Little Rock Look Back: Implosion of the Grady Manning and the Marion

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.

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Gretchen Hall of LRCVB appointed to International Tourism Board

Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) President & CEO Gretchen Hall has been appointed to the Destinations International 2018-2019 Board of Directors representing Little Rock’s and Arkansas’s tourism and hospitality industry on a national and global stage.

Destinations International (formerly Destination Marketing Association International) is the world’s largest resource for official destination organizations, convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and tourism boards.

“I’m proud to join the DI Board representing more than 6,000 professional members and 575 destination organizations. My appointment means that Little Rock will be well represented in driving economic impact, job creation, community sustainability and quality of life through travel. Having recently returned from DI’s Annual Convention, I can tell you that the organization is THE leading source for education, research, advocacy and community in the tourism space.”

Hall has spent the majority of her career in the hospitality industry, having served the LRCVB in multiple roles for nearly 17 years. She has been the LRCVB’s President and CEO since May 2011. Hall is the President of the Heart of Arkansas Regional Tourism Association, President of the Arkansas Travel Council, Chair of the Arkansas Association of CVBs, an executive committee member of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, and serves on the board of directors for the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and on the finance committee of Destinations International. She is also a member of the US Travel Association, Destinations International, Skål International, and Little Rock Rotary – Club 99.

Together with representatives from Tourism Toronto, Visit Baltimore, Visit Vacaville, Visit Phoenix and Houston First Corporation, Hall will serve a three-year term dedicated to serving Destinations International’s 6,000 members.

Destinations International serves destination marketing professionals first and foremost. Together with partners from nearly 600 destinations in approximately 15 countries, Destinations International represents a powerful forward-thinking, collaborative association; exchanging bold ideas, connecting innovative people and elevating tourism to its highest potential. For more information, visit www.destinationsinternational.org

The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) is the official destination marketing organization for the City of Little Rock, charged with marketing and selling the city as a meeting, sports and leisure travel destination. The LRCVB also manages the Statehouse Convention Center, Robinson Center, River Market and multiple parking facilities.

Little Rock’s former 1868 City Hall celebrated today

2018 marks 150 years since the opening of the 1868 Little Rock City Hall, which was located at 120 to 122 West Markham.  This two story building was the home to Little Rock civic life from 1868 until 1908, when the current building was opened.

After City offices moved out, the building housed private businesses until it was torn down in 1964 for urban renewal.  In the early 1980s, the land once again returned to public use when a portion of the Statehouse Convention Center was built on the site.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the 1868 City Hall, two plaques will be dedicated today.  The first pays tribute to the leaders who oversaw the construction and opening of the building and those who were present when the building closed as City Hall.

The other plaque honors the African American leaders who were on the Little Rock City Council between 1868 and 1893. It also pays tribute to Mifflin Wistar Gibbs who was elected Little Rock Police Judge in 1874.  He became the first African American to be elected to a municipal judgeship in the United States.

While Little Rock city government met in a variety of spaces between 1832 and 1868, records are incomplete as to the locations of those buildings.  The 1868 City Hall location is the first City Hall for which a location and appearance are known.

Little Rock Look Back: Farewell to the Hotel Marion and the Grady Manning Hotel

Manning Implosion.JPGOn 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.

RobinsoNovember: Grady Manning

h-grady-manningIn 1938, the first Auditorium Commission was appointed to oversee the administration of Robinson Auditorium.  At the time, it was anticipated that the auditorium would be ready to open by no later than September 1939.  (Actually, the building was originally supposed to have been opened by June 1938 in order to fulfill a funding request.)

The first chairman of the Auditorium Commission was H. Grady Manning.  He was founder and president of Southwest Hotels, which included the Hotel Marion, Ben McGehee, Albert Pike, and Lafayette Hotels in Little Rock as well as the Arlington and Majestic Hotels in Hot Springs.

Manning was a native of Scott County. He moved to Fort Smith to attend a business college. To help defray expenses, he started working at the hotel in which he was staying. Enjoying this, he decided to make hotels his career.  Manning then moved to Hot Springs and worked at the Eastman Hotel before moving to Niagara Falls to work at the Queen Royal Hotel.  He returned to Arkansas in 1917 and became the assistant manager at the Hotel Marion.  In 1919, he became the manager of the Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Springs before moving to Fort Smith and managing the Goldman Hotel.

