Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon had been advocating for a new City Hall a municipal auditorium since shortly after taking office in April 1903. After plans were approved in July 1906, a group of citizens, led by Arkansas Gazette publisher J. N. Heiskell, filed suit to stop the City.
The closing arguments in the trial against plans for a new City Hall and auditorium complex had been heard on Monday, July 30. The case was heard by Chancery Judge J. C. Hart. Serving as an advisor to Chancellor Hart throughout the trial (though with no official legal standing) was Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Lea. To accommodate the expected large attendance, the trial had been moved into his courtroom which was larger than Chancellor Hart’s.
On Friday, August 3, Pulaski County Chancery Judge J. C. Hart issued an injunction to keep the City from signing a contract for the construction of a city hall, jail and auditorium. Chancellor Hart concurred with the plaintiffs that Arkansas’ constitution and laws dictated all taxation must be for public purposes. He found there was nothing in Arkansas case law which defined an auditorium to be used for conventions as a public purpose.
As had been the case throughout the trial, the tone of the coverage of the decision differed greatly in the city’s two daily papers. The subheading in the Democrat noted that the plaintiffs would be liable for any losses to the municipal government’s coffers due to a delay in commencing the construction if Little Rock eventually prevailed. That fact is not mentioned by the Gazette. Both papers did make note that Judge Lea agreed with the Chancellor’s decision.
For now, it looked as if the City of Little Rock would be stuck in the 1867 City Hall on Markham between Main and Louisiana. Mr. Heiskell and his compatriots waited to see if the City would appeal the decision.
While August would be a quiet month publicly, work would go on behind the scenes. More on that, in the future.