Fort Smith CVB moving out of Miss Laura’s; former brothel to remain as historic site

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,117 views 

Miss Laura's

The Fort Smith Visitors Center is leaving Miss Laura’s for its own dedicated space on Garrison Avenue. For 32 years, the visitor’s center has been located inside Miss Laura’s Social Club on North B, the site of a former bordello.

The Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) announced Monday (June 17) that the visitor’s center would be moving to a more centralized location on Garrison Avenue.

Ashleigh Bachert, CVB executive director, said the CVB offices will be in the former Area Agency on Aging building at 524 Garrison Avenue, while the visitors center will be next door in the smaller building between 524 Garrison and the Tip Top Boot building. The space will be leased, she said, adding that a final price has not yet been determined because it depends on when they will take occupancy.

The space is being refurbished to fit the needs of the CVB, she said. All that will need to be done once the “rebuild” of the space is ready for their occupancy is to add furniture, decorations and technology, she said. Bachert said the refurbishing should take another two to three months. The CVB move is expected to take place late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter of the year.

Claude Legris, who was the CVB director for 19 years, praised the move.

“I think Ashleigh’s doing a great job, and I think it’s a great move for Miss Laura’s and the bureau. It was always a little challenging when you’re in the middle of the business day, and all of a sudden, there is a tour group there in your office,” Legris said.

Ashleigh Bachert, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau

He said during much of his term in office the CVB was focused on recruiting group tours, convention meetings, and working to get the U.S. Marshals Museum open.

“That (museum) took up an amazing amount of our time. We were more concerned, really active, with adding that major new attraction,” he said.

And now the CVB will be able to promote another museum. With the move, Miss Laura’s will expand as “a one-of-a-kind historical gem and local attraction,” the CVB announcement said.” Bachert said the move would allow the CVB to be in a centralized location that is easy for visitors to find and Miss Laura’s to fully function as a museum of a once-active brothel.

The CVB website states that out of seven “row houses” that lined Fort Smith’s red light district during the Old West era, Miss Laura’s is the only brothel still standing. It is also the only former bordello on the National Register of Historic Places. Fully restored to its original grandeur, the Victorian mansion serves as a museum featuring the history of the brothel, Bachert said.

“We have learned that visitors were often struggling to find us (the CVB). This move will allow us to be centralized on Garrison Avenue and for the two entities (Miss Laura’s and the CVB) to each have their own space and identity,” she said.