On February 17, 1980, a cold and clear Sunday morning, over seven decades of Arkansas history came tumbling down as the Hotel Marion and Grady Manning Hotel were imploded.
Thousands of people watched from places in downtown Little Rock and along the Arkansas River. Many more were able to watch from live coverage carried on KATV, KARK and KTHV. Those that missed it were able to see the replays multiple times on the news.
It was the first large-scale implosion in Little Rock’s history. (It was likely the first implosion, but there could have been a small one that is not known.) The two hotels were torn down to make way for the construction of the Excelsior Hotel and the Statehouse Convention Center.
The Hotel Marion, named after the builder Herman Kahn for his wife, opened in 1907. For four years it was Arkansas’ tallest structure. It was the largest and grandest hotel in the City. For decades it would be the host to many dignitaries, conventions, and gala celebrations.
The Grady Manning Hotel was originally known as the Hotel Ben McGhee when it opened in 1930. Manning was the head of the company which owned both the Marion and Ben McGhee properties. Upon his untimely death by drowning in September 1939, the property was subsequently renamed in his memory.
The Manning Hotel, though taller, was never as grand a hotel as the Marion. It was more of a mid-range property in pricing.
By the 1970s, both hotels were suffering from neglect and disinterest. Changes in the lodging industry combined with a decline in downtown Little Rock had left both facilities with little business.
When Little Rock civic and government leaders decided to construct a larger convention center downtown with an adjacent hotel, it was decided that neither of these facilities could be properly renovated to be part of the project. Instead, the land on which they stood (and the space in between) would be prime for the new hotel and center.
So, on the cold Sunday morning, the explosives were detonated, and the buildings came down. Sunday morning was chosen because it would have the least impact on traffic flows since it would cause numerous streets to be closed for safety reasons. The blast was delayed due to a rumor that someone might be in one of the buildings. After checking both sites and finding them empty, the charges were set off.
And the Marion and Grady Manning became as much a memory as the long gone people who had once populated them.
The University of Arkansas’ Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History has a video of the implosion.