When patrons first enter the Hilltop Lounge, just off the lobby of the Stratford Hotel in Alton, Ill., their eyes are immediately pulled toward the six large murals of stampeding buffalo, runaway wagon trains and wild-eyed cowboys riding wild-eyed broncs. No pastoral scenes, these -- in fact, they're rather violent and grotesque in some cases. Handpainted sometime in the 1940s by a transient guest only identified on the paintings as "Beaty," the murals mimic the furniture in the lounge and lobby, which doesn't seem to have been replaced in the past 50 years or so. Literally. There's painted aluminum, black-and-white tile and red Naugahyde everywhere. The Stratford was built in 1909 completely of paving brick, concrete and steel, at a cost of $141,000. The only wood in the entire 56-room hotel on Market Street is around the doors and windows. Unfortunately or not, financing talks are taking place between the Stratford and Sheridan hotels as you read this, and renovation plans are already on the drawing board. Go now, before "improvements" are made.