Downtown dinosaur — Hotel Pines’ roots are a century deep

For nearly 60 years, it served as Pine Bluff’s largest and most luxurious hotel, a popular social center as a regional landmark. Four decades after its closing, it survives as little more than a shell of its past grandeur, but still casts a major downtown shadow. And a hundred years ago, it was being constructed with an eye on future downtown development.

The Hotel Pines, which officially opened amid “great fanfare” on Nov. 6, 1913, can now proclaim that its roots date back a full century. Construction commenced in 1912, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, after a discovery of quicksand at the West Fifth Avenue and Main Street site delayed an initial start. The quicksand, which created a challenge in the laying of the hotel’s foundation, wasn’t the lone early setback – a worker died when he fell six stories from the roof on July 22, 1912.

The names behind the planning and building of the grand hotel read like a who’s who of Arkansas developers of the time. George Mann of St. Louis, who designed the Arkansas State Capitol and The Hotel Marion in Little Rock, was selected as the local facility’s architect. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture notes that Paul M. Heerwagen of Fayetteville was charged with decorating the interior. Heerwagen, who would redecorate The Pines’ lobby and mezzanine in 1928, had previously worked on other noted hotels, including The Piedmont in Atlanta.

The Monk and Ritchie firm of Pine Bluff netted the construction contract and assigned stonework to the E.L. Rogers Company of Little Rock.

A six-story, U-shaped structure embellished with classical detailing, the hotel was built within easy walking distance of the Union Station rail depot at East Fourth Avenue and State Street. Porter service to carry luggage to and from the depot, which today houses the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum, was provided by the hotel.

“The interior of The Hotel Pines is notable for its first-floor ceilings, which are coffered and supported by a full entablature, mounted on pink, marblelized columns,” said Bill Norman, an Encyclopedia of Arkansas staff member. “Its lobby is a barrel vault supported by gray marble columns and pilasters. The lobby’s ceiling is a curved, multicolored lead, stained-glass skylight. Over the main entrance to the lobby is a bowed balcony supported by a large decorative bracket. Walls are furnished in gray marble, and the floors are mosaic ceramic tile.”

A second-story balcony encircles the lobby.

For much of its existence, The Hotel Pines was truly a community interest. A group of prominent locals organized on July 21, 1910, for the purpose of building a large, first-class hotel at the site. The new Pine Bluff Hotel Company then authorized an issuance of $250,000 in capital stock.

The effort was fueled by economic interest. The area north of Cotton Belt and Missouri-Pacific railroad tracks that dissected Main Street on Third and Fourth was a key commercial district, but business wasn’t as developed south of the tracks. Investors figured the hotel would attract more traffic to the area, and with the increased activity sparking nearby business growth, the combination would hike property values.

Cotton Belt Bank was the biggest investor with 300 stock shares. The bank’s offices were for many years located within the hotel.

The hotel’s construction cost was a then-staggering $350,000. The Pine Bluff Hotel Company never attempted to operate the facility, instead leasing the building to the firm of Storm and Watson. The firm had had previous experience with The Hotel Adolphus in Dallas.

The Hotel Pines reportedly never paid a dividend on its stock, but succeeded in bringing new commerce to the downtown area.

Gov. George W. Hays was the primary speaker at the hotel’s grand opening. Over the ensuing 57 years, until its 1970 closing, The Hotel Pines was a busy center for travelers, business, civic meetings, banquets, dances and society gatherings. Its demise followed the 1968 ending of passenger rail service to the city.