The Linebarger Brothers Realty Company, run by Clarence A. Linebarger and his two older brothers, opened a summer resort at Lake Bella Vista in northwestern Arkansas in 1917. In 1929, they added a large new hotel high on a hill across the highway to the west of the lake. The hill was called Sunset Mountain, and the hotel became the Sunset Hotel.
The hotel, located in what is now Bella Vista (Benton County), consisted of approximately sixty-five rooms with a private bathroom for each room or suite of rooms, a large lobby, and an upscale restaurant. Vacation visitors flocked to the hotel, and locals often traveled up the hill for meals in the restaurant. A substantial part of the workforce employed by the Linebarger brothers from the time they first opened the resort was made up of African Americans, who also worked as waiters and cooks in the Sunset Hotel.
After a few decades, the popularity of the Lake Bella Vista resort began to fade. By the late 1940s, the Linebarger brothers were looking for a buyer. E. L. Keith bought the resort and the Sunset Hotel in 1952.
After trying the hotel business for a year, Keith, who had renamed the hotel the Sunset Lodge, decided to lease it to Tex Newman. However, Newman was unable to do much more than break even, so he gave it up after a year. Keith next offered it to a Baptist minister, the Reverend North E. West, to open as a Baptist school. Rev. West named it the Baptist Institute of the Ozarks, but after about five years, he closed the school and returned the property to Keith.
In the early 1960s, John Cooper Sr.—who by then had built a retirement/recreation village called Cherokee Village (Sharp and Fulton counties) in northern Arkansas—decided to try a second one in northwestern Arkansas. He asked Keith to sell him Lake Bella Vista and the Sunset Hotel as the starting point for what he would call Bella Vista Village, with the plan of buying all the farms from the lake north to the Missouri state line. Keith decided to go through with the sale in late 1963.
Cooper began buying up the farms, and he opened Bella Vista Village in 1965. Shortly thereafter, he remodeled the old Sunset into offices for his company operations, naming it Village Hall. Cooper moved his company’s headquarters from Cherokee Village to Bella Vista Village in 1971. In 1992, Cooper moved most of his operations to Town Center in Bella Vista and left Village Hall standing empty.
The vacant building attracted vandals. One man tried to burn it down in daylight hours in February 1999 and was arrested. Another person tried again one night in July 1999; by the time the fire was noticed, the Sunset had burned to the ground. The arsonist was never caught.
The fifteen-acre property, meanwhile, had gone through several other owners, and in 2004, it was put up for sale at a bank auction, at which Cooper Communities purchased it again. Only the stone foundation of the building and the paved parking lot remain.
For additional information:
Fite, Gilbert C. From Vision to Reality: A History of Bella Vista Village, 1915–1993. Rogers, AR: RoArk Printing, Inc., 1993.
Keith, E. L. The Autobiography of E. L. Keith. Borger, TX: Plains Printing Company, 1982.
Phillips, George, ed. The Bella Vista Story. Bella Vista, AR: Bella Vista Historical Society, 1980.
Bella Vista Historical Society
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