Case Study: Woodmen of the Union Building, Arkansas

Exterior view of the rehabilitated Woodmen of the Union Building.
Designed by Tuskegee Institute architect, W.T. Bailey, the Woodmen of the Union Building was constructed in 1923 to provide first-class hotel accommodations and a bathhouse fed by the local hot springs specifically for African Americans. Woodmen of the Union, which was a fraternal insurance company, financed the building’s construction. In addition to the hotel and baths, the building complex included an auditorium and a theater, a gymnasium, a print shop, a beauty parlor and a newsstand.
In its heyday it attracted well-known entertainers, sports and political figures, such as Count Basie and Joe Louis. In addition, the building also served as the primary health-care facility for the African American community with a hospital and physicians and dentists offices. The African American National Baptist Convention acquired the building in the 1940s and continued to provide the same services. The building was closed in the early 1980s and sat vacant and derelict for over twenty years before it was purchased with the intention of rehabilitating it for low-income elderly housing.

The rehabilitation, which cost over $7 million, retained and repaired the exterior masonry, including deteriorated terra cotta, and also retained and repaired the historic windows. On the interior, all significant, character-defining spaces and features were retained and repaired, including decorative tile flooring, marble wainscoting, light sconces and the reception desk and office partitions in the hotel lobby. The ticket booth and the finishes in the bathhouse lobby were retained, as well as the original bathing fixtures in the bath house itself. On the upper floors, in the conversion of the hotel rooms to apartments, the corridors and many of the original walls were retained. Although the auditorium was not repaired due to cost restrictions, it has been mothballed until such time as monies are available for its rehabilitation.

Last updated: March 7, 2023