Nestled in the scenic landscape of Hot Springs, Arkansas, The Majestic Hotel stands as a testament to the rich history and charm of the region. With its opulent architecture and illustrious past, the hotel has been a beloved landmark for over a century. From its early beginnings as a luxurious resort to its eventual decline and closing, The Majestic Hotel has played an integral role in the early development of Hot Springs as a renowned spa destination.
The story of The Majestic Hotel dates back to 1882, when it was first established as The Avenue Hotel. Under the vision of Colonel Samuel W. Fordyce, a prominent businessman, the hotel was constructed as a luxurious retreat to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Hot Springs as a spa town. The hotel boasted elegant Victorian architecture and offered an array of amenities, such as lavish ballrooms, hot spring baths, and exquisite dining options.
The lobby of the abandoned Majestic Hotel
As the years passed, The Avenue Hotel burned down, and in 1902, it was rebuilt and renamed The Majestic Hotel, a name that would become synonymous with grandeur and opulence with its rounded corners and yellow brick facade. The hotel became a popular destination for the elite, attracting notable figures such as Al Capone, Babe Ruth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others. Its reputation for luxury, combined with the healing properties of the local hot springs, solidified its status as a premier spa resort in the United States.
An overhead view of the pool at the Majestic Hotel
One of the most fascinating aspects I discovered about this iconic hotel was its distinct buildings, each showcasing a different era of architecture. This was likely a result of the hotel’s popularity and the need for expansion. Typically, when older structures were replaced, they would be demolished entirely and replaced with brand-new buildings. However, the Majestic Hotel took a different approach by incorporating modern architecture into its existing layout. The 1902 Yellow Brick building, the Red Brick Annex added in 1926, and the Lanaii Towers constructed in 1963 may not have seemed to fit together individually, but when combined, they created a beautifully unified complex.
Due to the decline in popularity of spa treatments and the crackdown on illegal gambling in the 1960s, the Majestic was able to hold on until 2006 and served its last guests in October of that year.
The ruins of the lobby of the abandoned Majestic Hotel
“What is it that makes your city worth living in? It’s your city’s history, the soul, and the culture. In my opinion, it is our historic buildings that make us who we are. It tells a story.” This is a quote from journalist and preservationist Steve Lackmeyer that opens the documentary film Forever Majestic, and that line has resonated with me ever since I interviewed him in 2016. I’ve been exploring abandoned buildings for over 10 years now, and I have come to learn that buildings are like people in quite a few ways. They come with their own history, energy, and personalities. Sometimes you find yourself drawn to a building without really knowing why, and for me, that was the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
When I first started taking photos of the Majestic, I was genuinely amazed at how much had been left untouched. This building drew me in like no other place I’ve explored before—it’s not just the structure but also the town and its people. In 2014, I began making a documentary to showcase the incredible history behind this gem. But as we dug deeper, it turned into a real race against time to save this historic hotel from being demolished.
What unfolded was quite a journey. Working with a group of like-minded individuals, I found myself in a small town riddled with corruption, strange fires, and shady characters who owned the building. Our documentary gradually transformed into a full-length feature film, “Forever Majestic.” If you’re into preserving history, love exploring urban spaces, or have a passion for documentaries, I think you’ll really enjoy this movie.