courtesy Petit Jean State Park
Published October 01, 2017
Soldiers settled the first Fort Smith on the banks of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers in 1817, 19 years before Arkansas became a state.
With such a long history, Arkansas has no shortage of event venues that showcase the state’s heritage. Groups can gather at the original Fort Smith, now a National Historic Site, or in venues that feature more recent history, such as a lodge built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930s or a renovated 1949 movie theater. These venues not only preserve the best of Arkansas’ varied history but also give meeting attendees the opportunity to learn about it.
Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park
Kathleene Fitch has met plenty of people in the 33 years she has worked at Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park, but her favorite was the man who walked into the lobby and told her he had built the furniture in the lodge’s CCC room when he worked for the corps in the in the 1930s.
“He was astounded that his furniture was still here and had been used all these years,” Fitch said. “He actually got a little emotional.”
CCC workers built Mather Lodge out of local timber and native stone in the 1930s, and the lodge is the crown jewel of Arkansas’ first state park. The Arkansas Room is a small meeting room for up to 25 people, and the Legacy Room is a windowless interior room that can accommodate meetings for 50 people.
In the dining room, stone walls and timber beams frame the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Arkansas River Valley and Cedar Creek Canyon. Although the on-site restaurant doesn’t offer private dining or group reservations, meeting attendees can always dine at their leisure.
Groups can also book the lodge’s 24 guest rooms or stay in its 32 cabins, and two group pavilions can be rented in the park. The park’s recreation hall isn’t available beyond June 2018 because it will be torn down to make way for a new visitors center that will include meeting space, Fitch said.
Apollo on Emma
Tom Lundstrum and Brian Moore managed to keep it a secret until the grand opening of the Apollo on Emma: The business partners had tracked down the statue of the Greek god Apollo and returned it to the lobby of the historic theater in downtown Springdale, much to the delight of locals who grew up walking past it on their way to see a movie.
After its having been gone for 40 years, “we were able to return the original namesake statue to the Apollo Theater,” Lundstrum said. “He’s sitting there in the lobby on a pedestal welcoming everybody.”
The renovated 1949 theater reopened as an elegant event venue in mid-August after having been on a list of condemned buildings possibly headed for demolition. It was Moore’s idea to save the theater, but there wasn’t much left to save.
“We really only bought four walls and a floor; the roof was there in name only,” Lundstrum said.
After being denied historic designation because everything historic “was all rotted away,” the duo had the green light to start from scratch within the building’s shell. They leveled the theater’s sloped floor to create a 3,000-square-foot open auditorium with a prefunction lobby area; the two can be rented together or separately.
Crews demolished the former projection room and its two flanking “cry rooms” to create an 800-square-foot VIP space with a glass wall that overlooks the auditorium below. The room can also be rented separately for 40-person events.
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