Demolition begins at the Fayetteville Hotel

FAYETTEVILLE – 40 years ago, people walking on Center Street east of the Town Center Square may have heard the faint sounds of music coming from an underground bar full of entrepreneurs, d lawyers and politicians.

Today, people should be mindful of potential falling debris from the building that once served as an annex to the old Mountain Inn hotel. A contractor began work last week to dismantle the structure, which has stood idle for more than two decades.

The Mountain Inn site and its adjoining buildings have a checkered history. The original hotel closed in 1994, but the building still stands, housing businesses such as Damgoode Pies, Taste of Thai, and Petra Cafe.

The room being demolished, further east near Center Street and College Avenue, was built in 1930 and was known as the Industrial Financial Building or Arcade Building, according to “The Square Book : An Illustrated History of the Fayetteville Square, 1828-2016,” by Anthony Wappel and Jerry Hogan. The Mountain Inn took the top two floors of the annex, giving the place over 100 rooms. The annex has a wall adjoining the original hotel, making it all look like a building from the outside.

A third expansion in 1961 was known as Motor Lodge. This piece was demolished in 2005 in anticipation of a 12-story hotel and condominium development with shops and restaurants. It never happened.

THE FUNKY MONKEY

Perhaps the most well-known feature of the arcade building was underneath. Known as the Gaslight Club in the 1960s, the spot became the Brass Monkey in 1975, according to “Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music In Fayetteville, Arkansas,” by Denele Campbell.

Former President Bill Clinton, Tyson Foods founder Don Tyson, and former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers frequented the location.

The venue did not advertise.

Owner Billie Schneider was a key figure in the state’s Democratic Party at the time, and the place has become a who’s who of rising political figures. The Brass Monkey closed after Schneider’s death in 1985 and became a few other pop-up clubs over the years until it finally went dormant in the early 2000s.

Jim Blair, philanthropist and former general counsel for Tyson Foods, said the Brass Monkey under Schneider had the feel of a private club where booze and conversation flowed freely. Much state policy evolved from there, he said.

“Late night things got pretty crazy at times,” Blair said. “But he’s one of the pressure cooker fans that society has to depend on.”

Archie Schaffer III served as an assistant for Clinton and Bumpers, and said the Brass Monkey wasn’t much of a place for the college crowd. Schaffer was pretty much the young man around.

Musical acts such as Levon Helm, Dr. John, the Leaving Trains and the Charles Tuberville Band drew crowds to the dance floor. Schaffer said he remembered the place being cold, dark and noisy. Schneider served as the glue that held the scene together, he said.

“It was where people wanted to be and knew they could find other people they might want to talk to about business or politics or whatever,” Schaffer said.

Woody Bassett, a partner in Bassett’s law firm, had an office in the arcade building and occasionally wandered into the underground bar during his heyday. A long hallway led from the office to the Mountain Inn hotel and dining room, as well as the Town Club, which operated above the Brass Monkey, he said.

The building once played an important role in the community and provided a gathering place for many people to connect and share ideas, Bassett said. It is high time for the rest of the closed structure to fall, he said.

“Hopefully something nice can come in and take its place. It’s just a really conspicuous place in downtown Fayetteville, and it’s right there on College Avenue,” Bassett said. “We have a beautiful downtown area and that’s one of the few missing pieces.”

DESCEND

Car-Son Construction in North Little Rock obtained a permit from the city to demolish what remains of the Mountain Inn’s arcade building. Justin Stewart with Car-Son said there was no timeline for the demolition work, but it would take some time.

The building became an open security breach, said Jonathan Curth, director of city development services. There is a risk of pieces of the exterior falling onto the public sidewalk below. City staff worked with the landlord for more than a year on a solution, he said.

The city has the power to make sure a vacant building is secure and poses no threat to the public, Curth said. But that’s about where the city’s authority ends, he noted.

The property should be part of a protected neighborhood under the city’s preservation ordinance to enforce any measures outside of structural integrity and safety, Curth said. A majority of landowners in the neighborhood should agree to be part of it.

The property is owned by NWAP LLC in Mountain Home, which purchased it in 2014 for $1.1 million, according to Washington County property records. The company is registered with Mountain Home attorney Mark Carney, who died in December.

Developers John Nock and Richard Alexander planned in the early 2000s to build a high-rise luxury hotel and condominium project called the Renaissance Tower in place of the Motor Lodge. Developers partially demolished the structure in 2005 and a crane hovered over the site for a few years before public parking was installed.

The Renaissance Tower project never materialized, and Nock and Alexander defaulted on a $3.9 million loan for the property. The Bank of Fayetteville paid $1.25 million for the foreclosed property in 2013 before NWAP LLC purchased it.

Around the time that Nock and Alexander purchased the property, the city council created a tax increase funding district to pay for the demolition of the old structure. The district has authorized a portion of the property taxes generated by properties within its borders to be used to eliminate the blight.

Funding for the project failed, and Nock and Alexander had to repay over $300,000 in damages to the city. They agreed to pay this amount if the hotel was not completed by September 2007.

Work continues Wednesday, April 20, 2022 to demolish the old Mountain Inn annex building in downtown Fayetteville. The city issued Car-Son Construction in North Little Rock a permit to demolish the old space which has stood vacant and in disrepair for more than two decades. Visit nwaonline.com/220424Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
photo Fayetteville Square and Mountain Inn, March 12, 1979 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Fayetteville Square and Mountain Inn, March 12, 1979 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Fayetteville Square and Mountain Inn, March 12, 1979 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Richard Greer celebrates his 80th birthday at Mountain Inn, in the room where he was born on March 1, 1994 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Richard Greer celebrates his 80th birthday at Mountain Inn, in the room where he was born on March 1, 1994 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Richard Greer celebrates his 80th birthday at Mountain Inn, in the room where he was born on March 1, 1994 (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo Mother-Daughter Banquet at Mountain Inn, May 1961, Pat Donat, photographer (Northwest Arkansas Times)
photo A postcard shows what the old Mountain Inn building and its eastern annex near Center Street and College Avenue looked like in Fayetteville circa 1957. The annex portion of the building is being demolished. (Courtesy of Charles Alison)

Comments are closed.