The Lane Hotel was built in 1928 at Poplar and Second streets just before the start of the Great Depression. It cost $150,000 and was advertised as the first fireproof building in Arkansas. As soon as this five-story, 72-room luxury hotel was completed, the country was plunged into the Depression, and the hotel went bankrupt. Just a few years later, in 1935, it was bought by Earl Harris of the Harris Bakery for $100,000. This was quite a bargain for the hotel was still new.
Earl Harris renamed the hotel the "Palace of the Ozarks" and, in 1939, built the Orchard Room restaurant onto the north side of the building. The Harris Hotel was the finest hotel between Kansas City, Little Rock and Fort Smith and was the center of social activity and culture for Rogers and Northwest Arkansas for more than three decades. Harris sold the hotel in 1948 to Warren Felker, and it operated as the Hotel Arkansas until it closed in 1963, ending is life as a hotel.
After 1965, the grand old "Palace of the Ozarks" operated on and off as a retirement home until it closed in 2003. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Since 2003, the most imposing building in downtown Rogers has been vacant and it has deteriorated -- except for the beautiful lobby, which is still intact and as beautiful today as when it was new in 1928.
The hotel was purchased in 2015 by a Walton group and -- except for the lobby which is to be preserved -- is being refurbished into a charter school, Haas Hall Academy. The school's curriculum is an accelerated college-preparatory academic program, initially for grades 7-10. The school will later add grades 11-12 for a maximum of 500 students.
OLD CITY HALL
Another historic building, the old City Hall at 212 W. Elm St., was built in 1929 to house the city's offices, police department and jail, fire department, city court and library. The library moved to the Old Post Office building at 120 W. Poplar St. in 1964; the police department moved in 1999 to South Dixieland Road, and the last city administrative offices moved in 2006 to 301 W. Chestnut St..
The City of Rogers sold the three-story building about 2013 for about $400,000. The building has been converted into The Lofts at Historic City Hall with 11 luxury apartments and retail space on the first floor. The renovations were completed in May 2016, and leasing has been going well. Each apartment is unique, with rates ranging from $950 to $2,195 per month.
Many people remember the three-story structure at the southwest corner of First and Walnut streets as the Dixieland Shoe building. The shoe store closed in 2006, and the building has been vacant since -- except for Townzen's Barber Shop on the First Street side and the Red Hairing Salon at 106 W. Walnut St. About three years ago, prominent local architect John Mack acquired the historic building -- built in 1895 as the Opera Block -- and began restoring it.
W.A. Miller built the Opera Block, which housed several businesses facing both Walnut and First streets, with the Opera House and other offices upstairs. In 1898, the very first telephone switchboard was installed in the back of Miller's Dry Goods Store, the area formerly Dixieland Shoes.
The Opera House was a very important location for activities of all kinds -- including politicians, speakers, performers, music and dances from 1895 until the mid-1920s. It was so popular that a third floor was added in 1903, and the building was enlarged again in 1918. The popularity of motion pictures -- which arrived in Rogers in the 1920s -- brought the demise of the Opera House. It has been vacant all of these years but is still intact and virtually unchanged.
The corner section of the Opera Block was the home of Citizen's Bank between 1898 and 1914, when it went bankrupt and closed. The next year, the American National Bank opened in the location vacated by Citizen's Bank and operated as Rogers' only bank until it moved to another location in 1937. The American National Bank evolved into the First National Bank and then into Arvest Bank-Rogers in 2000.
The corner of the Opera Block at First and Walnut streets has had a storied past being the home to a variety of businesses including banks (1898 to 1937), Gray's Grocery (1940s), Skelton's Food Center (1940s and 1950s), Hunt's Department Store (1950s to 1970s) and Dixieland Shoes (1981 to 2006).
In 2013, John Mack began renovating the building to its 1903 appearance. Many layers of paint and plaster were removed to reveal the original brick, and doors and windows were restored to match the originals. Today, the work is still in progress, with the outside almost complete. The street level will be retail space, and part of the upstairs will be residential apartments. The Opera House is to be returned to a venue for entertainment, plays and meetings, just as it was in the past.
ROGERS WHOLESALE GROCERY
On the Northeast corner of Walnut and First streets is the Dollar Saver/Rogers Wholesale Grocery building. This building was built in 1907 for Rogers Wholesale Grocery. It was designed by noted Rogers architect, A.O. Clarke, and built by local contractor, John Mylar. The exterior was red pressed brick with limestone headers, and the interior featured two large pyramid-shaped industrial skylights. The building was designed to allow the merchandise to be unloaded from train cars on the east side and transferred to wagons on the loading dock on the west side of the building. Rogers Wholesale Grocery was here until 1934, when it became Griffin Wholesale Grocery. Griffin closed in 1966, ending the buildings era as a wholesale grocery business.
In 1976, Jack Parker renovated the building and opened Dollar Saver, a variety store. Jack and his sons, Bruce and Brent Parker, operated the Dollar Saver for 40 years until it closed this summer. Today, the historic building is being converted into an upscale coffee house -- the Onyx Coffee Lab where they roast, grind and brew the coffee on site.
ROGERS TRANSFER AND STORAGE
The big white building at the southeast corner of Chestnut and Arkansas streets was built in the late 1800s for the Rogers Milling Co. The historic building at 109 N. Arkansas St. later housed a coal company, and in the 1930s, it was the home of Kennan's Rogers Transfer and Storage. Kennan's was Rogers' oldest business at 108 years when it closed in September 2010. The location was recently acquired by the Ozark Brewing Company -- presently located at 1700 S. First St. The brewing company plans to move into the renovated Rogers Transfer and Storage building by the end of this year.
One of the most exciting restorations in downtown Rogers is the Newt Hailey Ford/Morning News building at 313 S. Second St. The Morning News building was vacated earlier this year, and it has been acquired by the City of Rogers to house the new Rogers Historical Museum. The museum is expanding, and the 14,278-square-foot Hailey/Morning News building will be restored to its original 1947 Hailey Ford dealership appearance and contain five new permanent exhibits, offices and meeting space.
When Newt Hailey Ford opened his new dealership in 1947, it was a huge event. The building was considered to be the most beautiful in Rogers, with many innovations new to Northwest Arkansas. The lighting system was new and unique and flooded the showroom with daylight. The multi-line phone system was new to Rogers and allowed more than one person to receive calls or call out at the same time. A talented craftsman was brought from Fort Smith to install the terrazzo floors, and he proclaimed them to be the most beautiful he created in more than 24 years of experience. The contractor, John Mylar -- who built most of the commercial buildings in Rogers from the late 1800s to 1947 -- said that it was the best building he built in this area.
The next chapter in the story of this historic building began two years later when the Donrey Media Group, owners of the Rogers Daily News, bought the Ford building, renovated it and moved in on Nov. 24, 1969. The large rounded showroom windows were removed, and the front of the building was converted to a colonial design.
Sometime later, the front of the structure was covered with plaster and stucco into the design that is there today. The newspaper vacated the building earlier this year, and the building is in the process of being restored and renovated for the new museum. Architects and contractors have been hired, and work is progressing to convert the building into a new state-of-the-art, family friendly museum, that will be a cornerstone and showplace for historic downtown Rogers. According to John Burroughs, the director of the museum, the project should be finished by the end of next year.
Many other historic buildings too numerous to mention in this column have been restored into local one-of-a-kind restaurants, unique places to shop, residential apartments and offices. Downtown Rogers is experiencing a rebirth, and many new uses for its historic buildings.