The Empress of Little Rock Bed and Breakfast, housed in one of the Quapaw Quarter's most monumental 19th century homes, has changed hands.
But its new owner said he won't change its focus as a Victorian-era inn and as a location for weddings, receptions and other events, which all say was an integral element of the sale.
Sharon Welch-Blair and her husband, Bob Blair, sold the property and an adjoining parcel for $825,000 to Antonio Figueroa, a longtime makeup artist who also specializes in restoring historic homes, and his partner, Keith Sandridge.
Patricia Blick, executive director of the Quapaw Quarter Association, which fosters preservation of historic properties in the greater Little Rock area, called the property one of the Quapaw Quarter's "most remarkable properties" both "in scale and craftsmanship."
"We get asked about its location, its history, all the time," she said. "Next to the Villa Marre, its the property people most ask about."
The property also is known as the Hornibrook House, a homage to its builder, James H. Hornibrook, the son of English immigrants who settled in Toronto in the mid-19th century, according to documents associated with the property's 1974 nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Hornibrook moved to Little Rock in the aftermath of the Civil War. He made his fortune as a saloon keeper and branched into other business enterprises, including electricity.
The house, which took seven years to build and was completed in 1888, sits on a corner lot at 21st and Louisiana streets, its main entrance in a 3½-story corner tower, which is the property's dominating architectural feature. The interior of the house contains a divided stairway, a stained-glass skylight and octagonal-shaped rooms. Exterior trims include Greek, Mexican and Gothic designs.
"The combination of many architectural elements provide Hornibrook House with its unforgettable and grandiose style," the nominating documents said.
Hornibrook died only two years after completing his home. His wife, Margaret, died three years later, according to a history of the house on The Empress website. It later was leased to Arkansas Women's College before being used as a private residence until 1922.
It was unoccupied until the 1940s when it became a rooming house for women during World War II. In turn, it became a nursing home, apartments and a halfway house until the Blairs purchased it in 1993.
Financially, Welch-Blair said she and her husband never could have restored the house unless they operated it as a bed and breakfast, which gave them a supplemental income and tax breaks available for people who operate businesses from their homes.
Welch-Blair recommends operating a bed and breakfast if "you love people and like sharing. It's a fabulous industry."
Figueroa has restored 20 houses, including five in Little Rock. He and Sandridge live in an even older house on Main Street. It was built in 1868.
Restoring historic properties is "an art form," he said. "Old houses are an art. Sometimes you make money, and sometimes you don't. We've made enough money to make a down payment on this one."
In the Hornibrook House, Figueroa said he won't mess with success.
"It's perfect," he said. "Sharon has done an amazing job. It'll still be pretty much the same. It'll be all antiques. We're going to change the interior just a little bit, change some fabrics."
Welch-Blair said that after 25 years, she and her husband were ready to leave the inn business. They considered and rejected three offers before accepting the offer from Figueroa and Sandridge.
Welch-Blair and her husband will continue to live in the Quapaw Quarter. And Welch-Blair will house her New York Life office in Figueroa's previous home.
Welch-Blair said she wanted The Empress to remain a bed and breakfast.
"We feel The Empress made a difference in this part of Little Rock, and it made a difference with the visitors who came to this part of Little Rock," she said.
Downtown Realtor Tony Curtis brought the buyer and seller together.
"It was very important respecting the legacy that Sharon began," he said.
Blick said she wasn't surprised to learn who the new owners are.
"They have an affinity for historic houses," she said. "They'll be great caretakers for that property."
Figueroa said that at 49 he is ready to run a bed and breakfast.
"It's a joy when you get to have a house like this," he said. "And I get to share it with a lot of people, which is fun. A house like this is meant to have parties and events, charity events."
SundayMonday Business on 06/23/2019
Print Headline: Empress of Little Rock Bed and Breakfast sells for $825,000