El Dorado is home to one of the world’s most well-recognized oil companies. It was founded in southern Arkansas when oil was discovered in the region at the turn of the century. With oil came the timber industry, propelling El Dorado into the South’s original “Boom Town”.
Fast forward about a hundred years, when the community of El Dorado saw a need for a multipurpose building that could serve residents and businesses in this area. The community was set on bringing this project to life, but they were also determined to get it right. The building would need to include elements of what makes El Dorado special. So what does make El Dorado so special? The history, the industry, and the beauty of the surrounding area.
Enter: Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects who took the unique nature of the community and turned it into a timeless building. While El Dorado’s history is one thing that makes it special, the architects did not want to rely on a cliché historic building style; instead they focused on the specific story of El Dorado and the industries that put it on the map.
The El Dorado Conference Center opened in 2012. The main public space, The Great Hall, is a subtle repeating cross section of an oil derrick’s shape and bracing, creating a soaring cathedral like space, capped with a wood shed that recalls the long timber mills of this forested region. The El Dorado Conference Center’s large masonry wall planes act to honor the adjacent SouthArk campus legacy without the traditional architecture, while the wood and steel reference the history of timber and oil that helped the city flourish and continue to do so, contributing to its growing role as a regional conference destination. The conference center also houses the Boomtown Bistro, the SouthArk bookstore, and the SouthArk student services office.
The building has large windows that allow visitors to take in the beauty of the surrounding area, including the large grassy lawn on the south side of the building. This lawn is also the home of the Arkansas 9/11 memorial, which honors four Arkansans lost to the tragic events of that day. The memorial features a piece of the World Trade Center steel, and a portal structure which was built with existing granite slabs salvaged from an industry drilling process.
The El Dorado Conference Center represents unprecedented community collaboration. It writes a narrative of time, place, and story, linking the urban fabric between town and college, while serving as a symbol for the renewal of Arkansas’ original Boom Town.