One of the most recognizable landmarks in Eureka Springs stands firmly planted on the side of a mountain in the middle of town, at the split of Spring & Center Street, and right next to the City park namesake. The Basin Park Magnuson Grand Hotel has dominated the town center and inspired the imagination of visitors and this growing community for more than 100 years.
The hotel sits on the site of another hotel built by Captain Joseph Perry, responsible for many of the earliest hotels that sprang up along the western rail lines. Reportedly moving to Eureka Springs as an incurable invalid, Captain Perry found his cure at the Basin Park springs, and resolved to reside permanently beside the life-giving fountain. In 1881, within 100 feet of the spring, Captain Perry constructed his 4-story hotel known as The Perry House at a cost of $50,000; roughly, a million dollars in today’s money. A first-class hotel for the time, it boasted a passenger elevator and each of the 60 rooms had running water, the most modern furnishings and electric bells. The wooden structure only lasted a few years before succumbing to one of the many fires that plagued the area in 1890.
Out of the ashes arose the Basin Park Hotel in 1905, a fireproof fortress constructed primarily from limestone and dolomite quarried in the area. Even more lavish than the former Perry House, it boasted 100 rooms with all the modern conveniences. Every room had hot and cold running water, a telephone, and electric lighting, with private baths in half the rooms, and a guest bath on every floor. The ground floor hosted a barbershop and drugstore, while the seventh floor provided guests fine dining, billiards, a grill, sun parlor, and a full ballroom for dancing their night away. After arriving through one of the two porte-cochères and checking in, a fully electric elevator provided guests with easy access from bottom to top. In case of another fire, iron catwalks enabled quick and easy escape to the mountainside. Because of this last little feature, Robert Ripley added the hotel to his collection of the curious, as the only hotel whose every floor is the ground floor.
Quite a few “Believe or Not” moments litter the history of the hotel. A group of locals formed the Syndicate Company to re-develop the property, finding their financing through local banks and institutions, and nearly bankrupting them in the process. Final costs for the hotel mounted to $150,000; approximately, 4 million dollars in today’s currency. During the Prohibition Era, owners cozied up to the Chicago elite, providing a playground in the Ozarks for illicit booze and gambling. Al Capone’s sister reportedly spent a month lingering about the place, and the hotel even had its own live-in “hostess,” whose business was well known, but mostly ignored. Business flourished for all parties during these times, but as with similar situations, things eventually came to a bitter end. On the eve of one of the hotel’s signature events in 1955, the Sheriff raided the Barefoot Ball, seizing slot machines and liquor. It was a blow to the owner, who eventually sold the property, lacking the continuous flow of funds from such illicit festivities.
A unique annual event in itself, the Barefoot Ball began out of an odd little inspiration, which continues today. It all started in 1948, when a couple won a two-week trip to the hotel on the Truth or Consequences radio show, on the condition that they remain barefoot during their entire stay. Complying with the requirement, the owner of the time noticed them going everywhere without footwear, and decided to hold the very first Barefoot Ball in their honor that June. Since that time, the annual Ball on the top floor of the Basin Park Hotel has become a banner of community pride.
As a an old and historic building, it has a creepy side too. Doors do not shut quite right, and floors have that creaky well-worn feeling here and there. Angles are not perfect, and things go bump in the night. It is part of the character of the place, and likely the source of many of the surrounding ghost stories too.