Little Rock Look Back: A Municipal Auditorium approved by LR Voters in 1937

On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters went to the polls to vote on three different municipal bond issues.  One of them was the construction of a municipal auditorium.

The bonds for the auditorium would be $468,000 in general obligation bonds which would be paid off between 1940 and 1971. This was toward a total cost of $760,000 for the entire project.

The official campaign for the auditorium was sponsored by the Little Rock Forward Committee which was led by W. H. Williams. In campaign advertisements it showed the value of conventions in New York City which was estimated at $100 per convention attendee. Little Rock organizers were estimating a $10 a day expenditure by visitors, which the committee stressed was very conservative. The campaign committee emphasized the importance of acting at that time due to the federal government money involved.

Various committees and organizations endorsed the auditorium project including the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Young Business Men’s Association.

The thrust of the campaign focused on the economic benefit to Little Rock as well as the fact that the auditorium would be for all citizens. This message was picked up in editorials by both the Democrat and Gazette. In editorials on January 23 and 25, the Democratopined that the benefits of the auditorium would be distributed among all classes of the citizenry. The next day, both papers ran editorials which touted the economic boon an auditorium would bring through conventions and meetings.

The Democrat’s approach broke down the current value of conventions to Little Rock with, what it termed, the city’s “existing inadequate” facilities. The paper emphasized a conservative estimate of what the added value to Little Rock’s economy would be with the new auditorium.

In expressing support for the auditorium the Gazette stressed the values for local, statewide and national groups. “An auditorium would provide a more convenient and better adapted community center for all kinds of local gathering,” and continued that it would make Little Rock “the logical meeting place for state conventions of every sort.” In discussing the value of state, regional and national meetings the paper stressed that the outside money spent by convention attendees has an impact beyond stores, hotels and restaurants.

Both papers also echoed the importance of the federal government financing to make this possible. The Democrat noted that the Public Works Administration grant and federal low cost loan made this an ideal time.

On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters approved the auditorium bond by a vote of 1,518 to 519. It passed in each of the city’s 23 precincts. Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman expressed his pleasure at the outcome of the vote and extended his thanks to the voters.

After the election, a Gazette editorial commented on the low turnout for the special election by commenting that the weather had been nice and there were no other barriers to voting. The editorial writer opined that those not voting in the election must not have been opposed to the endeavor.

Little Rock Look Back: Installation of Lorri Acott’s PEACE Sculpture in 2015

On January 26, 2015, the City of Little Rock and Sculpture at the River Market installed Lorri Acott’s PEACE sculpture at the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and Second Street.

Peace was the winner of the 2014 Sculpture at the River Market Show and Sale public monument competition. The 12-feet-tall sculpture is made of bronze. It features a human figure standing with hands outstretched over its head. In between the hands is an arc made up of origami cranes.

The Sculpture at the River Market Committee commissioned the $60,000 sculpture and donated it to the City of Little Rock. “Peace” is made of bronze and features a long silhouette with colorful bronze origami cranes, known as symbols of peace and hope.

The sculpture design has won several accolades, including an “Art to Change the World” award from the American Civil Liberties Union and the 2014 World Citizens Artist Award from an international competition featuring art inspired the theme of peace.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Gregory Peck

In August 1977, Oscar winner Gregory Peck appeared in Little Rock for the premiere of the film MacARTHUR.  He played the general who had been born in Little Rock but who spent most of his life downplaying (or even denying) that fact.

MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

Told entirely in flashback, it starred Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The premiere was a fundraiser for the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery).  At the time it was located in the Arsenal Building, in which MacArthur had been born.  Since 1999, that has been home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.

The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck.  The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6.  Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum.  Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie.  It sold out.

Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre.  Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd.  He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur.  (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.)  Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.

MacArthur did not lead to an Oscar nomination for Peck (though he did earn a Golden Globe nomination for the role).  But the actor had enjoyed four nominations prior to his win for To Kill a Mockingbird.  He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy.  He served as president of the Academy for several years.

Little Rock Look Back: Birth of a General

On January 26, 1880, Douglas MacArthur was born in the Arsenal Building while his father was stationed at the Little Rock Barracks.  Though he left Arkansas a few weeks later when his father was transferred, he returned to his birthplace on March 23, 1952. On that day he was greeted by crowds welcoming one of the USA’s most famous military figures.

