History and Architecture - The Waters Hotel

More than 100 years after it was built in 1913, the Thompson Building has been renovated and reborn as The Waters hotel.

George R. Mann, the principal architect of the Arkansas state capitol, designed the Thompson Building. The construction, with a façade of terra cotta Corinthian pilasters.  A renown Arkansas architect, Mann is  best known for designing the Arkansas State Capitol.

The building originally housed doctors’ offices. During this time, visitors were coming to Hot Springs from around the country to experience what were thought to be healing properties of the thermal waters across the street. Many people would “take the waters” three times a day and then visit doctors across the street in the Thompson Building to determine their progress.

In the years that followed, the Thompson Building was converted into a hotel and apartments.  The upper floors were eventually closed and fell into disrepair.  Retail spaces on the ground floor were occupied by various shops that catered to tourists.

Even with deterioration from age and neglect, the Thompson Building attracted the attention of local architects Bob Kempkes and Anthony Taylor.  The two had earned many local, regional and national awards for their renovation of several historic properties in and around Hot Springs:  the Mountain Valley Water building, Quapaw Bathhouse, Superior Bathhouse, and Hot Springs Depot.

During a presentation on restoration and repurposing of these buildings, Taylor mentioned the Thompson Building’s unique architecture, its Corinthian pilasters and glazed terra cotta frontings hidden under years of grime.

In a bit of kismet, Robert Zunick was in the audience.  An investment banker, Zunick mentioned to Taylor that he knew the owners of the Thompson Building, and was also interested in seeing this prime piece of Hot Springs real estate restored to its glory.

So a partnership between the three men grew with the goal to purchase this building and renovate it with a level of care and attention to details that would elevate not only the building but also this section of Bathouse Row.

In 2014, they competed the purchase of the building and began the $7 million renovation in October 2015.

This was a labor of love.  Skilled artisans cleaned and repaired interior and exterior marble, tile, woodwork and ironwork.  Much of the original flooring lobby and hallways are intact.

“We are really proud of the corridors and flooring along with the transoms,” said Bob Kempkes at The Waters grand opening.  “A regional tile setter was able to match missing or broken tiles with the help of a company in Little Rock that makes historic tile.”

The original office numbers can be seen on the transoms that line the different floors.  They were able save the transoms and retain many of the original doors to make a vestibule entry for two rooms.

The stability of brick walls throughout the building meant they could be preserved to add a warmth and old world feeling to those rooms.

“There were a lot of family members involved along with area contractors that we have worked with for many years,” added Kempkes.  “Two friends hand-crafted the bar in the lounge.  Some nephews restored the doors and did a lot of the marble work.  They all knew the building and really cared about the project and getting it right.”

The existing exterior doors were restored along with light fixtures, hardware and sconces in the marble lobby area.

Equal attention was given to designing and modernizing the 62 guest rooms and elegant public spaces. The new interior makes the most of the ground floor view of the bustling street.  The Avenue—a southern artisan-style restaurant led by award-winning chef and Le Cordon Bleu alumnus Casey Copeland—was added to provide a delicious gathering place for families and friends.

Opened in 2017, The Waters is a tribute to the past with the comfort and state-of-the-art amenities discriminating travelers require.  Put it all together with a service team steeped in Southern hospitality, and you have a boutique hotel built just for you.