Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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Little Rock Look Back: March 20 in City of Little Rock history

For much of Little Rock’s history, the City Council did not meet on March 20.  (Under City Council rules, meetings were often once a month, and later moved to twice a month – usually second and fourth Monday).  Since switching to the City Manager form of government, meetings moved to the first and third weeks of the month.  The first instance of the First Day of Spring being a City Board meeting was in 1961.

At that meeting, there were the usual zoning issues. There were also proposals to close several streets, in anticipation of industrial development.  That Little Rock was anticipating industrial development was indeed news.  After the 1957 crisis, the city had no new businesses locate to Little Rock for several years.  One of the longtime tenants in Little Rock, Westinghouse Corporation, was experiencing legal issues on the national level.  As a way to show that Little Rock was open for business, the City Board passed a resolution on March 20, 1961, to thank Westinghouse Corporation for their continued commitment to Little Rock.

The next City Board meeting on March 20 was in 1973.  In addition to the usual zoning issues, there were a couple of items of note for future projects which would impact Little Rock in the late 1970s and beyond.  The first was to enter into an agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding a park at Murray Lock and Dam.  The second dealt with the planning for Metrocentre Mall.  There was also a lengthy discussion about the proposed annexation of 55 square miles in southwest Little Rock.

Six years later, on March 20, 1979, topics addressed included upgrades to University Park and Greyhound bus service to Texarkana and Memphis.  $316,800 was appropriated to reconstruct Markham from Ellis Drive to I-430, a distance of 0.4 miles.  Rules and regulations for the Fire Department were also approved.  In addition, some citizens spoke about the Batty Glass collection, which was then at the Museum of Science and Natural History.   In 1984, if Big Brother was watching on March 20, most of the items were routine.  Southwestern Bell did have a request for a project on Hinson Road in anticipation of future growth in that area.

The location for a future west Little Rock park took up much time at the March 20, 1990, City Board meeting.  Several sites were under consideration. Each of the seven City Directors seemed to have his or her own favorite.  Ultimately no final decision would be made that evening.  Parks were a topic at the next March 20 meeting, in 2001.  Parks Director Bryan Day (who was celebrating a birthday that day) was recognized for being the Outstanding Parks professional in a five state region.  There was a lengthy discussion that evening about additional funding for the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility, which ultimately passed.  At the end of the meeting, there were updates on the proposed Summit Mall.

On March 20, 2007, the City Board spent time discussing potential projects for a short-term financing bond issuance.  Items included HVAC repairs to the Dunbar Community Center and Central Fire Station, improving the elephant exhibit at the Zoo, new city vehicles and computer software upgrades.  Five years later, Milton Crenchaw was recognized with the Spirit of Little Rock Award for his role as an instructor to the Tuskegee Airmen and other accomplishments in the fields of aviation and Civil Rights.


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LR Women Making History – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.

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LR Women Making History – Jeannette Edris Rockefeller

Jeannette Edris Rockefeller only lived in Arkansas for about fifteen years. But her impact on the cultural life of Little Rock and all of Arkansas continues to be felt today.

Born and raised in Seattle, as a young mother she met Winthrop Rockefeller while both were in New York.  He moved to Arkansas in 1953; after their 1956 marriage, she joined him. They split their time between Little Rock and Petit Jean.

In 1959, she was asked to become involved in plans for a new art museum in Little Rock.  She became a tireless advocate and fundraiser for the new Arkansas Arts Center.   In 1960, she assumed the role of president of the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees, a position she held until 1968.  During that time period she oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the building.  She also invited Townsend Wolfe, who she had met when he taught some classes at the Arts Center, to apply to become the museum’s first executive director.

From 1967 to 1971, she was First Lady of Arkansas.  In that capacity, she supervised renovation of the Governor’s Mansion and started the tradition of displaying art on the walls.

Shortly after her 1971 divorce from Rockefeller, she relocated to California.  She continued to be a supporter of the Arts Center.  One of the galleries in the Arts Center is named in her honor.  In addition, one of the sculptures on the lawn of the Arts Center, Standing Red, was dedicated in 1970 in recognition of her service on the Arts Center Board.

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Little Rock Look Back: War Memorial Stadium approved

WMS Hall BarnhillOn March 18, 1947, Governor Ben T. Laney signed the bill into law which authorized the construction of War Memorial Stadium.

The plans for the stadium were the brainchild of Arkansas Secretary of State C.G. “Crip” Hall and University of Arkansas Athletic Director John Barnhill.

Apparently the Southwest Conference was threatening to kick Arkansas out because of an inadequate football facility. Since the University did not have the funds to build a new one on its campus, Barnhill and Hall decided that the state should build one. Many other states were building War Memorial facilities of a variety of natures. The duo decided that the new football facility could be a War Memorial Stadium to pay tribute to the men who died in the recently concluded World War II.  While the stadium was touted as being of use to all colleges in the state and a variety of other types of activities, it was very much designed to be a home for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Getting the stadium through the Arkansas General Assembly was not easy.  The bill to create the stadium commission sailed through both houses. But even some who voted for it said they would oppose any funding bills.  When time came to vote for the funding, the bill fell far short of the three-quarters vote that was needed in the House for an appropriation bill.

WWII veterans were on both sides of the issue.  Some felt it was an appropriate way to honor those who died.  Others felt it was a gimmick to get the stadium approved.  Some of the opponents felt that a new state hospital for UAMS would be the more appropriate way to honor those who died during the war.  The debates were often heated and personal.

Overnight a new bill was created. It would pay for the stadium through the issuing of bonds. In addition to the state issuing bonds, any city which wished to bid for it would have to put up money for it as well as provide land.  This new bill would require only 51 votes to pass the House.  It was able to pass that threshold.  The Senate made a few amendments (mostly dealing with the composition of the stadium commission and the amount of dollars that the host city had to pledge).  Finally the House agreed to the Senate amendments and it went to Governor Laney.

