Architecture of the Ozarks

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 224 views 

(Click here to see a list of the region’s architects.)

From Old Main to the Bentonville square, Northwest Arkansas’s architecture is about as diverse as its residents.

For the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s annual architecture issue, we decided to do a photo essay on the 10 most architecturally significant spots in Northwest Arkansas. The only problem is, we’re not architects.

So we called an expert: Graham F. Shannon Jr., also known as Jeff. He’s dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

Shannon was more than happy to help us, and he consulted with some of his colleagues before coming up with the list. Other architects may disagree, he said, because such things are a matter of opinion.

These architectural sites are in Washington and Benton counties. We’re not including Carroll County here. It’s home to Eureka Springs, which is itself a wonderful architectural site.

So here are the top 10, in no particular order.

tie: Downtown Squares

Fayetteville and Bentonville

Architectural style: variety.

These two photographs show the Bank of Fayetteville building, left, at the corner of Block and Center streets in Fayetteville and the Terry Block building at the corner of Central and Main streets in Bentonville, next door to Walton’s five-and-dime store, below.

“I think they are the strongest and most imagable civic spaces in the region,” Shannon said.

Many cities have let their downtown square areas deteriorate.

“Fayetteville and Bentonville have done a remarkable job in bringing them back to life,” Shannon said.

Shannon said his favorite building on the Fayetteville square is the Bank of Fayetteville, an example of “late Victorian commercialism,” as Sutherland described it.

“It acts as a bookend to that side of the square,” he said.

“Both Fayetteville and Bentonville have been fortunate to have been planned around a town square,” Sutherland said. “It gave a central location for the business district.”

Old Main

University of Arkansas


Five floors and a basement, 106,000 SF

Completed in 1875 (and 1882)

Replacement value: $15.3 million

Architect: John M. Van Osdel of Chicago

Architectural style: Second Empire (French) with a Mansard roof (steeply slopeing top floor with dormer windows)

Old Main is the most recognizable building in Northwest Arkansas.

“More than any other single building, it symbolizes higher education in the state,” Shannon said.

Old Main was based on the plan for the main building at Illinois Industrial University, now the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, although that building has since been torn down.

The initial construction cost for Old Main was $123,855. Although it was ready for occupancy in 1875, the top two floors weren’t finished until 1882.

Old Main went through an $11 million renovation that was completed in 1991. The Fort Smith firm of Mott, Mobley, McGowan & Griffin did the renovation.

“It’s an absolutely splendid example of restoration,” said Cyrus Sutherland, professor emeritus in the UA’s School of Architecture.

“I think its importance is in its being a spectacular example for the days in which it was built,” Sutherland said. “For a quarter of a century, it was the largest building in Arkansas. They were so ambitious to undertake a splendid example of an educational building in their day … The fact that it has not been torn down and has been rehabilitated into a splendid building is doubly important.”

Skyline Drive loop

Mount Sequoyah, Fayetteville

Architectural style: variety.

Skyline Drive, which traces the perimeter of Mount Sequoyah on the east side of Fayetteville, is also a collective architectural site, Shannon said.

“It’s almost a kind of democratic space in that there are modest places and lavish places, and they coexist side by side. In between the houses, you get spectacular views. It’s sort of the synthesis of what architecture is about in Fayetteville.”

Shannon said the home of Jerome and Harriet Jansma, left, is a good example of Mount Sequoyah architecture.

“The house inside has been lavished with detail,” he said.

Harriet Jansma said the house is a 1,400-SF post-World War II cottage.

Tyson Poultry Sciences Center

University of Arkansas


Three floors, 110,000 SF

Completed in 1995

Architect: Witsell, Evans & Rasco of Little Rock

Architectural style: modern

Replacement value: $21.8 million

“I think it is the finest contemporary building on campus,” Shannon said. “Compositionally, it’s good. I think the palate of materials and the way in which the materials were composed make it an extraordinary building. It’s very thoughtfully detailed … And it’s at home with much older buildings on campus, and yet it still has its own presence and strength.”

Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel

504 Memorial Dr.

Bella Vista

One floor, 1,625 SF

Completed in 1988

Architect: Fay Jones

Architectural style: Fay Jones

Appraised value: $180,040 (in 1999)

Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista is one of two buildings on our list that was designed by E. Fay Jones of Fayetteville, a winner of the Gold Award from the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor that is given to anyone in the profession. Jones was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Cooper Chapel is similar in design to Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, which was also designed by Jones, but Thorncrown has a glass ceiling and Cooper’s is wood.

