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Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program Breathes New Life into Historic Building

July 28, 2016
Rogers Historical Museum expansion sparks building restoration, continues downtown revitalization

When I look at all the activity in downtown Rogers, Arkansas, I see a lot of potential for the community’s future. Private investors and the City of Rogers are bringing new life to iconic buildings, opening new restaurants and shops, and creating recreational destinations such as the reinvention of Lake Atalanta and a state-of-the art bike park. And that’s a win for historic downtowns across the country as other communities view our success.

We are proud to be part of this community and while making plans and progress over the past decade, we’ve entertained a variety of expansion ideas, mainly consisting of a newly constructed facility close to our current location. From the beginning, we realized the historical importance of staying in downtown and recognized our privilege to care for the Hawkins House – an 1890s Victorian cottage. But when the Morning News vacated the 14,280-square-foot Hailey Building directly across the street a few years back, an even greater opportunity was born. In addition to doubling our space, we could play a lead role in bringing back a significant piece of history in downtown Rogers.

The Hailey Building under construction in 1947

From its construction in 1947, the Hailey Building served as a leading Ford dealership in the area until 1969. With the intent of uncovering the original Streamline Moderne façade – which included a huge glass showroom, rounded corners, beautiful brick exterior, marquee and more – the City of Rogers purchased the building for the Rogers Historical Museum just over a year ago. The big question remaining was how to balance restoring the true integrity of the building with our needs of today. That answer came in the form of the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, launched last year by the Walton Family Foundation to promote the highest quality of design in the development of public buildings and spaces. Because we think the expansion isn’t really about the buildings themselves, but it is about the people who have benefited from the museum in the past and those that will benefit from it in the future.

As one of the program’s original three pilot projects, the Walton Family Foundation provided access to a select group of world-class architects and financing for all phases of design work. For the past several months, we’ve gathered input from the community and worked directly with Louisville-based DeLeon & Primmer because of its proven track record in breathing new life into historic buildings. While we had a pretty good idea of what was needed, access to a firm like DeLeon & Primmer provided a fresh set of eyes with specific expertise. The ideas they’ve had to not only bring back the original façade, but incorporate subtle elements of the dealership history into this project has been beyond anything we ever anticipated. It has helped take our thinking to the next level.

Over the years, more than 70 individual donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, the City of Rogers, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other private foundations have stepped forward to help make this dream reality. By utilizing the Hailey Building as our flagship facility, the Rogers Historical Museum will be able to turn its existing space in the Key Wing into a dedicated education building, earmark the Old Masonic Lodge for collection storage, and maintain the Hawkins House for tours. We’re no longer just a museum, but a campus in the heart of downtown Rogers, committed to preserving history and building on our sense of place. This is community done right.

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