Though Gen. MacArthur spent only a few weeks in Little Rock, he was baptized at Christ Episcopal Church.  The location of the baptism remains a mystery today because the church was meeting in temporary locations due to the first structure having been lost to a fire.

When the General returned to Little Rock in 1952, he did pay a brief visit to Christ Church.  He also spoke at the Foster Bandshell in the park which bore his name.

When General MacArthur died, he was granted a state funeral.  He was one of the few non-Presidents to have been given this honor.

Today, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located in the Arsenal building.  It was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.

Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

Chopin and Mendelssohn on tap with Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Artist of Distinction Andrew von Oeyen this weekend

Chopin & Mendelssohn | JAN 26-27

This weekend, Philip Mann and the ASO welcome 2018-2019 Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction Andrew von Oeyen!

Andrew takes the stage with ASO on January 26 & 27 to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor on a program also featuring Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 “Scottish.”

Hailed worldwide for his elegant and insightful interpretations, balanced artistry and brilliant technique, Andrew Von Oeyen has established himself as one of the most captivating pianists of his generation.

The Saturday evening concert starts at 7:30pm, and the Sunday afternoon concert starts at 3pm.  The concerts are at Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Little Rock Look Back: LR finally takes possession of Robinson Auditorium

On January 25, 1940, the City of Little Rock officially took complete possession of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium. By assuming custody of the structure from the contractor and the PWA, the City accepted responsibility for any of the remaining work to be completed.

This event happened one day shy of the third anniversary of the election which approved plans to issue bonds for an auditorium.  The act took place only about five months behind schedule.

E. E. Beaumont, the Auditorium Commission chairman, stated that an opening date could not be set until more work was completed. A major unfinished task was the laying of the front sidewalk which had been delayed due to cold weather.

The night before Little Rock took possession, Robinson Auditorium had been a topic of discussion at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. The new Chamber president Reeves E. Ritchie (who as an Arkansas Power & Light executive had been engaged in the lengthy discussions about the installation of the steam line and transformers of the building) pledged that the Chamber would work to bring more and larger conventions to Little Rock at the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

Arkansas Preservation Awards tonight

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The Arkansas Preservation Awards will honor outstanding achievements in historic preservation from all over the state, including this year’s recipients of the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement, Hot Springs architects Anthony Taylor and Bob Kempkes.

The awards are presented by Preserve Arkansas. Rex Nelson will be the emcee for the awards. The evening will begin with a reception at 5:30pm at the Albert Pike Masonic Center.

Anthony Taylor and Bob Kempkes founded Taylor/Kempkes Architects, P.A. in Hot Springs in 1986. Over the years, Taylor and Kempkes have demonstrated a strong commitment to the preservation of our state’s built environment and the revitalization of downtown Hot Springs. Their notable Hot Springs projects include the restoration and/or rehabilitation of the Mountain Valley Spring Company Building, Old Post Office, Quapaw Bathhouse, and the Thompson Building.

Other award recipients are:

Excellence in Heritage Preservation – Ginger Sandy – “Cedar Grove/Mobley Historical Preservation” Facebook page

Excellence in Preservation through Rehabilitation
– Des Arc Public Library (Historic First Presbyterian Church), Des Arc
– Griffin Auto Company Building, El Dorado
– ScholarMade Achievement Place, Ivy Hill Academy of Scholarship (Historic James Mitchell School), Little Rock

Excellence in Preservation through Restoration
– Brunson House, Historic Washington State Park
– Methodist Manse, Cane Hill
– Shiloh Meeting Hall, Springdale

Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Education – University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design, Department of Landscape Architecture for “Rising Above – Rohwer Reconstructed: Interpreting Place through Experience” website

Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Advocacy – U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman, Representing Arkansas’s 4th District, for his efforts to save the Federal Historic Tax Credit during tax reform

Ned Shank Award for Outstanding Preservation Publication – University of Arkansas Press for “It’s All Done Gone”: Arkansas Photographs from the Farm Security Administration Collection, 1935-1943 by Patsy G. Watkins

Excellence in Personal Projects

  • Commercial: Mary Ann Lee, Indigo Blue Coffeehouse, Pine Bluff
  • Residential: Greg Gallagher, 1919 Beech Street, Texarkana
  • Honorable Mention: Cecil and Denise Ennett, Kleinschmidt House, Little Rock