A Superman “mystery?”

I don’t typically advertise when I’m away on vacation, preferring instead to surprise readers after I’m back and let you know that HEY! I was on vacation last week.

So, HEY! I was on vacation last week.

It was an epic road trip in which Clan Ward joined forces with two other families with whom we’ve become good friends since our move to Ward Manor 2.0 in 2014. Our kids all go to the same schools, participate in the neighborhood swim team and other local activities, and my wife along with one of the other wives actually works for the third wife, so we find ourselves together in all sorts of weather and circumstances. 😀

This time, it was a 2,100-or so mile excursion: first to Nashville, Tennessee, where we spent mine and Michi’s 28th anniversary and St. Patrick’s Day. Followed by a jaunt to Destin, Florida for a few days lounging on the beach, checking out local sites, and eating all manner of things plundered from the ocean that was RIGHT THERE. The last couple of days were spent in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, located right in the heart of the action directly across the street from Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row, and all sorts of local coolness.

This past Saturday afternoon, as Michi and the girls were availing themselves of the hotel’s embedded Starbucks cafe when the barista started making small talk, which brings us to the reason for this latest blog posting and its title. As she prepared the girls’ triple latte double caff whatevers, the barista pointed to a building across the street and casually mentioned that, “They used it for the Daily Planet building in the old Superman TV series.”

Browsing the connected gift shop’s various offerings, I didn’t hear the original exchange, but when Michi mentioned it to me, my immediate reaction was to say, “Huh? Did you say Superman?”

Color me intrigued. After all, my wee childhood memories include a lot of Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons watching George Reeves taking flight in reruns of the 1950s Adventures of Superman.

Superman-1950sLogo

In the moment, standing there in the Arlington Hotel’s Starbucks cafe in scenic Hot Springs, Arkansas, it didn’t seem like a “true fact” but perhaps instead a bit of local lore. However, the barista was enthusiastic and insistent and I felt no need to give voice to my doubts. To hear her tell it, the building’s exterior was filmed/photographed by a producer of the series who discovered it while on vacation.

“Okay,” I thought. “Establishing shots. Could be. Not the craziest story, and pretty believable, given it was the 1950s and unique architecture was where you found it, right?

When she added, “The movie before they did the TV series,” I felt my brain starting to churn. Could she mean Superman and the Mole Men, the 1951 film starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates and which preceded the Adventures of Superman TV series that premiered later in the year? I didn’t recall offhand any scenes from the film that even took place at the “Daily Planet,” given that it opens with Clark Kent and Lois Lane arriving on the scene of the story they’re chasing. That said, I couldn’t remember specifics.

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself as I stood at the window and took a gander at the building across the street. “Could be.”

The structure in question is the Medical Arts Building, located on Central Avenue across from the Arlington in Hot Springs. Though I wasn’t carrying my phone at the time and therefore unable to take a picture, I found a few online. The photo on the left is the building as it appeared in 2005, while the one was taken circa 1929 (and, as it happens, similar to what it might have looked like in early episodes of the George Reeves series).

MedicalArtsBuilding-HotSprings-Arkansas

“Hmm,” my uncertain memory taunted me. “Could be.”

AdventuresOfSuperman-1951-TitleCardMy initial internet detective attempts while on vacation resulted in either unsourced or conflicting information, so I decided to table my “investigation” until I returned home. Once reunited with my laptop and my rather sizable home video library that includes the first two seasons of Adventures of Superman, the first thing I did was verify my recollection that the Daily Planet doesn’t even appear in Superman and the Mole Men. As for the series proper, the building shown in the opening credits (“able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” etc.), is very different from this structure, but was likely not intended to be seen as the Planet building. Instead, that honor went to the historic E. Clem Wilson building in Los Angeles, at least for the show’s first season. Beginning with season two, establishing shots of the Los Angeles City Hall were used, which is what I remember from watching reruns of the show way back when.

And to be fair, while all three buildings share some superficial similarities, I think it’d be hard to mistake one for either of the others, but that’s just me.

