Historic Hotel Seeks Artistic Future

Grand View Hotel 1908By Jill Henderson

In the small town of Berryville, Arkansas, a piece of Ozarks history is slowly re-emerging from the past, thanks to two dedicated souls with a dream. Six years ago, Alexander Virden and his partner Sandra Doss, sold everything they owned – including their own home – to finance the restoration of a 109 year old landmark known as the Grand View Hotel. Their dream – to turn the abandoned and condemned beauty into a thriving community arts center and local gathering place. After pouring all of their own money into completing the main floor, the duo now lack the resources to fully complete their dream of a non-profit center for the arts. This is their story.

The small town of Berryville, AR is nestled between the show-town of Branson, MO to the north and the arts and antiques hub of Eureka Springs to the west. Like most small Ozark towns, Berryville has a long and interesting history. The Grand View Hotel – originally christened the Saint George Hotel – was built in 1902 to service passengers on an excursion train offered by the Missouri & Arkansas Railroad. It was a hotel built with style and grace in mind. Every brick on the exterior of the building was made by hand in Berryville and the trim work, stairs, floors and banisters were made of the finest grade oak. The walls of the hotel are nineteen inches thick and every floor is graced by enormous floor to ceiling windows.

1950's

Soon after its opening, the Grand View became the social hub of Carroll County. To this day local residents recount fond memories of elegant dances and formal weddings held in the ballroom. Even after the railroad left town, the hotel managed to remain in operation for nearly 70 years. In the 1950’s the hotel business had dwindled and the first floor was converted into retail space. By the late 1960’s the fate of the building had been sealed and the doors of this once grand lady were closed for good.

Around 1984, the Grand View was sold again to Phillis and Carl Loehr. They began a major renovation project intended to bring the hotel up to modern standards. While the Loehrs never managed to get the hotel open, they did accomplish a great deal of work. Tons of old plaster torn out and new trunk lines and plumbing for fourteen bathrooms were added. Sadly, their attempt to restore the building ended in failure and the Grand View was abandoned again. For the next 30 years, the Grand View sat empty except for a growing collection of junk and trash. The only inhabitants during this time were a flock of pigeons and the ghosts of a bygone era.

Grand View prior to renovationAlexander and Sandra’s dream began after Alexander, an author, aspiring film-maker, and former commercial oil-rig diver moved to the Ozarks from New Orleans. When they saw the Grand View, they didn’t see an abandoned and dilapidated hotel – they saw a graceful four-story beauty with a story yet to tell. In 2005 the pair bought the hotel for $275,000. In all, Alexander sold four homes that he had remodelled in order to raise money for the extensive renovation project. Eventually he had to sell his own home to keep the project going. He currently lives in a 1986 RV behind the hotel.

Today, the downstairs has been completely renovated and is home to 302 on the Square, a full service restaurant serving Cajun and American cuisine. In keeping with the idea of a community arts center, every Friday night the 302 hosts The Berryville Hootenanny, an open acoustic jam session. All proceeds from the restaurant and the sale of Alexander’s books go to support the ongoing restoration and creation of the second part of their dream.

lobby todayThe Ozarts Center for the Arts will one day be housed in an office on the ground floor and the building used for artistic events, meetings and classes. This non-profit organization aims to be a cooperative digital arts facility featuring film, video, and music production services. It will also serve as a historic archive for regional storytelling and recordings of the traditional music of the Ozarks. But before the arts center can open, the upper floors must be completed.

Renovating a huge building like this is a daunting task for an entire crew, but Alexander and Sandra have done most of it on their own. Between the ongoing renovation work and running the restaurant full-time, Alexander and Sandra have worked 14 to 18 hour days for six years. During this time Alexander’s injuries from his diving career and arthritis in his hips has taken him from a slight limp, to barely being able to walk. He was recently told by his doctor that unless he has a double hip replacement soon, he may lose his ability to walk – and his ability to physically continue the restoration on his own. While his medical bills are covered under the V.A. for his time spent in the Navy, he cannot afford to take the time off from the restaurant.

After searching in vain to find additional funding for the project, Alexander recently began a petition to ask Governor Mike Beebe for his support in the project. He is seeking a thousand signatures before presenting the petition. It’s a last-ditch effort to save the Grand View Hotel and the Ozarts Center for the Arts. In the petition Alexander writes:

Dear Governor Beebe,
         
This letter is a request for you to lend your support to a project of great economic and social importance in Berryville Arkansas, the restoration of the 1902 Grand View Hotel as functioning part of the community and a home for Ozarts Center for the Arts. I purchased the building six years ago to save it from being condemned. Because this is a small town and the building was closed for so long, I can’t get any financing on it and my search for grants to restore this historic structure have been futile. I have written to my senators, congressman, and state representative for help and they have not been able to do anything.   You are my last hope Governor Beebe.

With their own money gone and Alexander facing the possibility of not being able to work, the pair is in desperate need of financial assistance to complete the project. If funding isn’t found soon, they may be forced to sell or abandon the project entirely. As it stands, the dream of a community arts center remains just that. Without some outside investors or a grant for the arts or historic preservation, the hotel may once again fall by the wayside.

Grand View Hotel 2008The Grand View Hotel isn’t just some building in a small town in Arkansas. It is a part of Ozarks history and culture that must be preserved. If completed, the Grand View will continue to serve the surrounding areas with access to much needed arts programs, classes and places for the community to come together.

You can help save the Grand View Hotel!   Begin by signing the petition to Gov. Beebe, then share this article with everyone you know.  And of course, visit the Grand View and 302 on the Square and enjoy some great food and live music. 

Click on any of these links to find out more:

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz  © 2011 Jill Henderson

 

DID YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE?
DON’T MISS A SINGLE ISSUE – SUBSCRIBE TODAY!
…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s