A Capital Idea: An Illustrated History of the Capital Hotel

By Story, Kenneth | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

A Capital Idea: An Illustrated History of the Capital Hotel


Story, Kenneth, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


A Capital Idea: An Illustrated History of the Capital Hotel. By Steven B. Weintz. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002. Pp. xiii, 144. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations. $34.95.)

Histories of individual buildings are common; histories that tell the story of a building up to the present, including a detailed chronicle of its historic preservation, are less so. Then again, there are few extant late nineteenth-century commercial buildings in America with tales to tell like those of Little Rock's Capital Hotel.

Steven B. Weintz's book is divided into four chapters, with the first two telling the history of the building up until 1977, and the last two recounting both the difficult, serpentine process that resulted in its preservation and the operating philosophy behind its success as the state's premier historic hotel. Chapter One, the history of the building from its construction in 1872 up until 1908, is based upon historical research conducted by Ned Shank in 1979, which was commissioned by Little Rock architect Ed Cromwell prior to his beginning the restoration of the building (both men's contributions are detailed in an In Memoriam section at the beginning of the book). The recounting of the building's earliest incarnation as an office/retail/bachelor quarters known as the Denckla Block (named for its builder, New York railroad tycoon William P. Denckla) is quite informative, particularly for those who have known the structure only as a hotel. Detailed discussions of the first retail and office tenants are coupled with early photographs and etchings that give the reader valuable perspective on its earliest appearance. The discussion of its conversion into a hotel in 1876 by Colonel A. G. DeShon includes a detailed account of the physical changes required by its new use, including the first rear addition. The account of the purchase of the hotel in 1884 by J. W. DeShon (no relation) and Jonathan F. Calef continues this theme with an equally detailed discussion of the 1890 fourth story addition and the new cast-iron storefront fabricated to match the original on the stories below. Chapter Two covers the period 1908 to 1977 and chronicles the ownership and operation of the hotel by Henry Franklin Auten and his son Lawrence until 1947, when he sold it to Amelia and Elizabeth Casinelli. The Auten era is noteworthy for the Classical Revival style renovations of the lobby spaces by George R. Mann, the architect of the "new" state capitol and many other buildings in Little Rock. …

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