FAYETTEVILLE — People walking East of Downtown Square on Center Street 40 years ago might have heard the faint notes of music emanating from an underground bar full of entrepreneurs, lawyers and politicians.
These days, people must watch out for possible falling debris from the building that once served as the outbuilding of the former Mountain Inn hotel. A contractor started work last week to dismantle the structure, which has been dormant for more than two decades.
The location of the mountain inn and its outbuildings has an eventful history. The original hotel closed in 1994, but the building still stands and houses businesses like Damgoode Pies, Taste of Thai, and Petra Cafe.
The piece that will be demolished further east near Center Street and College Avenue was built in 1930 and was known as the Industrial Finance Building or Arcade Building, according to The Square Book: An Illustrated History of the Fayetteville Square, 1828-2016 . ‘ by Anthony Waffle and Jerry Hogan. The Mountain Inn occupied the top two floors of the annex building, giving the place more than 100 rooms. The annex building has a wall that adjoins the original hotel, making it look like a single building from the outside.
A third extension in 1961 was known as the Motor Lodge. This piece was demolished in 2005 in anticipation of a 12-story hotel and condominium development with shops and restaurants. That never happened.
THE FUNKY MONKEY
Perhaps the most recognizable feature of the arcaded building was at the bottom. Known as the Gaslight Club in the 1960s, the venue became the Brass Monkey in 1975, according to Denele Campbell’s Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music In Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Former President Bill Clinton, Tyson Foods founder Don Tyson and former US Senator Dale Bumpers visited the site.
The venue did not advertise.
Owner Billie Schneider was a key figure in the state’s Democratic Party at the time, and the place became a who’s who of aspiring politicians. The Brass Monkey closed after Schneider’s death in 1985 and became a few other short-lived clubs over the years until finally dormant in the early 2000s.
Philanthropist and former Tyson Foods general counsel Jim Blair said the Brass Monkey under Schneider has the feel of a private club where the booze and conversations flow freely. Much of the state’s politics evolved from this location, he said.
“Late at night things can get pretty wild at times,” Blair said. “But this is one of those pressure cooker ventilators that society has to rely on.”
Archie Schaffer III served as an advisor to Clinton and Bumpers and said Brass Monkey wasn’t really a place for the college crowd. Schaffer was pretty much the young man in town.
Musical acts like Levon Helm, Dr. John, the Leaving Trains and the Charles Tuberville Band got the crowd on the dance floor. Schaffer said he remembered the place being cold and dark and noisy. Schneider served as the glue that kept the scene afloat, he said.
“It was where people wanted to be and they knew they could find other people that they might want to talk to about business or politics or whatever,” Schaffer said.
Woody Bassett, a partner in the Bassett law firm, had an office in the arcade building and occasionally sauntered into the underground bar during its heyday. A long hallway led from the office to the Mountain Inn’s hotel and dining room, and to the Town Club, which operated above the Brass Monkey. he said.
The building once played an important role in the community, providing a gathering place for many people to network and share ideas, Bassett said. It’s long overdue for the rest of the enclosed structure to come down, he said.
“Hopefully something beautiful can come in there and take its place. It’s just a conspicuous spot in downtown Fayetteville, and it’s right off College Avenue,” Bassett said. “We have a beautiful downtown and that’s one of the few missing pieces.”
Car-Son Construction in North Little Rock received city approval to demolish what was left of the Mountain Inn’s arcaded building. Car-Son’s Justin Stewart said there is no timeline for the demolition work, but it will take a while.
The building has become an open security breach, said Jonathan Curth, the city’s development services manager. There is a possibility that parts of the exterior will fall onto the public sidewalk below. City officials have been working with the property owner for more than a year to find a solution, he said.
The city has the authority to ensure a vacant building is safe and poses no danger to the public, Curth said. But that’s about the end of the city’s authority, he noted.
The property would need to become part of a neighborhood protected by the city’s conservation ordinance to enforce any measures outside of structural integrity and safety, Curth said. A majority of the landowners in the district would have to agree to participate.
The property is owned by NWAP LLC at Mountain Home, which purchased it in 2014 for $1.1 million, Washington County title records show. The company is registered to Mountain Home attorney Mark Carney, who died in December.
Developers John Nock and Richard Alexander had plans in the early 2000s to build a high-rise luxury hotel and condominium project called the Renaissance Tower in place of the Motor Lodge. Developers partially demolished the structure in 2005, and a crane towered over the site for a number of years before a public parking lot was established.
The Renaissance Tower project never materialized, and Nock and Alexander defaulted on a $3.9 million loan for the property. The Bank of Fayetteville paid $1.25 million for the foreclosed property in 2013 before NWAP LLC bought it.
Around the time Nock and Alexander bought the property, the city council set up a tax district to fund the demolition of the old building. The district allowed a portion of the property taxes generated by properties within its borders to be used to clean up the rot.
Funding for the project failed, and Nock and Alexander had to recover more than $300,000 in liquidated damages to the city. They undertook to pay this amount if the hotel was not completed by September 2007.