Vintage Hot Springs, Arkansas, And Its Classic Gangster Vehicles
A relic from day’s gone-bye, Al Capone’s personal use1928 Cadillac was not an off-the-show-room-floor vehicle, not by any stretch of the imagination! It had ¼” steel plate in the doors, 1” thick bullet proof glass, the back window had a portal for a submachine gun to fend off anyone who might be in pursuit, and it had solid rubber tires to avoid blow-outs from gunshots. Its rumored Al’s Cad weighted 7-tons, but of course there’s a lot of mythology that surrounds the gangster days of the 1920’s, ‘30’ and ‘40’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Back in that day gangsters and mobsters from Chicago, New York, Kansas City, the West Coast, New Orleans, etc. would check their “heat” at the door and under a gentleman’s agreement (a real stretch of the word) enjoy vacationing alongside one another under the protection of the Hot Springs Police Department. Located on the edge of the bucolic Ozarks Mts. in the north central part of the Razorback State, this (back-in-the-day) wide open city was a playground for crime figures likes Al Capone, Bud Segal, Myers Lansky, Frank Costello, Dutch Shultz, and Lucky Luciano. Often Hot Springs provided temporary sanctuary for notorious lower level thugs like Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, and Baby Face Nelson (the list goes on and on). Here even Chicago’s infamous North Side and South Side Gangs who back in the Windy City violently warred with one another, would honor an informal but binding agreement that meant no blood would be spilled while they were visiting Hot Springs.
Among the last vestiges of the Old Wild West, Hot Springs was a place where America’s bad-boys came to play. Here they were safe from the law, the winters were mild, and the hot mineral waters that bubble out of the ground let them “boil-out” their bodies (as they called it) to relieve the aches and pains a gangster incurs, and get what ever relief they could from ailments of the day that were untreatable because there was no such thing as penicillin (read between the lines on this one). The arrangement these criminals had with the Hot Springs police department was that while visiting they would “let sleeping dogs lay”. Of course handsome contributions (payoffs) were made by these out-of-town crime figures to the Hot Spring police department’s benevolent fund.
Today Capone’s Caddy no longer sits in the lobby of the Arlington Hotel as it did for many years but the suite where Capone stayed when he was in town can still be booked at the Arlington. The Al Capone Suite, RM 443 still has his name on the door and anyone interested in resting their head where Fat Al (a nickname he went by) stayed can do so. When he was at the Arlington he reserved the entire 4th floor to house his gang. Yes, Al’s Caddy may not be here but Hot Springs today is home to an energized bunch of vintage car enthusiasts and car restoration specialists, a fact that caught our attention. Long story short, it was the sum total of all this gangster history, the restored vintage cars of that era in the area, and the number of vintage car aficionados in Hot Springs that brought Truck Trend to the edge of the Ozarks.
Transportation to and from Hot Springs would be via a 2016 Titan XD SL 4X4. For 2016 it’s can be powered for the first time with the 5.0L V8 Cummins Diesel Engine, and our host vehicle was. Along with its prowess and head turning exterior lines, the creature comforts and functionality it delivers made it totally transparent to those inside that this heavy bad-boy is a 32-valve, turbo charged diesel “animal.” (see sidebar)
In 1920’s Hot Springs the word never reached these folks that the 18th Amendment had been passed and even after Prohibition ended in 1931 Arkansas remained throughout the 1930’s the biggest distiller of moonshine spirits in the country. In Hot Springs supper clubs, gambling houses and bordellos lined both sides of Central Avenue and Fountain St. These and the personalities of the crime bosses whose history of turf wars (including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago) is the kind of grist legends continue to be made of. Exploring America’s landscape simply underscores why poking around the nooks and crannies of this country can be so rewarding.
When the mobsters arrived in town at the train depot, the first stop they made was at office of the Chief of Police to “feather his benevolent fund nest’. They would then check into their accommodations like the Arlington Hotel, and be off to the races both literally and figuratively for Oaklawn Park is a feeder race track that even today leads directly to the Kentucky Derby. Across Central Avenue from the Arlington Hotel was the Sundown Club (today the Wax Museum). There was and still is to this day the Ohio Club (opened 1905) a favorite of the criminal element. A place Capone frequented, today the Ohio Club serves the best burgers in town. In town was and again still is McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant (opened in 1928), a place that continues to serve the best BBQ in the world. Still owned by the McClard Family, it’s a favorite eatery of President Bill Clinton. Even today when he comes to town he dines here. The ribs, slaw, baked beans, sliced smoked roast, milk shakes, and their own unique creation of the hot tamale are to-die-for! Should you want New York style pizza, just across the street from the Arlington Hotel and a couple blocks up Central Avenue is De Luca’s Pizzaria where authentic Napoletana brick oven pizza is served. The owner and founder Anthony Valinoti (in a prior life) was a day trader on the NY stock exchange. He decided he wanted to make a lifestyle change and when he passed through Hot Springs, Arkansas the vibes he picked up told him, “this is the place.” De Luca’s serves great food!
South of the Arlington on Central Ave is Resort Collector Cars & Trucks, an anchor in this community for those whose passion for old vehicles has no bounds. For years a Ford dealer, Steve Storey today feeds his love for cars by restoring and modifying vehicles per the owner’s request. He employs six individuals gifted with expertise and skills in paint and body, mechanical, engines & power trains, and electrics and says “any vehicle that didn’t originally come with computer chips are welcome (old stuff).” It can take as much as a year to do the research, procure parts, tear it down, and restore the vehicle to its original condition. For the “little deuce coupe” group, Resort Collector can also turn a vehicle into a glamour street rod.
Resort Collector Cars & Trucks has on its lot a vintage1938 Buick 4-door sedan that has all the markings of a mob vehicle. There’s a ’29 Model A Ford Roadster, 1929 Chevy Roadster, 1948 Ford 2-door Coupe, 1948 4-door Cadillac Sedan, 1929 Ford Model A 4-door, a 1958 Willies, and a 1938 Buick Coupe Street Rod. To capture the essence of the historical back-drop Hot Springs offers, several of these vintage vehicles were photographed in settings that were found around the city when the mob came here during the ‘20’s, ‘30’s, and ‘40’s. Of particular interest is one enthusiast (Bill Malone) who tells about his 1929 Model 40A Roadster with rumble seat. Bill acquired the car in 1955 when he was in high school. All his life he’s moved it from one place to another with his family. Finally a couple of years ago he had Resort Collector help him restore it to its original (mint) condition. Good Job, Bill!
Hot Springs today is a town that caters to the entire family with theme and water parks, boating, fishing, mountain biking, and hiking trails. This is a National Park and the facilities are first rate. For those into the culinary arts or who enjoy the world of spirits and beverages, Hot Springs is a sweet place to be. For the historian the Gangster Museum and Wax Museum sit waiting. The shopper who strolls along Central Avenue will find it lined with all kinds of shops. Visit the lounge in the Arlington Hotel lobby where Capone’s Caddy once sat on display and you will see two huge opposing murals that tell a story (the muralist’s story) about “love found and then lost”. The drink mix-ologist behind the mahogany bar or the receptionist at the front desk can tell you all about it.