Case Study: Hale Bathhouse

Hale Bathhouse
Hale Bathhouse, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park

Historic iron grate and lamp
Historic ironwork details, Hale Bathhouse

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,  HABS, Reproduction number HABS ARK, 26-HOSP, 1-B--9

History and Context

The natural hot springs in Garland County, Arkansas have attracted visitors for hundreds of years. In 1832 President Andrew Jackson designated the land around the hot springs as a “reservation” to protect and preserve it for use by the public. The reservation became a national park in 1921.

Bathhouse Row, as it has come to be known, consists of eight bathhouses built between 1892 and 1923. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Hale Bathhouse, the oldest of the existing bathhouses, was constructed in 1892 in the Classical Revival style by George and Freemont Orff for John C. Hale, an early resident of Hot Springs hired to survey lands owned by the Federal government. The brick building was remodeled twice, first in 1914 when it was enlarged and again in 1939 when the brick exterior was stuccoed, and it acquired its current Spanish Revival-style appearance.

The Hale Bathhouse had separate men’s and women’s sections, with needle, shower, and vapor baths, hot and cooling rooms, a gymnasium, and dressing rooms. A cave in the tufa rock bluff behind the building was used as a sweat room until 1911. In 1917, one of the hot springs was captured in a tiled enclosure in the basement that is still in place today.

The building ceased operation as a bathhouse in 1978. In 1981 it was remodeled for use as a theater and concessionaire operation. The operation failed, however, and the building closed nine months later.

Scope of Rehabilitation

In 2017, Pat and Ellen McCabe of Zest Enterprises, LLC, submitted a proposal to the National Park Service (NPS) to operate the Hale Bathhouse as a boutique hotel, restaurant, and conference center under a historic leasing agreement. The resultant long-term lease, with the assistance of the Federal historic tax credit, enabled the Hale Bathhouse to undergo a significant 11-month rehabilitation to convert it into Hotel Hale.

The rehabilitation required considerable work, including the installation of a new insulated roof, a modern heat and air system, and upgraded electric and plumbing systems. Exterior accessibility ramps, improved drainage systems to control spring water seepage into the basement and structural supports, were also added.

Role of the Tax Credit

While the Hale Bathhouse was considered one of the most structurally sound bathhouses, major upgrades were needed before the building could be reopened to the public. Use of federal historic tax credits allowed the developer to exercise greater care in preserving this iconic building’s historic character, including the first floor sunroom formed by the entrance arcade.

Economic Impact on the Community

Rehabilitation and reuse of Bathhouse Row, including the Hale Bathhouse, attracts visitors to this popular city. Each year, the city hosts the Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival. The Hale Bathhouse lease also allows for a restaurant, bar, lounge and conference center to host special events and private functions. “This is a viable and appropriate new use of the building that is in keeping our historic preservation mandate and provides a positive economic impact to this community,” said then-Superintendent Josie Fernandez. The hotel now employs 40 full-time employees.

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Case Study: Hale Bathhouse