- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) - A group of photographers is working to document a long-closed, historic hotel in Pine Bluff, while it’s also being studied by architecture students. The hotel was once considered among the finest in Arkansas, but has been abandoned for nearly half a century and after a hard winter, the once grand structure is deteriorating fast.

The two story lobby with marble walls and plaster ornamentation is crumbling. The curved ceiling once featured stained glass, but that’s broken, allowing water to pour in.

“When we’ve shown it to people in the past, people were kind of astounded. But what’s so fun about this is bringing people in here and having them take their first look at the lobby. It’s pretty astounding isn’t it? You get in here and you just go ‘wow!’ And then you leave it and it feels sort of sad that you’ve left it alone again,” Rita Henry, who leads the Blue-Eyed Knocker Photo Club, told KUAR-FM (http://bit.ly/1pmb8Cs).

The hotel was designed by architect George R. Mann, who also worked on the Arkansas State Capitol, the Hotel Marion, the Boyle Building and the Arkansas Gazette building.

“It opened in 1913 and we actually got in to start doing the photography around October, so it’s been about a hundred years,” Henry said as a passing train outside was blasting its horn, giving a hint to the history of the building.

The hotel was built near the tracks, a short distance from Pine Bluff’s Union Station.

“It was probably one of the finest hotels in Arkansas at the time and I think it’s really interesting that you see it kind of tracks with the development patterns of Pine Bluff,” said Vanessa McKuin, executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, who got her first look at the hotel this past weekend.

“So when Pine Bluff was booming, the Hotel Pines was booming. When the railroad passenger service stopped on the railroad in 1968, that’s when you really saw kind of a decline of the Hotel Pines because that’s where the major client base came from, that passenger railway. Once that passenger service shut down, the Hotel Pines shut down shortly after that.”

The six story hotel featured retail shops on the ground floor and rooms for all price ranges on the upper floors. While there are large luxury suites, some rooms, especially on the higher floors, are the size of dorm rooms with shared bathrooms.

Henry began bringing photographer friends to the hotel saying “we don’t know what’s going to happen to it.” Among them has been Darrell Adams, an American History teacher at Forrest Heights Middle School in Little Rock.

“I hope that we can document this and get a good documentation of what was inside, what was left before it completely goes away because it is rapidly, even since the last time I was here less than two months ago, it’s in an even worse state now. The water is obviously getting in now in a lot more places and starting to do a lot more damage.”

After being closed for 44 years, Adams notes that going through it can be dangerous.

“You just have to be very, very careful, watch where you step, because there are sections that aren’t stable and you could easily fall through the floor if you’re not paying attention. But if you take it slow and use good sense, you probably are as safe as you are in your own house.”

Also going through the Hotel Pines recently were students from the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture. Carl Matthews is head of the Interior Design Department and was struck by his first time seeing it.

“When you walk in, the grandness of the space, the grandness and the ornamentation of the space is certainly not something that you would expect in downtown Pine Bluff. My initial reaction when I walked into the building, I felt like I was in Vienna or Paris,” Matthews said.

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