|Location:||Dartmoor Road, Bella Vista|
|Classification:||Karst cave Cave Restaurant|
Anita Frank (1992):
The Weekly Vista. November 18, 1992.
|Address:||Wonderland Cave, Marysia Miller, Dartmoor Road, Bella Vista, AR, Tel: +1-310-497-6000. E-mail:|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1920s||developed by C. A. Linebarger, general manager of the resort of Bella Vista.|
|01-MAR-1930||opened to the public as a night club and restaurant.|
|01-JAN-1988||entered in the National Register of Historic Places.|
|1962||cave used as a shelter during cold war.|
|1965||leased to Cooper Industries, Inc..|
Wonderland Cave is a natural cave which was converted into a restaurant and nightclub. It was developed by C. A. Linebarger, general manager of the resort of Bella Vista. The three brothers Clarence A. Linebarger, Forrest W. Linebarger and Clayton C. Linebarger bought land in Benton County in 1917 and began promoting Bella Vista as a resort community. Beneath the cave nightclub they built a boat dock, a swimming pool, a dance pavilion, the Sunset Hotel and several cottages. In 1929 they saw a subterranean restaurant in Paris, and had the idea to develop the cave on their property in the same way.
In a huge cave chamber, a floor with an area of 4,000m² was paved with concrete. There were an orchestra pit for a ten- to twelve-piece band and a 10m long bar on the opposite side, all built of rock. There were stone and wooden booths for the guests at the rim and a dance floor. On the outside was a sign reading The Largest Natural Place of Amusement in America, and actually it is the biggest cave restaurant of the United States. When it was opened to the public on 01-MAR-1930 it had a live orchestra and was overcrowded with 400 guests.
Wonderland Cave was used for perfomances, concerts, weddings and even for senate meetings. During the 1930s and 1940s big bands frequented the location, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellingtonperformed at the cave. Harry Truman and Errol Flynn were frequent guests. After some 30 years the nightclub was closed for the first time, but the public could tour it for a small fee.
With the Cold War dreading and especially the disturbing events of the early 1960s, the Civil Defense officials were looking for available shelters. This cave, together with other show caves in the area, became an official nuclear fallout shelter. This actually meant it was equipped with supplies for survival. Wonderland Cave was leased to Cooper Industries in 1965. They used it for various functions for its retirement project named Bella Vista Village.
During the following decades the cave was used as a show cave, and there were concerts and disco in the cave, but no one of the lessees was able to revive the old fame. Finally every leaseholder, some of them potential buyers, failed and the cave was again closed.
In 1995 the heirs of the Linebarger family tried to sell it and Larry Wilson bought the cave for USD 120,000. He partnered with others to renovate and develop the property and founded Wonderland Sunset Properties Inc. (WSP). But various plans failed and the cave was closed all the time and as the entrance was not secured very well, it was heavily vandalized. Even the house of the caretaker at the cave entrance was burned down. At the end the cave was now full of rubbish and the original electric light and other installations were completely destroyed. In 2004 WSP went currupt and the cave was auctioned, but the bidding started at USD 700,000, and nobody wanted the vandalized cave for this sum. Owned by the creditors, who tried to sell it, they continually dropped the price until it was finally sold in 2011.
The cave is now owned by Marysia Miller and others, who work on reopening the cave. As she told us the cave has been restored, rubbish and graffiti have been removed. They also have a website which tells about the history of the site. As far as we understood, they are working on the reopening, but she did not give us a hint when.