“It’s related to Thorncrown in that it’s almost the inverted idea,” Shannon said. “With Thorncrown, it’s almost like the building was arrested in its development and you only have the frame … With Cooper, you definitely know you’re sitting inside a building.”

Mount Nord Street


Architectural style: variety (Georgian, Neoclassical, Beaux Arts)

The stately old homes atop Mount Nord comprise an architectural site unto themselves.

“It’s almost the private symbolic equivalent of the county courthouse tower,” Shannon said. “It’s very visible.”

“It’s only one block long,” Sutherland said of Mount Nord street. “There are only five houses there.”

There were six houses on Mount Nord, but the sixth house was torn down after serving as everything from the Arkansas exhibit in the 1904 St. Louis World Fair to a fraternity house.

The house at 1 Mount Nord St., left, which is owned by David Lewis, is a good example of Neoclassical architecture and could be described as Beaux Arts, Sutherland said.

The Keenan TowerHouse

corner of Old Missouri Road and

Old Wire Road


Four floors, 1,000 SF

Completed in 2000

Architect: Marlon Blackwell of Fayetteville

Architectural design: modern

Appraised value: $356,850

The Keenan TowerHouse is 82 feet tall with a footprint of about 278 SF. The building has four floors and three rooms.

James Keenan of Fayetteville wanted to build a house that reminded him of the tree house his grandfather, Jack Stoffer of Houston, now 90 years old, built for him in the backyard of his childhood home in Harrison.

“This is the adult version of that,” Keenan said. “It’s a re-creation of a childhood memory.”

The building has eight flights of stairs. White oak from Winslow was used on the bottom part of the building to match the oak and hickory trees at the building site.

“We patterned it after tree bark,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said the building encompasses 21,015 cubic feet. He prefers that figure to square feet because the extreme vertical design of the tower makes square feet misleading.

The building rises above the 50-foot tree canopy to provide a panoramic view of the area.

“It’s the only new structure in Fayetteville that acts to gather space the way the old courthouse did,” Shannon said. “I think it’s a fine example of contemporary architecture.”

“It’s attracted a lot of attention and caused a lot of discussion,” Shannon said. “It’s totally unique.”

Old Washington

County Courthouse

2 N. College Avenue


Four floors and a basement, 23,700 SF

Completed in 1905

Architect: Charles Thompson, D.C. Wurtz firm, Fort Smith.

Architectural style: Richardsonian Romanesque with a touch of Italian Renaissance.

Appraised value: Not available because it’s not a taxable building

Work began on the old Washington County Courthouse in 1904 and was completed 10 month later.

The original cost was $115,750.

Shannon said the old courthouse symbolically connects the downtown Fayetteville square to College Avenue via Center Street. The courthouse is visible down Center from the square.

“More than anything else, it’s the way the building is integrated urbanistically,” Shannon said. “The overscaled tower acts as a city landmark. You can see it from many places, and you know the seat of government is there … It’s very heavy and fortresslike.”

Fine Arts Building

University of Arkansas


Three floors, 115,000 SF

Completed in 1951

Architect: Edward Durell Stone

Architectural style: Mid 20th century modern

Replacement value: $9.8 million

This sprawling three-story structure was very modern at the time of its construction.

When the building opened, it housed the art, music, theater and architecture departments.

“It was one of the, if not the, first fine arts buildings in the country in which all of the arts were integrated,” Shannon said.

“It was the first building on campus to depart with what had been a traditional style on campus, which was an academic gothic style that flanked Old Main,” said Sutherland. “It began a trend [for UA buildings] into 20th century modernism.”

Roy Reed residence

Arkansas Highway 156


Two floors, 2,700 SF

Completed in 1980

Architect: Fay Jones

Architectural style: Fay Jones

Appraised value: $94,150 (in 2001)

The Roy Reed residence in Hogeye was also designed by E. Fay Jones, but it’s different from most of Jones’ buildings.

“In many ways, it’s atypical of Fay’s houses,” Shannon said. “It’s smaller than most. It’s simpler than most. And it had a smaller budget than most. But in spite of that, or maybe because of that, it is a special building. It’s open and almost barnlike.”