In the 1920s, he founded Southwest Hotels, Inc. which then started building and acquiring existing properties.  He and his wife, Ruth, resided in the Hotel Marion.  His daughter, Joy, grew up at the hotel.  With the proximity of his hotels to the forthcoming auditorium and his understanding of the convention business, Manning was a natural fit to lead the new auditorium commission.  As construction woes delayed the opening of the building, Manning struggled to keep the commission together.  The commission, by state statute, was not charged to oversee a construction project, but instead to administer a functioning building.

On Labor Day, 1939, Manning and his wife were enjoying the day at Lake Hamilton with some friends.  The boat they were in capsized, and Manning drowned at the age of 47.  The City was in mourning.  A City Council resolution was passed to memorialize his contributions.  In addition to being signed by Mayor J. V. Satterfield, it was signed by three members of the City Council–Aldermen E. W. Gibb, S. Major Dent, and Charles Davis.

Later in September, the remaining four members of the Auditorium Commission resigned. Since they had no building to manage and no leader, they decided it was best to disband.  Mayor Satterfield declined to name their replacements until the building got closer to opening.

A few years after his death, the Ben McGehee was renamed the Grady Manning Hotel.  That hotel, and the Hotel Marion were imploded in February 1980 to make way for the Statehouse Convention Center and the Excelsior Hotel.

Little Rock Look Back: President Ronald W. Reagan

RWR 40On February 6, 1911, future U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan was born. His life took him from small town Illinois, to Hollywood in the last days of the Golden Age of the studio system, to politics, to the California State House, to the White House.

On November 3, 1984, he became the first sitting U.S. President to spend a night in Little Rock. He stayed at the Excelsior Hotel (now Marriott Downtown) before making a campaign speech on November 4.  His only special requests for the room were jelly beans and ginger ale.  His speech was in the Statehouse Convention Center, which had opened less than two years earlier.

In 1980, Reagan had become only the third Republican to win Arkansas’ electoral votes (after Grant in 1868 and 1872 and Nixon in 1972). He was expected to easily win them again in 1984.  The main purpose of his speech on the Saturday before election Day was to drum up support for other GOP candidates in the state.  While he carried the state and the electoral votes, none of his preferred candidates won their races in 1984.

Four years later, on October 27, 1988, he flew in to Little Rock to make remarks at Central Flying Service. The purpose this time was to campaign on behalf of GOP nominee George H. W. Bush. As Reagan had done in 1980 and 1984, Bush carried the state and won the Presidency.

In 1992, after native son Bill Clinton defeated Bush in his bid for re-election, Reagan welcomed Clinton to his office in Los Angeles.  Having served as Governor of California, he was able to relate to Clinton’s impending transition from Governor to President.

In 2004, months before the Clinton Library opened, Reagan succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  He had publicly disclosed he had the illness in 1994 during the second year of Clinton’s first term.  Though the Clinton Library was not open yet, the Clinton Foundation set up a memorial book at Curran Hall for people to stop by and sign. The book was then sent to the Reagan Presidential Library.

iPhotos 2011: The Arty

Like many people, the Little Rock Culture Vulture has an iPhone and takes many iPhotos. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the entries highlight some of his favorite personal iPhotos taken in Little Rock during 2011. The are divided into the Good, the Odd and the Arty.

Today focuses on The Arty. These 11 from ’11 are presented chronologically. These were mistakes, but upon reflection some turned out interesting photos in their own right.

Rain reflected on the dashboard of the Culture Vulture's Vue - April 2011

Capital Hotel lobby - May 2011

 

Tired Rep carpet pre-renovation at last night prior to renovation - June 2011

 

Inside Clinton Library - June 2011

Little Rock Wind Symphony Flag Day Concert in MacArthur Park by MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History - June 2011

Downtown lights - July 2011

Light and shadow - Little Rock - October 2011

Wally Allen Ballroom at Statehouse Convention Center for 50th anniversary party of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods - October 2011

John Willis and friends concert on UALR Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall stage - November 2011

Floor of Capital Hotel lobby - November 2011

Capital Hotel exterior decorated for Christmas by Tipton Hurst - December 2011