Friday, March 30, 2018

Little Rock Central

Little Rock Central High School might be one of the most historic buildings in the city. It was built back in 1927, and sprawls across two city blocks. When it opened it was dubbed the most expensive and beautiful high school building in the country.


Thirty years after the school opened, it would become a Civil Rights landmark. In 1957, the governor of Arkansas called out the National Guard to prevent nine African-American students from desegregating the school. Eventually, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the students to class and to preserve the peace.


It is bizarre now to imagine the crowds of people nearly rioting around the school in 1957. It was quiet and peaceful when I was there a few weeks ago taking these pictures. I should also note that it smelled really good there, thanks to lots of blooming plants and flowers around the school.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Capitol Spring

We are finally entering into the Spring season, which means leaves are starting to appear on trees and flowers are popping out of the ground. I was in downtown Little Rock with the camera, and managed to catch the Japanese Magnolia trees at the State Capitol building while they were heavy with their pink and purple flowers.



And then not to be outdone, the sunset also provided some nice color in the sky:


Monday, March 26, 2018

Hotel Pines

The Pines Hotel, in downtown Pine Bluff, was once one of the most luxurious hotels in the state of Arkansas. But it closed in 1970, and was abandoned for decades afterwards. The building continued to decay and crumble, and it looked like the building would never be restored. It was widely assumed that the Hotel Pines would either be torn down, torched by an arsonist or meet some other depressing fate.

I was given permission to go inside the hotel in 2016, and I entered it with the thought that I was getting pictures there before the building was destroyed. I never thought that the hotel could or would be saved since it would cost millions to restore the hotel to its former glory.

But I was wrong. A group called Pine Bluff Rising purchased the hotel, and there are plans underway to spend about $35 million to preserve and restore the building and to bring it back to life as a modern boutique hotel. The lobby of the hotel has been cleaned up, and the structure was secured. In a few months, construction workers will fill the hotel and begin the work of restoring the historic building.

Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to tour the hotel with one of the developers, along with two other talented photographers. It was interesting to see the work that has already been completed, and to hear the long-term plans for the hotel and for Pine Bluff. The same group that is renovating the hotel will also be purchasing and rehabbing several other historic buildings in downtown Pine Bluff, an infusion of cash that will surely transform the city.

We entered the building and were given construction hard-hats to wear. We walked through the first floor, which had been cleaned up of most of the debris and dirt that had littered the floor before. This was an old store front that used to face Main Street. If I remember it right, this will become part of a planned restaurant.


We then headed downstairs into the basement of the hotel, a place I didn't visit last time I was here (mainly because it was flooded with several feet of water).


The basement has been dried out, revealing a lot of old rusty equipment that has sat here for decades under water. This was part of an old industrial dryer, part of the hotel's old laundry facilities.


And in another part of the basement, you can see the wooden Jenga-like blocks that are being used to temporarily support the building's foundation. Next to the blocks is one of the original concrete and steel pillars that has been severely corroded over time. All this will be fixed, and the basement will become offices and maybe even classroom space for UAPB's hospitality program.


We passed by what was once the first bank drive-through window in the state. In 1953, the National Bank of Commerce put in the uniquely designed drive-through window, which was actually a small booth that would rise up from the basement and up through a hole in the sidewalk every morning, and then lower down into the basement at night. The metal roof of the booth is still there, along the sidewalk outside of the hotel. It was neat, but I bet it must have been rough working in the booth back in the days before air conditioning.

We headed back up the stairs, passing by this old wooden door.


We went to the second floor and then continued on to this view overlooking the hotel's lobby. Even if the decades of abandonment have taken their toll on the lobby, it is still architecturally striking. The floors are a mosaic of ceramic tile, and the walls are marble. Above all of that is a large skylight (which used to be stained glass, but it was removed).


The lobby has been cleaned up, removing layers of dirt and debris. For a comparison, this is what it looked like in 2016:

Hotel Pines

The thick coating of debris actually helped preserve most of the ceramic tiles on the ground, and the lobby is in relatively good shape, all things considered. The stained glass in the skylight has actually all been recovered, and will be re-installed here again. It will be amazing to see this when the construction is completed.


And the view from the opposite side of the lobby. Here you can see what was once the front desk, looking towards what was the front desk of the hotel.


The Hotel Pines was designed by noted architect George R. Mann, who also designed the Arkansas State Capitol building, Little Rock Central High School, the Albert Pike Hotel and the Pulaski County Courthouse. The hotel cost $350,000 to build, which was a considerable sum of money in the early 1900s. The hotel’s main clientele were rail travelers, and the hotel even offered porter service that carried guest’s luggage to the nearby train station.


But rail service to Pine Bluff ended in 1968, which took away much of the hotel's clientele. The hotel would close in 1970, and has been mostly empty ever since.






The hotel had 168 rooms when it first opened, but the number of rooms will be much different when it re-opens again as a boutique hotel. The reason for this is that the rooms were built to 1913 standards, and many of them are now much to small for a modern hotel. So the plan is to tear down the walls to combine rooms, but still also keeping the historic details of the interior.



It's been several weeks since we took the tour, so I might not be entirely sure of the details, but construction should begin this summer and take about a year to complete.


We headed up the stairs to some of the upper floors of the hotel, where you could see more of what the hotel looked like during its long period of abandonment.





