Go On And Bulldoze the Malco

Last night I heard from a friend the roof on the historic Malco Theater was so damaged in a recent storm, water was pouring in, soaking the ancient red velvet seats.  Well, this is Hot Springs Arkansas and we have a history of ignoring our most important and significant buildings. We let them rot though they are important and historic. Then they are either unsalvageable or torn down. So we might as well bulldoze the Malco right now so it’s a  quick death.

If you are from Hot springs, Arkansas you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Think about the Python Bath House, The Opera House and now the Majestic Hotel, Medical Arts and Thompson Building.  I could go on and on. Thank God the bath houses are part of the National Park. The United States takes better care of their stuff than our town.

We are all idiots because Hot Springs is a beautiful tourist town, know for it’s historic downtown and magnificent architecture. Still, we all watch as gorgeous 100 year old buildings crumble around us. We shrug as though it’s not our problem Financially that’s so stupid because most of us need the tourists here, even if it’s in  a trickle down kind of way.  I work for a radio station, for the most part local folks listen to radio so we are not directly  dependent on tourists. But many of my clients, restaurants etc sure do need them here. So I need them.

The situation with the Malco, which was originally a vaudeville theater, then turned into a movie house in the mid-1930s…we all grew up there.  It’s part of our history.  Do you remember sitting in the balcony throwing popcorn at people, making out with a hot girl, getting shushed or kicked out?  That’s what we all did in the Malco.

When I was eight years old I snuck into my first scary movie, Scream and Scream Again.  In the first five minutes a guy gets his legs amputated.  I freaked out and started screaming. I didn’t stop screaming until  a skinny teen-aged usher took me by the hand and lead me to the lobby. 

My older brother, Granger, used to drop me off to watch a movie alone when he was supposed to babysit me.  He’d give me a few dollars then go to the Cue Club to play pool for two hours.

The first time I ever saw a digital watch was in the Malco. It was the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die.  Bond looked at his watch, it was digital and there was a murmmer of awe in the theater.

The Malco is part of our African American History with it’s now disturbing back door  entrance for black movie goers.

My father and grandfather were architects so I love it’s textbook art deco design,the huge curved stairway to the balcony is so grand  and the marquee is exquisite, bright and gaudy and beautiful like a bowl full of jelly beans.

 Hot Springs, like many little southern towns, ignores our Architectural History.  No wonder all the yankees who move here think we are morons.  But the Malco is more to Hot Springs. It tells our story,  it’s a character in our life history and it is ours to save.

 Still, nobody is coming up with the money to fix the roof. We should all be ashamed.  I’m as bad as everyone else because I don’t even know who to give my pitiful donation too.

If  Hot Springs, Arkansas, and every other town in America doesn’t come to realize saving our historic buildings is OUR RESPONSIBILITY, we’ll end up leaving our children Wal-Marts and Dollar Stores. We’ll all point to a parking lot on Central and we’ll say to our grandkids, “there used to be a really cool movie theater there, too bad, it’s gone. It was really something.”

As I understand it they just need a few thousand dollars to fix the roof, less than most of us spend on a new lawn mower or eatting out every year.  There is still time to save the Malco, but not much. If we love Hot Springs, the town that raised us, all we have to do is act, move….do something, no matter how small. So the Malco doesn’t become another Majestic Hotel.

 If you have moment, drive past the Malco this week.  If you were one of those loud and obnoxious kids in the back row, if you finally got the nerve to kiss a girl, if you watched a movie that stayed you for years, give a damn. Make a phone call and save your own history and livelyhood.



15 thoughts on “Go On And Bulldoze the Malco”

  1. You should send this article in to the sentenial record to see if they will publish it, to get it out there more in hot springs

  2. Diane – I tried emailing you at the address provided but didn’t hear anything so I wanted to reach-out to you to see if you would contact me about the Malco. I am the new board chairman of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute and we are working hard to come-up with a way to save the Malco. I am still hopeful that we will find a way, but there is a lot of hard work ahead. We have insurance to cover the repairs needed from the storm and have already hired a company to fix the roof. If you (or anyone reading) would like more information on how we are trying to solve this problem, please feel free to contact me at hsdfi.volunteers@gmail.com.

    Susan Altrui, Board Chairman

  3. If we keep bulldozing our history there won’t be anything for the tourist to see so can’t we just get off our bottoms and do something about it instead of sit back and let them destroy it stand up for our city spa city baby remember where ur from stand up for our rights

  4. So what’s the action plan? What do we do? Is the HSDFI taking proactive steps to raise funds for this or insurance? You’re absolutely correct. To see Medical Arts building, the Majestic, and the many other beautiful buildings that are now parking lots (remember the Goddard Hotel?) is an abomination. What’s the action plan?

  5. I’ve only been in HS 25 years, so the sneaking and kissing aren’t part of my Malco memories. The HSDFI, the film festival is, tho, and carries a good batch of memories for me that includes all the things you mentioned about the history of the theater, as well as 20+/- years of attending, volunteering and working the festival. Love it; have highly recommended it; ; would love to see it continue.

    Hate ifs, ands or buts… so.. ‘However,’ I recently saw an estimate for a smaller roof repair that is minor – no water ‘pouring in’- compared to the Malco roof issues that was running close to $30K. And the need for $$$ doesn’t end once that roof is fixed. There’s the current water damage and the rebuilding of the upper floors that have been completely unusable (and unsafe) for years. And then there’s the film institute debt. So I’m not sure how a “few” thousand dollars to repair the roof could fix the Malco problems since ownership still seems to reside with HSDFI.

    I wish there were answers for this..well, more than just wishing… I’ve tried in the past to help find answers. Like you, I love the historic aspect of Hot Springs and its buildings and believe it is part of the attraction for tourists who, in turn, help our economy. But in these current economic times, it’s often a difficult to choose to give precious personal or tax dollars to restore an historic “building,” when there are children, or cancer patients, or disabled people, or families, in need of services, food or housing.

    So I hear and agree with your plea, but I don’t see a way to resolve the problem.

  6. Wow, this is a sobering reminder that much of our history crumbles around us. Isn’t there some way to get the HS Malco on the National Register of Historic Places (or some kind of historical society) so it could be protected – and nurtured?
    Thanks for the blog; perhaps it should also be a “letter to the editor”!

    1. Oh but seriously you are so right. The theater where I grew up is now a furniture store. So sad that we lose these places of so many memories. Fewer and fewer place where generations can all create memories.

  7. Good post, Perhaps at least a good old blue tarp till the money comes in to get it fixed. There is alot of history there, it should be saved.

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