Hot Springs – his favorite place and mine. Only 40 miles away, we entered a different world. One that never grew old in our eyes as we drove along Bath House Row, ate a late lunch at Franke’s Cafeteria, sometimes walked on the Promenade, and drove to the top of both mountains.

If a good movie was playing, we attended that.

Being from a small town, I was always taken by Central Avenue’s storefronts and auction houses, the varied architecture of its buildings. If we turned right at the big fountain on Hwy. 7 we went by beautiful old ante-bellum homes perched high above the road with their

gingerbread and columns. Another place I found particularly interesting was on our right before the big curve. It was a yellow brick condo-type artifice whose name I never knew. Perhaps some of you could help me. It was very modern and had corner windows and I dreamed I could live in one of those rooms some day. Apparently vacant, it is still there. If we turned left at the fountain, we were on Whittington, driving by the Alligator Farm and the brightly painted Swiss Chalet House with flower boxes. I took many pictures of it with my Kodak. But, my favorites of

all were the grand hotels of the day and, most specifically, the Majestic Hotel. She stood right behind the big fountain, gazing out toward Central as if she were the exclamation point for downtown Hot Springs.

When I was 11, I told Daddy that I only wanted one thing for my birthday–not a new bicycle, not a record player, jewelry or clothes. I wanted to go inside the Majestic Hotel and have dinner in her dining room. Daddy held good to his promise.

That birthday outing found me wearing my very best organdy dress with the wide silk sash, white patent leather shoes, small purse and gloves.

I felt like a grown up lady in a movie when we walked through the massive doors into the opulent lobby. I drew in a deep breath of awe as my young eyes took in the surroundings. I don’t believe I had ever walked on marble floors before. Neither had I ever seen so much gleaming dark wood inside a room. Even the front desk and elevators were magnificent. I looked at the grand staircase leading upward and pictured a visiting princess standing at its head.

We spoke in hushed tones, befitting the royalty around us, as we were led to the dining room. In later years I have had the pleasure of dining in many fine restaurants, but these all pale in the light of my Majestic experience. No other place or service has affected me quite as much. I

had to linger a moment at the door to take it all in. I believe the carpet was green but I do know it had large flowers in the pattern. The tables were dressed in spotless white linen, fine crystal, silver and china. A small nosegay of fresh blooms adorned each table. The waiter in his black tie seated both Mama and me. It was the very first time I had experienced this honor! The offered leather-covered menu was so large I had to hold it in both hands and loved the fact it had a gold cord with tassel marking the “luncheon” page.

According to my old diary, my meal began with fruit served on ice in a small silver compote. I chose sliced beef (prime rib?) for my entree with parslied potatoes. Potatoes were always served plain or mashed at home. I didn’t note other vegetables in my diary account but I did go to great length to describe the homemade rolls as being as good as Mama’s and that the butter was served in the shape of a seashell. The dessert I chose from the cart wheeled to our table (another first!) was a several tiered chocolate cake with thick fudge icing and had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side — topped by a fresh strawberry! Mama and Daddy had coffee with their dessert and I had a Coca-Cola. Some sixty years later, I still remember this exciting dining experience and how I wished I never had to leave the Majestic Hotel that afternoon.

Perhaps you have noted that I have continued to speak of this fine hotel in the feminine gender. That is how I picture her. When my husband and I drove past her last June on our house hunting trip, it was my first glimpse in almost a decade. I was heartbroken. Her beautiful eyes overlooking the fountain were all boarded up. She was blind. Her facade,

once so proud, was clearly in disrepair. She reminded me of Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” trying to hold on to her youth in a faded gown. I chose to remember her as Scarlett O’Hara as the belle of the Twelve Oaks picnic, sitting proudly in her beautiful gown in the midst of all her ardent admirers, reigning like a queen on her imaginary throne.

Within 48 hours of the first blaze on the fifth floor, the Majestic Hotel of Hot Springs was demolished for safety reasons. That Saturday afternoon, her beautiful billowing gown floated down about her knees in plumes of dust and smoke, leaving her beautiful head to bow down in

death where she had once so proudly stood.

And all we ardent admirers? We, too, bowed down our heads in obeisance – our eyes misting over with tears as we said goodbye to this once-grand lady.

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Brenda Miles is a published author residing in Hot Springs Village. She may be reached at