Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
On New Year’s Eve, 1962, the Hotel Bachelor became engulfed in flames. The fire continued through the night and into the next day. Young and old were ringing in the new year all around Conway but by the end of the night, they were all entranced by the fire. The hotel would be a total loss and would not be rebuilt. Instead the hotel became part of the collective memory of Conway.
The Hotel Bachelor stood on Front Street next to the Post Office. The Post Office at that time faced Front Street so the Hotel stood where the parking lot is today between the Federal Building and U.S. Pizza. Nabholz Construction renovated the Federal Building in 2011 to make it look as it did when the Hotel Bachelor was by its side on Front Street.
The Hotel Bachelor had a similar red brick exterior but had three stories. It was built in 1921 by a Little Rock contractor, Bob Oliver, who had several hotels across the state. Its original name was the Hotel Rivilo, which was Oliver spelled backwards. Oliver sold the 58-room hotel to George L. Bachelor of Little Rock in 1930.
Bachelor changed the name to Hotel Bachelor and made substantial improvements to the hotel. He passed away in 1947 but his wife and daughter, Katy Jo, continued to live there until they sold the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. C.M. King in 1956. There were several different owners before the hotel burned. Dr. L.L. Carrick, a former chemistry professor, bought the hotel from W.D. Gorman in September, 1959. Noble (Scotty) Barber owned the hotel for 21 months before it burned.
The lobby of the Bachelor had a marble-topped front desk. It had a tile floor that had been installed when Bachelor took over. There was a coffee shop across from the desk and a large meeting room to the rear of the lobby. It also served as a ballroom for social occasions. On the ground level of the hotel were several businesses: H.D. Russell Insurance, Woodmen of the World state headquarters and a U.S. Army recruiting station which had opened in 1960. A beauty shop was located on the mezzanine floor.
The hotel was Conway’s largest in 1962. Civic organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions had their regular meetings there. There were also special events there such as the DBS dances, the Kiwanis annual Pancake Breakfast, the Jones-For-Governor Breakfast and the Camps Men’s Store Style Show.
Sometimes there were competitions held there. Joe Wilcox won both the best-dressed hen and best-dressed tom competition at the Second Annual Arkansas Turkey Federation competition there in 1951. A turkey dinner was served in the dining room.
The hotel had been filled to near capacity in the months preceding the fire. There were several retired men who made the hotel their permanent residence. Titan II missile workers had been staying there but on the night of the fire there were only 22 rooms occupied because it was the holiday season.
Conway Fire Chief Wilson Drews said the fire started on the east side of the third floor. All of the occupants, as well as the people attending a New Year’s Eve party in the dining room, were safely evacuated. Firefighters spent fifteen hours battling the blaze.
None of the surrounding buildings were damaged, largely due to the fact that Conway Corporation had installed new booster water pumps a few months earlier. This enabled the firefighters to apply more water to the fire. The North Little Rock Fire Department sent a 65-ft. aerial truck which is credited with helping put out the fire more quickly because it could apply water over the top of the building.
The owner estimated the loss at nearly $125,000 but the building was only insured for $80,000. Building authorities said it would probably cost at least a half-million dollars to replace the building. A salvage company removed and sold about 200,000 bricks, several doors and windows and some of the lumber. Undamaged furnishings were sold. Conway Corporation purchased the lot for the city in 1964 for $35,000.
Many cities have historic downtown hotels that remind us of a bygone era. Conway’s historic hotel, however, went up in flames on New Year’s Day, 1963.