2000-2020: The Second Golden Age of the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa

Many think the history of 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa of today started on May 20, 1886 when the grand opening of “the finest hotel west of the Mississippi” held its grand opening gala in the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom.  Actually, the history of today’s Crescent Hotel started about two decades ago shortly after Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased “The Grand Ol’ Lady of The Ozarks” on February 28, 1997.

On the date of the Roenigks’ purchase, the hotel was not that grand.  In fact, the Crescent was in pretty bad shape.  The primary reason that Marty and Elise purchased the Crescent was because of their history as preservationists.  They did not want to see this hotel, this historic structure fall into complete ruin.

 In May of 2000, at a huge garden party in the hotel’s Fountain Garden, the Roenigks announced their 10-year goal to fully restore the Crescent to its original grandeur.  The event was called the “Dawning of the Crescent’s Second Golden Age”.   Mr. Roenigk said that the hotel’s future would be based on a concept he called “economic sustainability”.  The process began.

 Marty, along with Hotel General Manager Jack Moyer crafted his goals into a workable plan.  The plan was made doable by Marty and Elise’s preservation spirit allowing the 10-year plan to be accomplished.  Marty’s goals became a reality thanks to a hotel team of professionals led by Moyer and the development of and strict adherence to a hotel creed created then; still followed today.  That creed has four tenets: create lifetime memories, build the individual, protect the irreplaceable, and be community minded.  This creed and good solid plans economically supported by ever increasing revenue from room rental, weddings, food service and more, saw the “golden age” prophecy not only come to fruition but get even brighter in the past 20 years.

The “stone and mortar” developments of the Crescent during the last 20 years have been quite expansive led by a team of design and construction preservationists.

Design and construction of the fifth floor that was completely destroyed during a devastating fire in 1967.  The design, led by architect Laura Derrick was carefully crafted to replicate the skyline of the original structure.  The interior of that design was artfully styled using the techniques of Frank Lloyd Wright to serve as living quarters for the Roenigks and, worth noting, is the highest point in Carroll County.

Improvement of the overnight room product through annual upgrading of up to 20 sleeping rooms each and every year.  Initial improvement included painting walls in Victorian colors highlighted by Richard Pollard’s hand-stenciling, efforts that are also seen in the hotel’s lobby. Further enhancements include newer, historically themed furnishings; bathroom renovations; and clever redesigns to make nineteenth century rooms more twenty-first century “guest friendly”.

Development of “dead space” in a historic adjacent and connected building -the old servants’ quarters- that had not been used for more than 75 years.  Thanks to the cooperation of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, this project became the “class assignment” of their interior design school students and a winning “assignment” was chosen by the Roenigks.  Following detailed construction and furnishing, the Crescent netted four, upscale and very popular Annex Suites.

The most aggressive room development came in 2008 when plans were drawn up for the construction of four two-bedroom, “treetop cottages”.   In order to blend with a Eureka Springs’ look, architect David McKee patterned designs in the E. Fay Jones (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright) style, in a special corner of the hotel’s 15 mountaintop acres.  Two-buildings, two-stories each, with floors connected by an elevator in each building, made the perfect location for wedding and family groups desiring a little more seclusion and privacy.

To enhance the burgeoning wedding offering at the Crescent, the Conservatory was built on the footprint of the original conservatory utilized by the Crescent College for Young Women, the prestigious girls’ school that occupied the hotel from 1908 to 1934.  This new glass enclosed room has become the most popular venue for wedding receptions.  The development of other wedding ceremony sites on the hotel grounds includes the expanded Fountain Garden; the East Lawn and Gazebo; and the new, rustic Glenwood Hollow carefully carved out of an Ozark hillside.

The spa industry had become such an integral part of quality hotels, the Roenigks realized early on that the Crescent needed one to establish the Crescent as a year-round resort.  That realization was followed by the careful development and opening of the New Moon Spa, a concept of local Cat Zorok, which began with a small fitness gym, an aerobic area, and a pair of treatment rooms.  Specially designed private rooms were added for traditional and nouveau massages, facials, and other body treatments.  A “chill room”, complete with a juice bar, was added for the “living room” comfort of spa customers to utilize before and after treatments.

But the New Moon Spa & Salon continued to grow and now occupies the entire footprint of the hotel’s Garden Level with numerous innovative additions.