My snooping unearthed to articles posted at Smithsonian.com. The first, “The Daily Planet In Film and Television” posted on June 14, 2013, shares info about various buildings used in the Daily Planet‘s live-action television and film appearances over the decades. The other piece, “The Architecture of Superman: A Brief History of the Daily Planet” from June 12, 2013, covers buildings which may have inspired the Planet‘s exterior as depicted in comics or once computer-generated imagery made its way into modern television and film production. Nowhere in either of these pieces is the Medical Arts Building mentioned.

Okay, so what the hell, Hot Springs, Arkansas?

I’d already discovered after an initial bout of slinging every manner of search argument I could think of into “the Googles” this was NOT going to be the easiest question to answer. The citations I found were some flavor of the sort of thing listed on a site called “Abandoned Arkansas,” which repeats the same vague bit given by the barista.

I mean, it’s starting to get into “Um, I don’t really think so” territory when there’s nothing about its supposed “Superman connection” in its listing with the National Register of Historic Places, the application for inclusion in said register, a detailed write-up about it in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, or even its Wikipedia page. That last one is a head-scratcher, because I was sure I’d find at least some behind-the-scenes bickering about including this factoid being discussed on the page’s “Talk” section.

Go figure.

But wait! It gets weirder.

One site which turned up in my search results was that the building actually appears in episodes of Smallville that feature the Daily Planet, apparently included by that show’s producers as an Easter egg/callback to the 1950s series.

WHAT. THE. HELL.

At this point, this is starting to sound like “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” that X-Files episode where Mulder is sure he remembers an episode of The Twilight Zone none of us have ever heard of. Could this claim about the Medical Arts Building simply be one of those urban legends that’s taken on a life of its own and now people just believe it BECAUSE?

All right, as I write this sentence I’m crossing the threshold of 1,100 words devoted to this piece, and I’m no closer to an answer to this “mystery” than when I started. Has anyone else heard about this little piece of Superman lore? Do any of the Superman experts and/or uber fans I know are among my many friend have anything to add? Links to sites which discuss, prove, and/or debunk the claims of that utterly charming Starbucks barista?

Cuz I’ve got nuthin’.

8 thoughts on “A Superman “mystery?”

  1. Given that the show was L.A. based, and the “provable” buildings are in L.A., I’d ask the question: “Why would they have gone to Arkansas to shoot this low-budget show?” The possibility, of course, is highly unlikely. HOWEVER: Perhaps the architect of the building in Arkansas also designed a building in L.A., and the “legend” got twisted. So, I looked it up. The Medical Arts Buiding was built by Architect John Parks Almand of firm Almand and Struck. The E. Clem Wilson building was built by the firm of Meyer & Holler. L.A’s City Hall was designed by John Parkinson, John Austin, and Albert Martin. Nope. Methinks some kid in the 50s saw the building and just figured… and figured wrong. (One man’s opinion, here.)

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    1. “To hear her tell it, the building’s exterior was filmed/photographed by a producer of the series who discovered it while on vacation.”

      Of course the show wasn’t filmed in Arkansas. The contention is that film of the building’s exterior was used. The same way NCIS is set in D.C. and features shots of D.C. landmarks despite being filmed on a Hollywood backlot and other L.A. locations.

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  2. Although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, I would lean toward the conclusion that it really is “simply … one of those urban legends that’s taken on a life of its own and now people just believe it BECAUSE[.]” As a librarian, I can confirm that sometimes the answer is that whatever information you’re looking for just isn’t there. (And as a Wikipedia editor, I can say that really is weird for there to be no presence or discussion of that claim if there were any reliable evidence for it that could be cited.) Finally, despite my initial proviso, the lack of any mention in those Smithsonian pieces I think says something.

    Now, what you could do is use this as an excuse to rewatch the entire Superman series and keep an eye out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve ever seen either, but I can’t imagine Superpup not simply reusing footage already shot for the other show (I know they reused the interior sets, for example), and Superboy was slated to take place in Smallville.

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  3. I was there at the Arlington in 2013 and was told by an employee who grew up there that it was only the inspiration of superman flying around a building. The Medical Arts Building gave the writer the idea of superman flying around a building not necessarily that building in the movie. No that building was not in a tv series or movie.

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