The De Soto Hotel

8
City/Town: Hot Springs
Location Class: Hotel/Motel
Year Built: 1926
Year Abandoned: 1987
Status: For SaleAbandoned
Photographer: Michael SchwarzGrant King

The first certified fire-proof building in Hot Springs opened in 1926 as the Howe Hotel. It was a seven story building featuring 150 rooms, a coffee shop in the lobby, and an additional lounge on the second floor. It also hosted the mineral spa baths for which Hot Springs are famous. Later, in the 1940’s the Howe was purchased by the Asimos’ and renamed to Hotel De Soto. His inspiration for the name was influenced by the famous explorer, Hernando De Soto, who visited Hot Springs in 1541.

01v/08/arve/G2599/021Hernando De Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States, and the first documented to have crossed the Mississippi River. De Soto’s North American expedition ranged throughout the southeastern United States searching for gold, silver and a passage to China. De Soto, as discovered in the diary of a Portuguese member of his expedition, visited what Native Americans referred to as the Valley of the Vapors, now called Hot Springs, Arkansas. Members of many tribes had gathered at the valley over many years to enjoy the healing properties of the thermal springs. De Soto and his men stayed just long enough to claim the area for Spain exactly one year before his death in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River in either Arkansas or Louisiana.

Before reopening as the Desoto Hotel, features were added to the existing building. The lobby, coffee shop and lounge were all completely remodelled and with new furniture added. In addition a new mural room was added combing a coffee shop and dining room. The mural room is so-called because of its now famous Desoto murals adoring its walls.

A new Square motel was added an the back of the hotel with the pool and additional bath houses, and all of it was fully air-conditioned. It is said that this was the first hotel in Arkansas to be fully air-conditioned. A new sun deck opening off the mezzanine floor were comfortable lounges and chairs where patrons could bask in the sun and watch the world go by on Central Avenue.

The hotel was widely popular to the many people who regularly visited Hot Springs. Records show that some patrons were seen to stay every January for twenty-five years in a row.

In the late forties and fifties the hotel was used as overflow for the Army Navy hospital during World War II when soldiers were being treated for war injuries servicemen from battle zones were sent to the Hot Springs facility for rest relaxation and rehabilitation.

It is said by many Arkansas historians that the “Pinkertons” or FBI agents were notorious for staying on the top to watch Al Capone over at the Arlington hotel, where he stayed most of the time. There are very many rumors of violence relating to what actually happened while they were watching him, but none of them have been proven true yet.

In the 1980s after getting renamed back to the Howe hotel, the back of the structure caught fire and burnt the pool and motel portion of the hotel to the ground causing it to be demolished shortly thereafter. Of the original seven-story building only the front remains, along with a small portion of the additional bath houses on the bottom of the back section. Inside you will find peeling paint, mostly empty rooms and a few bathtubs, spa chairs, and some old medical equipment probably used during the overflow. Mold is growing on the ceiling and floors, and the basement is flooded. The future of the upper portion of the hotel is unknown, however the lobby was saved and was turned into clothing stores, ice cream shops and is currently the De Soto rock ‘n’ gift shop. If you want to learn more about the history, swing by and take a look at this amazing shop.

Historical Photos

De Soto Hotel Today

8 Comments

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  2. I would love any memento from that great old place! Spent every racing season weekend there for years in the late 70s and early 80s. It was showing signs of it's eventual demise but, to me, that only added to its charm. I'm never entered that lobby that it didn't remind me of every Humphrey Bogart film noir. It was a study in the development of hotel facilities that are standard today and what they actually were not…back then…such as lack of privacy. With the thinner walls and often opened over-door glass transoms you could hear conversations, toilets flush and faucets running up and down the hall. There were some full time residents who camped out in the lobby on the weekends to people-watch the 'out of towners.' If you made the time, they had stories to tell…or a horse picked out for you to make $2 bet for them when you went to the track. My favorite was a guy in his early 80s who was there, living out his days. I had no reason not to believe his personal days of yore…and if true he was involved in the Kansas City crime syndicate back in the day. Now that man had some stories to tell! I am sorry the DeSoto is now gone but I will ever remember some of the greatest times of my life there. A lot of good times and long laughs in a captured time box. The pictures, despite the destruction, reminded of so many great features of what a great art deco place it really was. So when I finally take up residence in a rocking chair I can assure you many of my conversations will begin with…'Let me tell you about a great 9ld hotel, the DE Soto….'

  3. contrarian101blog on

    My parents, John and Jane Asimos, bought the (Howe) DeSoto Hotel in March of 1946. The authorities were returning hotels from servicing wounded servicemen back to the previous owners/managers for regular commercial use, but the people to whom the hotel belonged were not anxious to resume business operations. That summer, Nikolas Elfter, my father's nephew and 1/3 partner in the business, arrived with his family from Lincoln, IL to assume ownership and management.
    We had a home on Lake Hamilton that was a rowdy boy's dream, but my parents devotion to the business meant that I grew up as much in the hotel as at the house.
    The building was (is?) one of the fine examples of Art Deco architecture in the South; Hot Springs had many, and too many torn down to make parking lots.
    Two statements need correction: 1) a permit to construct a bathhouse in the Howe had been issued but never materialized. The bathhouse was added during my parents tenure; unfortunately, in the same 'remodeling' effort, the grand old sidewalk porch was incorporated within the structure changing its appearance negatively. 2) the addition behind the main building did not burn down; the furnishings, yes, but not the structure. I know how it was built; my first job at 13 was general flunky promoted to jackhammer-boy. The reinforced concrete of its construction might have yielded to a powerful incendiary, but not to flaming curtains, mattresses, etc. As the building was descending into derelict status, their were many fires in both the main building and the annex. Eventually, the then owner found it rewarding to return the structure to a 'historical' state, and the annex was demolished by heavy equipment.

  4. I love the DeSoto. My best friend in junior high lived there and her mom ran the hotel. We spent so many hours behind the front desk and running around that hotel on the weekends! Memories!!

  5. Love the photos!!! I do wish they were labeled, though. Every time we are in Hot Springs, we always stop and wonder what the hotel looks like on the inside and now you've given us the chance to find out! Why is the basement flooded? Are we talking inches of water or feet? I can't believe there are still rooms that appear to have fire damage!

  6. Love this! So many of us drive by this old places and wish to see them. I have snuck in to a few places because my curiosity and longing for the past overtakes me! May I make a suggestion? I would love for you to visit the Ricebird Hotel in Stuttgart Arkansas. I have seen the bottom floor and it is a sad reminder of a beautiful past.

  7. My mom worked there. Can anyone tell me if there was ever a painting of a shark in the pool? Im trying to recall if that was the DeSoto or Royal Vista.

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