Arkansas Heritage Month – LR Mayor Satterfield oversees opening of Robinson Auditorium

Satterfield AuditUpon taking office as mayor in April 1939, J. V. Satterfield felt he was getting a handle on Little Rock’s precarious financial situation. He would soon discover that it was more unstable than he had imagined.  Included in this was Robinson Auditorium, currently under construction across the street from his office in City Hall.  Mayor Satterfield disclosed that he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 because he felt the finances were not sufficient. But as the mayor, he promised to open the building.

By the summer of 1939, it was becoming apparent that there would not sufficient money to finish the construction.  Even with the issuance of the final round of approved bonds (which had been held back as a reserve), there would not be enough money.  The Mayor and Harvey Couch made plans to go to Washington DC to try to get more money from the federal government.  Mr. Couch was a personal friend of President Roosevelt as well as head of Arkansas Power & Light.  The pair made the trip but returned with no additional money.

At the same time, the Auditorium Commission, which had been appointed by Mayor Overman to oversee the governance of the building, resigned as a group. They said they had been appointed to administer a building, not a construction site. Since it was uncertain as to when the building would open, they stepped down.

Mayor Satterfield was able to negotiate a series of deals to get the necessary work completed for construction of the building to be completed. Part of it involved issuing another round of bonds after the building had been officially opened to finish furnishing the building as well as complete the landscaping.  In January 1940, with a new opening date becoming a stronger possibility, the mayor appointed a new Auditorium Commission.

At the same time, regular events started to take place in the lower level exhibition hall.  There had been a few in November and December, but with a lack of utilities and ongoing construction upstairs in the music hall, those were curtailed.

On February 16, 1940, Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. Mayor Satterfield was joined onstage for the ribbon cutting with Senator Robinson’s widow and her sister-in-law, who was a member of the Auditorium Commission.

In April 1940, Little Rock voters approved the final round of bonds which allowed for the building to be finished.

After only two years in office, Mayor Satterfield chose not to seek another term. He left City Hall in April 1941 with finances in order and a new municipal auditorium across the street.