Monday, July 25, 2005

1295 North West Arkansas [Thursday-Friday]

Nothing prepared me for the vitality, beauty and economic boom of northwest Arkansas. What a lovely place! If I were 20 years younger, or if I were looking for a wonderful retirement area, that part of the country would be worth consideration. I'd say the building boom matches the Bradenton/Sarasota area and so do the trees. I haven't checked the stats, but the architects we visited said that unemployment is about 1.5% and has been for over a decade. Remember the disparaging terms, "Arkies and Okies," the folks who fled to California during the dust bowl? Well, now it is obvious there are outsiders flocking to that area, or maybe some are just returning home. Here's a realtor's site I just picked out of the blue with some basic statistics about the metropolitan area.

We arrived at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at 10:45 Thursday morning, loaded our luggage on our chartered tour bus and stopped for a delightful lunch at Hog Haus, a restored brewery in downtown Fayetteville. From there we went down the street to Maurice Jennings + David McKee Architects. Both had worked for E. Fay Jones (1921-2004), an architect who used Wrightean elements in his designs. The two chapels we would visit the next day, Thorncrown and Cooper are his. The architects' offices were in the Underwood Building, and the first floor is a jewelry store designed by Jones, including all the wonderful fixtures. We had a great time looking through all the lovely items, and there is obviously enough wealth in that area to support that kind of a store.

We then visited the campus of the University of Arkansas, certainly much prettier than most, and the Fulbright Peace Memorial, also designed by Jones. From there we stopped at the DePalma Clinic, a medical building designed by Jones which had fallen into disrepair and was restored by a CPA.

From there we drove to Eureka Springs, stopping in Bentonville, the home of Wal-Mart, to pick up another tour member who had arrived a few days earlier. Of course, we needed to visit the newest superstore--for ice, snacks, and a skirt for Norma. Eureka Springs is apparently a wedding mecca for the midwest, second only to Las Vegas according to a couple we met in Oklahoma who had married there. Every cute little Victorian, flower draped cottage we saw on the winding, hilly streets seemed to offer either weddings or jacuzzis--or both. The 1886 Crescent Hotel is old, creaky, and supposedly visited by ghosts, but we had a beautifully restored room, and the group enjoyed a fabulous morning brunch in the delightful dining room. The gardens host many weddings--one the night we arrived.

A group of us walked the "short cut" through a wooded area down to Spring Street, the business district, but they really do roll up the sidewalks about 5 p.m. so there were no stores open. We did find a nice Italian restaurant, but took the hotel shuttle back up the hill. The guy posing for the picture here was our waiter, I think.

In the morning we visited Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel in a wooded area close by, and then drove to Bella Vista to visit his Cooper Memorial Chapel. Both are indescribable and even the photos don't do them justice. You really need to sit inside and soak up the peace and beauty. Thorncrown (from the words crown of thorns) opened in 1980, and over 5 million people have visited. Our volunteer guide provided a wonderful presentation on the Reed family who purchased the land and had the vision, and their relationship with Jones.

"This exquisite chapel in the Ozark woods is small (24 feet by 60 feet by 48 feet high) and walled with glass. It rises from fieldstone floors and two low fieldstone walls; otherwise it is built almost entirely of standard-size lumber worked with the attention to detail of a master cabinetmaker. Repeating diamond shapes loft upward to its overhanging peaked roof. It has been compared to Lloyd Wright's Wayfarers Chapel...." from Sylvia Hart Wright. Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture: From Postwar to Postmodern. p 63.

The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista is different but just as lovely, and I'd have a tough time if I had to choose. John Cooper had purchased Bella Vista, a resort community begun in 1915 and reestablished it in the 1960s as a retirement community.

According to the history of the community, "Everyone was a member who bought property, a homesite or home, and was entitled to use the amenities-- golf courses, clubhouses etc. He then turned these facilities over to a Property Owners Association to own and manage. Between 1965 and 1989 the Cooper Company, known after 1971 as Cooper Communities, Inc., built five golf courses (the POA built two), seven lakes, four major club houses and other amenities. The Property Owners Association, a private corporation governed by a board of directors, owned and managed the facilities for the members. From May 21, 1965, when the first lots were sold, until 1995, CCI sold 37,060 lots or homesites, and built hundreds of homes."

The parents of one of the members of our tour group had lived there for 28 years, so we had a lot of inside information, and her aunt who also lived there invited the entire busload over for dessert after we finished our afternoon tour. Her husband who is 89 had already played 18 holes of golf that day--and the temperature was near 100 degrees. It is really one of the loveliest retirement communities I've ever seen. Of course, all the services needed to support such a large community has brought in trades and professions of all types--education, medical, social services, government services. Everywhere we looked there was a new library, or a new shopping center, or a new church. (I seem to be overusing lovely, delightful and beautiful in this entry, but I can't help it.)

We said good-bye to Arkansas and drove north briefly into Missouri to pick up a better road to take us into Bartlesville, Oklahoma and the Price Tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We did make a brief stop at the original Sam Walton 5 and 10 store just to pay homage to the family that has brought so much wealth and growth to this area.

1 comment:

Adinah said...

what a beautiful chapel, be worth the road trip for me, just a hop, skip and half a jump.