Restoring the work of E. Fay Jones in Hot Springs Village

by Josh Williams

photography by Judea Robinett

Architecture has the ability to be one of the greatest art forms in society. Yes, buildings serve a functional purpose

first and foremost–such as providing shelter or conducting  business matters- but sometimes a building can be so structurally beautiful and interesting that people get lost in them, both metaphorically and literally. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of those architects that mastered the combination of form and function, which resulted in a bevy of structures that have become some of the nation’s most famous buildings; the Guggenheim Museum, Taliesin West and Fallingwater speak for themselves. One of Wright’s most talented and well-known disciples, E. Fay Jones, was a native Arkansan who, interestingly enough, believed in “form after function”– although it’s hard to tell–and the Ouachita Mountain region is lucky enough to contain several iconic works designed by Jones.

Euine (pronounced U-wan, an old Welsh form of John) Fay Jones was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on January 31, 1921. As a young person, he worked at his father’s business, The People’s Cafe, in El Dorado for years. He had a penchant for drawing and construction that was evident in his early years, validated by the tree houses and underground forts that he constructed on his parents’ property. According to an article in Encyclopedia Arkansas, “After seeing a film about Frank Lloyd Wright and his Johnson Wax Building, he was determined to combine ‘drawing and building.’” He enrolled at the University of Arkansas in 1938 to study architecture, but the only architecture classes offered were in the engineering program, so he studied civil engineering for two and a half years.

As World War II began, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy.  He attained the rank of lieutenant naval aviator and was a reconnaissance pilot in the Pacific, manning torpedo and dive bombers. While on leave in San Francisco, he married a Hot Springs native, Mary Elizabeth Knox–who is affectionately known as “Gus”–on January 6, 1943. Jones and Knox had met in Little Rock before the war, and in 1945, Jones came back to Little Rock and took a job as a draftsman at an architectural engineering firm. His talents were starting to become noticed, and he was encouraged to come back to the University of Arkansas to enroll in the new architecture program implemented by John Williams.

Fay Jones designed 218 structures in his lifetime, 84 of which reside in the state of Arkansas. Eight of those Arkansas structures are on the National Register of Historic Places: the Applegate House

and Cooper Chapel in Benton County, Thorncrown Chapel in Carroll County, the Shaheen/Goodfellow Weekend House in Cleburne County, the Edmondson House in St. Francis County, and the Hantz House and Fay Jones House in Washington County. Other notable Jones houses in Arkansas include houses for members of the Sam Walton family in Benton County, the Pallone House in Pulaski County, the Orval Faubus House in Huntsville (Madison County), and the Alexander House in Washington County.

Jones was commissioned for two projects in Hot Springs Village. The West Gate Fountain Complex, the only public fountain he designed, was built in 1970. The DeSoto Recreational Complex was completed in 1972, and it included the golf course cart barn, the 19th Hole building, the pool and the golf clubhouse building. Like most of his structures, Jones utilized wood and stone throughout these buildings, and with long low rooflines, he incorporated the surrounding natural features into these particular pieces. Jones was also commissioned for two private residences in Hot Springs Village, but unfortunately, they were never constructed. There are however, several houses in Hot Springs that are reportedly designed by Jones, and they can’t be verified, but if one ever saw them, it would be obvious. The author of this piece has seen one, and he would bet his life on the rumor being true.

The DeSoto Complex Clubhouse building suffered a blessing in disguise recently and is about finished with a detailed renovation. This is an excerpt from the Hot Springs Village Advocate:

“In January 2014, the facility experienced a burst water pipe which caused extensive damage. At this time it was determined that several areas contained asbestos which needed to be removed and abated. Project objectives were: improvements for a more functional space, a full service golf shop, upscale casual dining, a bar and lounge with conversational seating, an enlarged outdoor dining space and a private dining and event space to be used for meetings, events and convention space. The Placemaking team began the search to retain an architectural firm and selected Hight Jackson Associates from Rogers, Arkansas. Hight Jackson has worked on several E. Fay Jones projects in the past, and Larry Perkin, the principal architect, even studied under Jones while obtaining his architectural degree at the University of Arkansas.

The design strategy for the project was to keep as much of the original E. Fay Jones design as possible while providing a modernized, updated look. The clear-story and large exterior picture windows remain, flooding the entire space with natural light. The boxy, compartmentalized feel was eliminated by removing walls and opening up the space. The vaulted ceilings in the lobby, along exterior windows and golf shop remain, adding a feeling  of spaciousness. The original stone on the fireplace and lobby floors brings ‘nature,’ a key element in Jones’ design, inside. And the stone surfaces along existing patios, planters and entrances were repaired to their former glory.

Some noteworthy design elements are the stained wood ceilings. The double profile trim is repeated throughout the space on window trim, columns and floor details. The ceiling above the bar and back bar wall is constructed of slated wood and is a play on Jones’ linear design. This same slated design aesthetic is used to conceal the heating and air return in the private dining space. The dining floors were finished with a reflective epoxy material, which is not only extremely durable but beautiful as well. The soffit cove lighting gives an inviting, ambient glow to the dining spaces and the golf shop. The new chandeliers give a modernized update to the original chandeliers. Note that Jones’ original chandeliers were repurposed into furnishings throughout the space. The fireplace screen was designed with a linear feel repeating the slated wood and exterior railing design. The existing circular patio curves are repeated in the deck, stairs and planting areas. And the relief detail on the front of the bar combines the linear and circular elements from both the interior and exterior.”

For more on Fay Jones, contact the University of Arkansas Libraries at (479) 575-5577 or at libinfo.uark.edu