Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Opal's Steak House
Opal's Steak House

OPAL'S STEAK HOUSE, HOT SPRINGS, GARLAND COUNTY

SUMMARY

Opal’s Steakhouse, circa 1948, is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance as the best example of an Art Moderne-style restaurant on Park Avenue in Hot Springs, Arkansas.It is also being nominated under Criterion A for its associations with the development of tourist-related accommodations on Park Avenue in the first half of the twentieth-century.Although the building has accommodated numerous different businesses over the years since housing a restaurant, it has retained its historic character and defining stylistic elements.

ELABORATION

Located at 871 Park Avenue, Opal’s Steakhouse was built as the conversion from large residential homes to commercial businesses aimed at automobile travelers began in the mid to late-1930s and continued through the 1950s. Beginning with the completion of the paved Little Rock-Hot Springs highway (Highway 70) in 1925, with Park Avenue being the final stretch into “the Spa City,” residents of Hot Springs and Park Avenue saw an opportunity to “make a buck” off the growing automobile traffic the highway guaranteed.In addition to being a convenient stop en route to Dallas, Texas, Hot Springs thrived as a tourist destination.Known primarily for the healing powers of the thermal waters that flowed from its hillsides, Hot Springs also boasted alligator and ostrich farms, a horse-racing track, several theaters, and two amusement parks during its visitation peak.As a result, traveler services, including tourist courts, restaurants and eating establishments, and service stations, began appearing along Park Avenue because of its proximity to the highway, as well as Hot Springs’ major attractions and entertainment venues.

 

The Art Moderne styling of Opal’s Steakhouse is evident in its horizontal brick and stucco façade.Horizontal windows and a curved front facade are also strong Art Moderne elements.The good exterior condition of the building and characteristic Art Moderne detailing make it eligible for nomination to the National Register under Criterion C.

 

Opal’s was constructed between 1946-48, on the site of a previous eating establishment.It first appears on the 1948 and 1950 Sanborn Insurance Company Maps as a restaurant, before being cited in the 1951 Hot Springs City Directory.A name change in 1952 resulted in the Golden Drumstick Restaurant, which it remained until purchased and converted to a clothing store, used furniture store, and finally a coin-operated laundry.Obviously due to its variety of uses, the interior of the building has very little in common with the original Opal’s Steakhouse.However, with the exception of a replacement front door and front façade window, the exterior has not undergone major alterations.Because of this, Opal’s Steakhouse is eligible under Criterion C to be nominated to the National Register.

 

Unlike their tourist court neighbors on Park Avenue, eating establishments did not suffer because of the decline of tourism in Hot Springs by the early-1950s when medical advancements made drugs more readily available for ailments previously treated with thermal baths, resulting in the decline of visitors to the city.The population of Hot Springs continued to grow so that restaurants and eating establishments along Park Avenue were not affected to a very large degree.

SIGNIFICANCE

Opal’s Steakhouse is being nominated under Criterion C as a fine example of the Art Moderne style. It is also being nominated under Criterion A for its associations with the development of tourist-related accommodations on Park Avenue in the first half of the twentieth-century.The nomination is being submitted under the multiple property listing "Arkansas Highway and Transportation Era Architecture, 1910-1965" in conjunction with the historic context "Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baeder, John.Gas, Food, and Lodging:A Postcard Odyssey, Through the Great American Roadside.New York:Cross River Press, Ltd., 1982.

 

GarlandCountyTax Records, 1938 – 1953, 2000 – 2001.

 

Interview with Jill Curran, Director, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, August 2003.

 

Interview with Carroll Funderburk, owner of Quick Wash Coin Laundry, September 9, 2003.

 

Interview with Bobbie Jones McLean, Executive Director, GarlandCounty Historical Society, August 2003.

 

Hot SpringsCity Directory, 1930, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1944, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1955.

 

Liebs, Chester H.Main Street to Miracle Mile:American Roadside Architecture.Boston:Little, Brownand Company, 1985.

 

McAlester, Virginia and Lee.A Field Guide to American Houses.New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

 

Sanborn Insurance Company Maps - 1948, 1950.