Villagers had a picture-perfect childhood at the Majestic Hotel – Hot Springs Village Voice
Hot Springs Village resident Lisa Goodwin had a childhood most children can only dream of growing up at the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, with its restaurants, playground, pool and loving staff.
Her father, William Leo Wolfe (who was always known as Leo), was general manager there from 1954 until his retirement in 1982. The hotel was owned by Southwest Hotels, Inc. — the former owner of the Arlington, as well as historic hotels in Little Rock, Memphis, and Kansas City — and Wolfe was with the company for years before taking the top job at the Majestic.
Located at the north end of Bathhouse Row, the hotel began life as The Avenue in the early 1880’s and over the years has grown from the original wooden structure to a magnificent property comprising a five-story yellow brick building, red brick annex Lanai Suites (um around the pool) and the Lanai Towers (with a glass elevator).
The hotel began offering baths in 1896, and Goodwin said the oldest rooms in the hotel didn’t have tubs or showers because guests came for the baths and used those facilities every day.
The gardens on the hill behind the hotel also featured a playground with swings and tetherball and shuffleboard courts.
Several “cottages” on Cedar Street were part of the hotel grounds, and Goodwin and her family lived in one of them. “The hotel was my playground,” Goodwin said, and she had it all covered—playing in the park behind the hotel, enjoying burgers and ice cream from the restaurants, and swimming in the hotel pool all summer long. Goodwin said, “For some reason I seemed to have more friends over the summer.” All of her birthday parties were held at the hotel and were hosted and served by the kitchen staff.
Goodwin said she never considered a career in hotel management because she saw how hard her father worked all the time – he lives on the premises and is on call 24/7.
Everyone in her family worked at the hotel at some point. Goodwin’s mother, Polly Wolfe, worked in advertising but her real love was landscaping – she worked in the hotel’s beautiful gardens and pool areas (on a voluntary basis), and Goodwin said: “Everyone always said the Majestic had the nicest pool area in the town.” The visitors must have agreed, because Goodwin said people loved having their picture taken in front of the fountain and waterfall at the baby pool. Polly Wolfe also spent a lot of time in the greenhouse, which had steam heat from the bath system.
Goodwin himself has had several hotel jobs over the years. One of her favorite things to do was working on the old switchboard – she showed interest in learning about it and soon became a switchboard operator. She said that she would try to read at the switchboard during times of weakness, but “Father was very specific – there was no reading at the switchboard because I had to lead by example.” A friend of hers made a trip to Washington, DC, and came back excited to see the same switchboard at the Smithsonian!
Goodwin was fond of the hotel’s longtime social director, Mary Louise Morgan, and helped her with the twice-weekly bingo games. She also did babysitting and helped at the front desk – especially during race weekends in the ’60s and ’70s when the hotel was very busy.
She used to work in the advertising department and wrote personal letters to each and every guest. Among the artifacts she kept is a letter confirming a 1969 guest’s honeymoon rate of $13 per day at the Lanai Suites.
Goodwin said she sometimes envied her friends for the “normal” life, but was aware she “certainly had an adorable childhood.” A typical summer day is spent by the pool, with breaks for burgers or ice cream and dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants. The hotel had a formal dining room, the H. Grady Manning Dining Room, as well as the popular Dutch Treat Bar and Grill. There was also a convenience store that sold gifts and drugstore items, but what Goodwin liked best was the soda fountain.
Goodwin had many friends on Park Avenue and Whittington Avenue, and they enjoyed riding bicycles and exploring the neighborhood. She said some of the old bars had been converted into “girls’ hangouts” and they would speed past these creepy establishments. She and her buddies used to like to see the “hippies” in Arlington Park.
The hotel used to have apartments — mostly older ladies, whom her father referred to as “permanent guests” — and Goodwin said, “I’ve had a lot of grannies.” She walked with one of her favorites along the Grand Promenade behind the bathhouses to shut the pigeons feed. Knowing everyone at the hotel came in handy when it came time to start selling Girl Scout cookies — she sold 150 boxes in one year.
Goodwin was a teacher for 25 years in Mount Ida, Fountain Lake and Benton, where she taught social studies and special education. She retired in 2019 and then worked as a proofreader at The Voice before accepting her current position as Communications Coordinator at Village United Methodist Church
She and her husband, Bill, have been married for nearly 28 years and have lived in the Village for nine. They have five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, all of whom live in the village. The newest addition to the family – Scooter, a long-haired dachshund – “is killing us, but we love him!”
Goodwin has been asked to speak to various community groups about her unusual childhood and is always happy to share those memories.
“As a kid, I certainly knew that not everyone grew up in a hotel,” Goodwin said, “and when my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends came to visit, they were always impressed with our lifestyle. But for me it was just the way we lived and I never thought about it being special.” She added, “As an adult I was so proud of this beautiful Majestic Hotel and I’m very honored that I was allowed to grow up there. The hotel was truly one of the finest in the South in its heyday and I was privileged to experience up close and personal the grandeur and splendor of this important historical landmark. My heart still grieves the loss of the Majestic Hotel and I wish it could have been renovated and preserved for future generations but luckily I have glorious and lasting memories that will stay with me forever. And I am eternally grateful for that.”