The next hurdle for the stadium was choosing a location. That process would occupy stadium proponents throughout the spring and summer of 1947.

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LR Women Making History – Charlotte Stephens

Charlotte Andrews Stephens was the first African American teacher in the Little Rock School District.  Between 1910 and 1912, when an elementary school for African Americans was named after her, she became the first woman to have a public building in Little Rock named after her.  For nearly fifty years, Stephens Elementary (which is now in its third building) would be the only LRSD building named after a woman.

Born into slavery, Charlotte Stephens was educated first by her father who ran a private school in what is now Wesley Chapel UMC.  At the age of 15, she started teaching at the Union School to finish out the term of a white teacher who had become ill.  She taught for 70 years, retiring at age 85 in 1939.

From 1870 to 1873, she attended college at Oberlin College, though not always every semester. (It is possible she was the first African American woman from Arkansas to attend college, but that cannot be verified.)  During her career with the LRSD, she taught students in all grades. She was twice principal of Capitol Hill School, and later headed the high school Latin Department.  At the time of her retirement, she was librarian of Dunbar High School.

The land on which Stephens Elementary now sits was once owned by Charlotte Stephens.  She donated the land and attended the 1950 dedication of the second Stephens Elementary.  That building was torn down in 1994 to make way for the current Stephens Elementary.  Some of her grandchildren attended the dedication of the new and current Stephens Elementary.

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LR Women Making History – Louise Loughborough

Louise Loughborough was the first woman to serve on the Little Rock Planning Commission.  Not only was the she first woman to serve on this body, she was the first to serve on any City commission other than the Board of Censors or Library Board.  Born Louisa Watkins Wright in Little Rock 1881, her ancestors included many early Arkansas leaders including Little Rock Mayor David Fulton.

In 1935, Loughborough was appointed to the Little Rock Planning Commission, and it was in this role that she first heard about the plan to condemn the half-block of houses that she had grown up admiring on Cumberland and East Third streets. Although the neighborhood had fallen on hard times, becoming a red-light district and slum, Loughborough feared the loss of several historic structures, including the Hinderliter House, the oldest building in Little Rock and thought to be Arkansas’s last territorial capitol. She mobilized a group of civic leaders to save these buildings. She enlisted the aid of prominent architect Max Mayer and coined the term “town of three capitols” to try to capture the imagination of potential supporters, grouping the “Territorial Capitol” with the Old State House and the State Capitol.

The Arkansas Territorial Restoration opened on July 19, 1941. The project was the first Arkansas agency committed to both the restoration of structures and the interpretation of their history, and it served as a model and inspiration for historic preservation in the state. Around the same time, she was a moving force behind the creation of a museum at the Old State House as well.  Today both Historic Arkansas Museum (as the Territorial Restoration is now known) and the Old State House Museum are agencies of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

As founding Chairman of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration Commission, Louise Loughborough provided daily direction for the museum house complex through the first twenty years of its existence. She died in Little Rock on December 10, 1962 and was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.

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Little Rock Look Back: St. Pat’s Day with Mayor Pat Robinson

On this date in 1900, future Little Rock Mayor Pat L. Robinson was born.  While it cannot be verified that he was indeed named after St. Patrick, it would be fairly reasonable to assume there might be a connection.  He was born in a community outside of Arkadelphia, but moved to Little Rock with his parents.

By the 1920s, Robinson was a rising star of Little Rock Democratic politics.  In April 1929, just weeks after his 29th birthday, he was elected Mayor.  He had twice been elected as City Attorney (1926 and 1928) and was one of the youngest to serve in that position.

During Mayor Robinson’s tenure, he announced plans to construct a new airport.  That project led to the creation of what is now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.  Mayor Robinson was also involved in helping Philander Smith College secure the property where it is now located.  In addition, during his tenure, what is now the Museum of Discovery was folded into the City of Little Rock.  Shortly after taking office, he championed several projects for approval by Little Rock voters. The projects he supported were approved; the ones he did not support did not pass.

Single at the time he was in office and generally considered good looking, Mayor Robinson was sometimes referred to as the “Jimmy Walker of the Southwest.” Walker was the handsome and charming Mayor of New York City at the time.

Mayor Robinson ran afoul of some of the Democratic party leaders. While the extent of the discord is not exactly known, it IS known that shortly after taking office he confronted the City Council over a special election.  Mayor Robinson sat silently while the City Council voted to approve a special election with a variety of options for voters. Only after the Council approved it did he disclose he only supported three of the initiatives.  In a bit of political brinkmanship, the Council subsequently voted to cancel the election. The Mayor vetoed their vote.  The aldermen chose not to attempt an override (though they had the votes based on disclosures made to the public and the press).  It appears that the relationship between the Mayor and the City Council never recovered.

IMG_4532During this era in Little Rock, it was customary for an incumbent mayor to be given a second term. But City Clerk Horace Knowlton challenged Robinson in the primary.  It was a bitter campaign with Robinson linking Knowlton to disreputable denizens and Knowlton charging Robinson with “an orgy of spending.”  Robinson initially came out 17 votes ahead. But after a review and a lawsuit, it was found that Knowlton ended up with 10 more votes and became the nominee.  At the time, being the Democratic nominee was tantamount to election.

After he left office, Robinson practiced law for a few years in Little Rock and then left the city.  He married a woman from England, Arkansas in the 1930s, but by the 1940 census, he was listed as divorced and living as a lodger.  He later served in the Army during World War II.  Robinson died in June 1958, and is buried in Clark County.