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I remember the first time I was invited to meet someone for dinner at the Flaming Arrow in Little Rock. I felt as if I had finally become an insider.

The Flaming Arrow--known around the state Capitol in those days simply as the Arrow--was a private club and favored watering hole for legislators and the lobbyists who picked up their tabs. For decades, the Marion Hotel was the gathering spot for Arkansas' political establishment. But the Marion became a rundown facility and closed in the 1970s. The Coachman's Inn, which was on the site near Interstate 30 that's now occupied by Little Rock's main post office, replaced the Marion as the favored location for legislators to stay during sessions. Three blocks away in the Quapaw Tower, the Flaming Arrow replaced the Marion bar, which had been known as the Gar Hole, as the city's top political bar.

My most vivid memory of that first visit to the Flaming Arrow is of the cigarette smoke--clouds of it. I also recall seeing lots of familiar faces from the Capitol. The Flaming Arrow has been gone since 1995. The space it once occupied is now used by Loblolly Creamery to produce its wonderful ice cream. The only ice cream at the Flaming Arrow likely was that used to make after-dinner drinks.

I'm in what's now the Quapaw Tower's hospitality room, drinking a cup of coffee and visiting with six residents of the high-rise condominium that has become one of the capital city's landmark structures. A week from today, Quapaw Tower residents will celebrate the building's 50th anniversary with a holiday open house and a tour of homes. The address is 700 E. Ninth St. across from MacArthur Park. Tickets are $10.

"This was the center of political activity for the state," says Joe Melio, who has lived here since February 1968. "The 1970s and 1980s were the glory days here."

Melio says that an increase in the number of upscale bars in the city and enhanced enforcement of DWI laws led to the Flaming Arrow's demise. Though the Arrow is long gone, those who live here want people to know that the Quapaw Tower is still going strong.

"We're surrounded by commercial properties, churches, schools and parks," Melio says. "So this is kind of its own neighborhood."

Little Rock architect Gene Terry has lived here since 1986. He echoes Melio when he says: "It's like living in a small town. People know each other. Someone might say, 'Come over to my place for dinner on Sunday,' and a dozen people will show up. There are parties by the swimming pool and holiday parties. There has been a cast of characters who have lived here through the years, that's for sure."

A number of major Arkansas companies once owned condominiums that their lobbyists could use during legislative sessions. There has always been a large contingent of old-money families from the Arkansas Delta who own condos.

A real estate company known as the Pioneer Corp. built the Quapaw Tower in 1967. Pioneer also owned what was then the Royale Vista Inn and Derby Dinner Theater near Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs along with the 24-story Liberty Tower in Tulsa, which was built in 1965. The Quapaw originally was an apartment complex. In 1980, a joint venture that included the Little Rock real estate company Fausett Co., businessman Moise B. Seligman Jr. and engineering consultant Allen Gibson bought the building for $5 million and then spent another $2 million to transform it into a condominium complex. First Federal Savings of Arkansas later joined the joint venture. Many units became the property of the federal Resolution Trust Corp. during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. The RTC, established to dispose of failed savings and loans, later sold the units.

The building, now owned by its residents, has 144 condominiums--12 per floor on 12 floors. A June 1980 Arkansas Gazette story reported: "E.W. 'Ty' Willis Jr., manager of Fausett's commercial brokerage division, said the partnership plans to encourage corporate investment in Quapaw condominiums. He said out-of-town businessmen traditionally have maintained capital city residences in the apartment building for their frequent trips to the state capital. ... Maid services and other amenities will be available to condominium owners so that corporate condominiums will offer all the services of a four-star hotel."

Current residents say that some units still look much as they did 50 years ago. In other units, amounts ranging up to $200,000 have been spent on renovations.

"The first time I walked in here was during a legislative session, and the shelves in the lobby were filled with gift baskets and wine bottles that lobbyists had purchased for legislative gifts," Terry says. "I immediately liked this place. All of the big names in Arkansas politics came through here at one time or another. The main attractions for me were the great balconies and the views from those balconies."

Longtime residents remember a blind piano player at the Flaming Arrow named Jim Hudson. They say that whenever Tim Massanelli, the veteran House parliamentarian, would walk into the club, the band would begin playing his favorite song. The residents remember the steaks, burgers and especially the marinated chicken livers served at the Arrow when it was owned by Eddie Allen.

Lynda Dixon, who was Bill Clinton's secretary when Clinton was governor, has been here since 1989. "It's a wonderful place to live," Dixon says. "I hope I don't have to move until I die."

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Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

Editorial on 11/25/2017

Print Headline: The Quapaw turns 50

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