With decades of development experience and access to private collections of rock ’n’ memorabilia, real estate broker and appraiser Mark Risk and his team hope to revive Fayetteville’s legendary Rockwood Club — and to establish a museum that testifies to its legacy of live music.

The stone building at 380 W. 24th St. in Fayetteville was built in 1947, and earned a reputation as a hotbed for mid-century rock and roll music, boasting concerts from a young Wanda Jackson, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and, notably, The Hawks — the prototype for The Band and the backup outfit for Madison County-born rocker Ronnie Hawkins, who would end up buying the club in the early ’60s.

Courtesy Mark Risk and Sandra Cox Birchfield
Advertisement in the May 26, 1961 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times, noting Ronnie Hawkins’ new ownership

The Rockwood was also renowned architect and Pine Bluff native Fay Jones’ first paying gig. Jones did consulting work on the project when he was a student at the UA Fayetteville, well before envisioning the architectural masterpieces for which he’d become known, such as Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs and Garvan Woodland Gardens’ Anthony Chapel in Hot Springs.

Courtesy Mark Risk/Sandra Cox Birchfield
Advertisement for Rockwood Club’s opening, published October 12, 1947 in the Northwest Arkansas Times

We talked with Risk via email, just before a tour of the property and a concert at George’s Majestic Lounge, with sets from Earl & Them, 1 Oz. Jig and The Boss Tweeds, to benefit the establishment of an onsite museum with memorabilia from the Club’s storied past.

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What interested you in renovating the Rockwood? 

The story of the building. There are few places in Arkansas or this region that can tell a story better than the Rockwood. Truly a legendary building and venue. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve the musical heritage of our region and state.

What planning stages are you in now, construction-wise and renovation-wise?   

We are wrapping up the design phase for the renovation. Preliminary concept drawings will be available for viewing on Sunday [July 14]. The building will likely need some major work. The level of renovation has not yet been determined. We still have some structural inspections to be performed to determine the extent of necessary work needed to shore up the foundation for another 30 years, so we still have a ways to go before we can open up for business.

Sandra Cox Birchfield
Rockwood Club, fall of 2018

The fundraiser flyer mentions a “Rockwood Museum,” in addition to the club itself. Would that be onsite? Where might the memorabilia and artifacts be sourced from?  

The planned museum will be onsite, actually in the area of the original building where the stage and dance floor were located in the early days. Memorabilia/artifacts will be obtained from several sources. We have access to several personal private collections. We also have contacts with artists and their families who have expressed a willingness to provide memorabilia. We also expect to receive loans of items from private collectors.

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Courtesy Mark Risk/Sandra Cox Birchfield
Advertisement in the Northwest Arkansas Times, published July 5, 1961

Can you tell me a little about yourself — where you’re from, where you live now, what you do? 

I’ve lived in Fayetteville since 1975. I was born and raised in a Detroit suburb in Michigan. My mother was from Clarksville, so I spent many summers and holidays in Arkansas. I fell in love with the area. I graduated from the U of A [Fayetteville] with a B.S./B.A. in 1977 and an M.B.A. in 1979. I have made my home and career here in Fayetteville. I wear several hats, so to speak, but all involve real estate. I have been a real estate broker and appraiser for over 40 years, and have taught real estate classes at the U of A [Fayetteville] for 38 years. Through all this time, I have had a passion for live music. I worked at St. Michael’s Disco Alley in 1976, which was operating in the Rockwood Building at the time. I then moved on to the Swingin’ Door and worked there and its successor the Whitewater Tavern [Dickson Street] for several years in the late ’70s and early ’80s. This is where I really got hooked on music. It was a legendary place in those days on Dickson Street.