The bathrooms in the renovated hotel will be much better than this.




After that, we headed up to the roof and caught this view of Main Street, looking towards the Jefferson County Courthouse.


It provided a nice way to end the tour, by seeing how the hotel fit into the fabric of the city. Within the next few years, over $50 million is going to be spent rehabilitating the Hotel Pines and several other historic buildings in Pine Bluff. It will be interesting to see how things change here in the next few years, and I'm looking forward to seeing the Pines when it is reborn.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Pine Bluff

A few weeks back, I met up with two talented photographers to take some pictures in downtown Pine Bluff. There is a lot of history in Pine Bluff, along with several really interesting old buildings.


Pine Bluff is an old city, having been incorporated way back in 1839. Pine Bluff lives up to its name, it was actually founded on a pine covered bluff along the Arkansas River. The connection to the river was crucial to the town's early development, making it an important steamboat stop. Soon railroads followed, and the town continued to grow. At one point, it was the third largest city in Arkansas (it's the tenth largest now).

But in recent times, Pine Bluff has been hit hard by a sharp economic decline. That decline is reflected in the buildings downtown, many of which are abandoned and crumbling. But while many have long since given up on Pine Bluff, there is some change coming. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent here with the hopes of bringing life back to downtown Pine Bluff. Hopefully before too long there won't be very many abandoned buildings left behind for people to walk around and take pictures of.













And one more shot, looking up Main Street towards the Jefferson County Courthouse. The courthouse is actually one of the oldest courthouse in the state, and was built in 1856. It was nearly entirely destroyed by a fire in 1976, but the facade and some of the original structure were saved and incorporated into the restored building.


After hearing about some of the plans in the works for downtown Pine Bluff, it was easy to feel optimistic about the city's future. Especially after finding out how much work and vision is being put into the renovation of the Hotel Pines. We were given permission to go inside the hotel, which was once one of the fanciest hotels in the state but which closed in the 1970s and had been abandoned since. Pictures from that visit will be here soon!

Monday, March 19, 2018


Here’s the last post about the trip to New York! It only took a little over a month to edit and write up the posts, so that’s pretty good I guess.

But one day, we headed down to Midtown and had lunch and then went to the International Center of Photography. They had two exhibits, one of which was a large and interesting exhibit about the Japanese Internment Camps during World War II. It was nice to visit a museum that was dedicated solely to photography. It seems like most art museums have only a few token photographs laying around, or else they’re shoved in a dark corner of the basement.

This row of buildings were in a neighborhood that we walked through, which was near the Tenement Museum.


Then we headed across the river and into Brooklyn. Over 2.6 million people live in the borough of Brooklyn, the most populated of all the New York boroughs (even more than Manhattan). For a comparison, that 2.6 million people are squeezed into a city that takes up only 97 square miles, while I live in a city (Little Rock) with a population of 198,000 people spread out over 121 square miles.

We headed to the DUMBO neighborhood, which sits in-between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan bridges. The name DUMBO means Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and is not about a Disney movie with flying elephants. It sounds a little silly, but I do admit that I live in a neighborhood called PINOCCHIO, which actually means Paris It's Not, Or Chicago. Cars Have Interstate Obviously.

A famous place for photos here is a spot where the Manhattan Bridge is perfectly framed by two old buildings. And if you stand in the right spot, you can even catch the Empire State Building situated in the arch of the bridge. We went down there, but we weren't the only ones with that bright idea. The street was filled with people taking pictures and selfies, and also with cars with annoyed drivers trying to make their way through the throng of people.


And you know a spot is popular with tourists if there is a hotdog cart there.

Brooklyn Brooklyn, take me in

From there, we walked over to Brooklyn Bridge Park, which obviously offers up some pretty neat views of the Brooklyn Bridge.


And also of the Manhattan Bridge, which is a little bit newer than the Brooklyn Bridge (construction on it was completed in 1912).


We headed over to this spot in the park, where the wooden remnants of old pier jut out into the river. It's another popular spot for pictures, and there were probably two dozen photographers already perched on the rocks and sidewalk by the river. I went just a bit further down the sidewalk, to a spot where no one had set up yet (which I thought was slightly better since you could see more of the skyline from here).


Together we all waited for sunset, as other people walked by and asked what exactly all these people were taking pictures of. There was also a large flock of seagulls perched on the pieces of the old wooden pier, and all were indifferent to the crowds of photographers and tourists on the shore.


After sunset, I walked through the park and got this shot looking back towards the Brooklyn Bridge with the One World Trade Building in the distance.


From there I decided to actually go over and walk onto the Brooklyn Bridge, which I though would be a short walk. But the pedestrian ramp onto the bridge was a deceptively far walk from the park. But I eventually made it, and set up the tripod to get a few shots. It was a somewhat difficult spot for photography. The bridge was constantly moving with the rush of traffic passing below.


The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the United States. Construction on the bridge began in 1869 and was completed in 1883.


I took a few more pictures, before making the long walk back into Brooklyn.


And that's it for the New York pictures! We would fly back home, and thanks to a delay at the St. Louis airport we ended up arriving around midnight in Little Rock. We drove home on an interstate that was nearly empty of all other traffic, which was a bit of culture shock after being in such a busy and crowded megacity. But we were eager to get home, since there was a sleeping toddler waiting for us at the house.