Replacing the original fitness area with a salon and bridal studio.  The salon offers full hair, nails and makeup services for guests and brides who need hair styling, manicures, pedicures, waxing, etc.  It should be noted that history was preserved during this transformation phase when the old “duck bowling” lanes were uncovered below the existing floor.  The floor was lowered to the wooden stripes’ level.  These contrasting “stripes” are now the design focal point of the salon.  The Bridal Studio was added to allow brides and their entourage a private place for pre-wedding dressing and beauty preparation.  This studio also provides easy access to wedding venue sites easily accommodating the bride’s “surprise reveal” to the groom in waiting.  Replacement of the juice bar enabled an adjacent retail area to be developed allowing guests to take home product used during their spa and salon treatments.

Reflecting the New Moon’s beginnings, a fitness room that includes two Peloton bikes and a Peloton treadmill has recently been added.  This, coupled with a large outdoor hot tub and an infrared sauna, adds not only to the spa but to resort activity opportunities as well.

Food service has continued to be a staple of the Crescent, however the “golden age” put a new focus on reestablishing consistent food quality and enhanced dining patron service.

The Crystal Ballroom became the Crystal Dining Room Restaurant, although still available as a ballroom for special occasions and large wedding receptions.  Fine dining in the evening, breakfast each morning, and a well-attended Sunday brunch was the first “golden” phase of this restaurant.  However, as the ever-changing tastes and desires of the market were recognized, the offerings changed.  First came evening dining with a new entrée focus under the name 1886 Steakhouse.  Then brunch was replaced with a “breakfast feast”.  With the steakhouse theme dropped, the current CDRR dinner offering is a concept called ~La Cena featuring Italian cuisine with popular dishes served in generous, shareable portions family-style.  Breakfast continues to be served every day with “the feast” featured on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The fourth floor of the hotel in 2000 was the Top of the Crest; a simple place to grab a cocktail.  That space was then updated to mark history while featuring unique décor, a full selection menu for casual daytime and evening dining, and the new name and theme of Dr. Baker’s Bistro & SkyBar.  Today this space is known as SkyBar Gourmet Pizza which overlooks the Ozark Mountains from its awninged alfresco seating.  Its award-winning pizzas can be served for seating indoor or out, delivered to guest rooms, or even delivered throughout the city of Eureka Springs.

The Crescent’s reputation as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel” has grown exponentially in the past 20 years thanks to 17 national and international paranormal television shows that have featured this Historic Hotel of America as a definite mecca for “friendly” spirits.  The biggest boost came in 2019 when, purely by accident, the midden of Norman Baker, the charlatan who ran the hotel as a “cancer-curing” hospital in the late 1930s, was uncovered.  A certified archeological dig found hundreds of bottles of Baker’s “secret formula” as well as jars containing “medical specimens” that had been surgically removed from patients.  This expansive collection was added to the already macabre ambiance of the hotel’s “morgue” with its autopsy table and cadaver walk-in cooler, leftovers from the Baker years.  All of these ghostly aspects are on display during nightly hotel ghost tours.

Fun additions were not overlooked for the “golden age”.  A full, year-round schedule of daily resort activities has further enhanced the Crescent’s reputation as a destination resort.  The creation of the Frisco Sporting Club with its popular hatchet throwing; huge yard games; woven, free-flying swings; bonfires complete with ghost stories and s’mores are just a few of the activities associated with this club.  Added to that are such scheduled activities as nature hikes, walking trails, mountain biking trails, history tours, sunrise yoga, wine tastings, watercolor art classes, and many more.  With this level of guest offerings, “Mountaintop spa resort” has become the Crescent’s new brand.

Seasonal activities now also abound.  For example, during “Christmas at The Crescent”, guests can enjoy a hay-sleigh ride, a stroll through the sparkling Christmas forest, Santa’s Brunch, a “Path of Memories” light display, and the Victorian holiday style decorations throughout the hotel.

The Crescent’s most ambitious resort addition has been the opening of a winter outdoor ice-skating rink that includes a curling lane.  Not many hotels this far south have dared such an endeavor as this.  Hotel employees say that these vanguard efforts are rewarded with the smiling faces of guests and their children as they glide across the glistening frozen surface, especially those taking to the ice for the first time.

The past twenty years has also seen heartache.  The hotel and the entire community were dealt a tragic blow in 2009 when Marty was killed in an automobile accident.  But his goals and loving proprietorship of the Crescent have been seamlessly continued by Elise.  Her love of the property and its team of employees has never wavered.  Her continuation of and the commitment of the staff and management to the hotel’s two-decade-long efforts have secured the Crescent’s reputation as a successful, well-respected destination resort hotel and “The Symbol of Arkansas Hospitality”.

Header photo credit: Craig Arnold

The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa is located at 75 Prospect Avenue, along Eureka Springs’ Upper Historic Loop.



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