A 16-month renovation was recently completed at the newly renamed Hotel Frederica at 625 W. Capitol Ave.

Story by Stephen Steed

Originally published November 26, 2017 at 04:30a.m., updated November 27, 2017 at 04:30a.m.

A $2 million makeover has made Little Rock's second-oldest hotel bright and sleek for the years ahead, but its long and colorful history will be noted throughout the building.

The newly renamed Hotel Frederica -- formerly the Hotel Sam Peck and, most recently, the Legacy -- gained new owners last year, for $2.8 million. They have scheduled an open house at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, with some 100 to 150 invited guests being treated to tours of the hotel and food, drink and music in its lobby and courtyard.

The lobby offers the first nod to history, with a display of large photographs of downtown Little Rock from the 1950s and 1960s, including one of the Sam Peck rooftop signs looming in the background.

Just down the hall is the Rockefeller Room, a meeting room named for Winthrop Rockefeller, who lived at the hotel for two years in the early 1950s while building his home and ranch atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton. Rockefeller later served two terms as Arkansas governor, from 1967 to 1971.

But the biggest nod to history is the name itself.

The hotel at 625 W. Capitol Ave. opened in 1914 as the Freiderica and also housed the Freiderica Pharmacy on its ground floor. The Freiderica Pharmacy is still open, just two blocks east, in the First Commercial Bank building. "We just wanted to avoid any complications over trademarks altogether," Kishan Patel, the Frederica's general manager, said of dropping the 'i' from Freiderica.

The new owners have spent the past 16 months transforming the hotel, at Capitol Avenue and Gaines Street, inside and out, with a gray-and-blue exterior paint scheme replacing the former beige and red.

"There's been a lot of hard work the last year, but it's all been worth it," Patel told a visitor recently, while workers applied finishing touches to the hotel's new first-floor fitness center, which previously consisted of a treadmill or two in a converted third-floor guest room.

The new owners are Jitendra Patel, Ankur Desai, Bhavin Patel, Parimal Patel and Jamak LLC. They will operate the hotel under Ascend Collections, the "boutique" brand of Choice Hotels International.

The hotel has 82 rooms, up from 74 a year ago, after rooms that had been converted into one- and two-bedroom apartments for long-term stays a few years ago were remodeled as regular rooms and suites.

The hotel remained open during the renovation, although sometimes only 20 or so rooms were available for rent, Patel said.

Recent online reviews by guests noted the inconvenience and upheaval, and Patel responded to many of those comments, with either apologies or thanks, accordingly.

Most room rates are in the $70-$90 range, not much different from the Legacy's rates more than a year ago, because of competition from other downtown hotels, Patel said.

The Legacy, while comfortable in a grand-matronly way of dark, heavy furnishings and drapes, was in dire need of an update, Patel said. The entire property also has gone smoke-free.

One major challenge remains -- finding someone to lease the hotel's restaurant and bar, formerly called Filibuster's, Patel said.

The hotel's guidelines with Choice Hotels call for full-service breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first-floor restaurant and bar will seat 40 people comfortably.

The Hotel Frederica also will offer frequent guests -- those who've earned "points" through stays at other inns tied in with Choice Hotels -- access to the Sam Peck fourth-floor, three-room executive lounge.

Material and labor took up most of the $2 million renovation budget, Patel said. No major structural problems were discovered, and basic heating, air and plumbing systems were in reasonably good shape. The biggest problem was water damage in the ceilings of rooms along the hotel's top floor, and especially in the back section.

The Frederica consists of three sections: the original, built in 1913; a five-story art-deco annex and sixth-floor penthouse suite, designed by architect Edward Durrell Stone and built in 1941; and a 49-room "motor court" that was operated separately in the 1960s as the Motel Sam Peck. The entire hotel once had as many as 115 rooms.

One renovation more than 20 years ago to tie the three sections together and enclose the open-air motor court resulted in a rabbit warren of hallways, where the new owners have cheekily paid homage to an episode that previous owners might rather forget. A large photograph and plaque note an infamous "toga party" raid at the hotel in 1982, led by then-Sheriff and later Congressman Tommy Robinson.

"It's a beautiful, interesting property, but the way it's laid out makes it tough for a lot of things," Patel said, noting a particular hallway's split-level steps that have always been a hindrance to laundry and room-service carts. "But it also adds to the character of the place."

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