Arkansas building unveils facade from century-old shops

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The new owners of a 120-year-old building on the downtown Fayetteville square didn’t know what they had until they started peeling off the mod facade from 1958.

Underneath the silver and turquoise metal screens that covered the First National Bank building, they found a stone building with the arched entryways of two shops that lined Block Avenue a century ago.

“When we bought it, we didn’t know all this was in place behind there,” said Aaron Crawley, one of the building’s new owners. “We bought it as an investment for leasing. We knew there were some underutilized areas, but we didn’t know we’d get street retail on Block.”

Home to well-known Fayetteville places such as Hugo’s restaurant and Maxine’s Tap Room, Block Avenue is the main artery connecting the downtown square to Dickson Street, which is three blocks to the north and considered the center of Fayetteville’s entertainment district.

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Besides being covered with screens, the Block Avenue entryways — and at least one stairwell — were blocked in with stone after the building became a bank in 1924. Signs in a photo from that year advertised plows and tires along that side of the building.

Crawley said it’s potential retail space for the 21st century. Exactly how many different storefronts they’ll have on Block Avenue has yet to be determined. They’re still in the exploratory phase, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“What’s really exciting is we’re detectives,” said Albert Skiles. “We’re taking stuff off, so that’s a lot of fun. Everybody keeps asking us what we’re going to do. We don’t know yet.”

Skiles and his wife, Lisa Skiles, are the architects for the restoration project.

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Crawley, David Starling and Mitchell Massey are the building’s owners. Crawley said they paid about $1.8 million for it in April and began peeking under the screens in May.

He said they hope to know within the next couple of months exactly what they’re going to do with the building. Crawley said the restoration should be finished in 1½ years.

As workers stripped away the midcentury modern facade over the past couple of weeks, they revealed a late 19th-century building that resembles others downtown, including the Eason Building right across Block Avenue.

In addition to the screens, the restoration included removing synthetic stucco on the corner and about 1,000 square feet of granite facing Block Avenue.

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The facade was put in place by T. Ewing Shelton, an architect who had an office in the First National Bank building.

John Dupree, a Fayetteville architect, said he was an intern for Shelton for several summers during the 1960s.

“When I was working for T. Ewing Shelton, nobody was talking about this kind of stuff,” Dupree said. “Nobody was doing restoration work in the ’60s. Old architecture in those days was a throw-away thing. All over the country in that time period people were covering up old buildings. Some old buildings are really good and worth saving. Some are not.”

It’s still known as the First National Bank building, but the building hasn’t housed a bank since 1981, said Lisa Skiles.

The building has two floors, a basement and a sub-basement that contained something called a “snorkel room,” which included a shaft for making bank deposits. The building had five or six vaults and an “escape tunnel” in the sub-basement.

What became First National Bank was originally three different buildings constructed around 1898. The largest building, on the corner of Block and Center streets, was a drugstore by 1908, according to Sanborn Maps. “News and refreshments” were available in the building. Just to the north, on Block Avenue, was a smaller building that housed a printing shop and later became part of the First National Bank building.

Next to the main building, on the east side, was a seed store in 1908. It was also incorporated into the First National Bank building. Crawley said the former seed store may look nothing like the other two buildings after the restoration. It could be more modern in appearance, he said.

Lisa Skiles said the restoration project is an opportunity to open up some of the space in the building to daylight and fresh air. There was an arcade in front of the building, facing Center Street.

Besides opening up the Block Avenue shop fronts, Lisa Skiles said the building had 18-foot-tall windows that were blocked in to make much smaller windows. She said the block fill is “starting to come off cleanly” on the ground level but they’ve yet to start work on the upstairs windows.

The plan for now is retail on the basement level, retail or office space on the second level, and office space on the top floor, she said.

“It’s ready for revival,” Albert Skiles said.


Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

To see photos of the building: