Bulging brickwork prompted the latest round of restoration at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock. The $3 million project now in progress will repair segments of the west wall built in the 1870s.
Also planned is the installation of a new roof, which could start before year’s end. The mix of restoration and routine maintenance is part of the ongoing financial commitment of owning and preserving this historic downtown landmark.
“It’s kind of a labor of love, and it’s kind of constant,” said Warren Stephens, CEO of Stephens Inc. and owner of the 94-room boutique hotel. “Over the years, we’ve spent quite a bit on it.”
An extensive renovation and expansion that required closing the hotel during 2005-07 alone topped $24 million, aided with a 20% federal historic rehabilitation tax credit.
Even after that huge investment of TLC, surprises like the current west wall project happen.
Stephens attributed the cause of the slightly protruding masonry to the 19th century lime-and-sand recipe for mortar breaking down after more than 14 decades of weathering.
“Basically, the bricks are 150 years old, and some of the mortar didn’t have a lot, if any, cement in it, and there’s deterioration,” he said.
To tackle the problem in early September, workers removed window awnings along the west wall to make way for a tarp-shrouded array of scaffolding rising four stories.
Beneath the covering, workers are hand-replacing bricks and mortar as needed.
In addition to protection from the elements, the tarp allows better temperature control to heat-cure joint repairs.
Exterior repairs to the west wall should be completed in January, with interior work wrapping up before spring.
“It’s such a great asset for the city and Arkansas,” Stephens said of the hotel. “We’re glad we’re in a position to be able to keep it up.”
The Capital Hotel’s stained-glass skylight garnered national recognition earlier this year when it made a top 25 list of the most magnificent ceilings and domes. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its Historic Hotels of America program, revealed the unranked listings in May.
The atrium at the Capital Hotel has drawn appreciative gazes from the lobby and mezzanine railing since becoming a fixture 115 years ago.
The centerpiece of the glasswork is an image of the Arkansas Capitol dome, which was under construction at the time.
The skylight debuted in 1908 as a showpiece of an extreme makeover that created the lobby and mezzanine as well as the expanded balcony topping the portico entryway.
Those aesthetic alterations, which included bronze-capitaled Corinthian columns outside and a likewise capped colonnade inside, have graced the hotel ever since.
Topping $8.3 million in today’s valuation, the $250,000 renovation project reflected the design handiwork of famed local architect George Mann.
Regarding the skylight, the Historic Hotels of America noted: “There are not many surviving accounts of the construction of the stained-glass work, but it appears that each piece was hand-painted, due to the visible paint strokes.
“Guests can see examples of this themselves by studying the details that pop out from the other stained glass throughout the hotel.
“Carbon fiber filaments were added to highlight the beauty of the skylight and stained glass, no matter the time of day.”
The properties in the Historic Hotels of America program total more than 300, hotels that “have faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity.”
What does it take to be nominated and selected for membership into the Historic Hotels of America program? The gateways listed by the group are: A hotel must be at least 50 years old, designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. secretary of the Interior or listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and recognized as having historic significance.