Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.

1 thought on “Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

  1. I wish you would not join the ranks of perpetuating this dramatically incorrect information *there is a 3-letter word that could be used here, but I so enjoy the rest of your compositions, I will refrain using it) regarding the condition of the property which was siezed to build Clinton’s building.

    (This is where photos of litter in a weed patch and the Rock Island Bridge is seen in the background, are mockingly shown.)

    The lovely, former Train Station had, a very few years earlier, been a wonderful restaurant – ‘Spaghetti Warehouse.’ Most of the buildings were operating business facilities belonging to the honorable Gene Pheifer’s (former owner of Mechanics Lumber, the May Co, and several other businesses in Arkansas and elsewhere.) I suppose the PR value of continuing to try to convince the public ‘Clinton had revitalized the area’ masks the fact his minions also destroyed a Civil War era slave-constructed, historic railroad building that resembled an unbelieveable performance hall / or at least it could have been transformed into that kind of venue. (This sound structure was mysteriously bulldozed starting on Thanksgiving Day morning to prevent legal actions being filed once the Court House opened – in an aptempt to preserve Arkansas’s history instead of oaving a parking lot for just-passing-thro tourists. The handsome, hand- made brick, the slave-cut stone accents along with the gigantic support timbers grace’n the ceiling – priceless giants cut from Arkansas’s early forests – soooo large in size these timbers will never to be available on the market again – were all supposed to have been saved. WHERE ARE THEY?)

    This site was only – ONLY – chosen because it was visible to travelers passing thro on I-30 plus, with co-operative contributions, the riverbank could be cleaned — but all of this was done in a very SLICK WILLIE manner. Many local citizens have not forgotten… Looking at this site and the cloud of ‘fast talk’ that swirled about it, still has a sad smell.

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