Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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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.


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Little Rock Look Back: THE EAGLE has landed (LR’s first steamboat)

On March 16, 1822, Captain Morris piloted the steamboat The Eagle to Little Rock, seventeen days after departing New Orleans.  This became the first steamboat to reach Little Rock.  The boat reached Little Rock at an early hour in the morning and Captain Morris, in order to arouse the town, fired a salute of several guns.

It did not stay in Little Rock, but headed upriver toward the community of Dwight Mission, founded by Presbyterians in what is now Pope County at the mouth of the Illinois Creek.  Due to low waters, it was unable to make it to Dwight Mission.  On March 19, 1822, it returned to Little Rock.  It then headed back to New Orleans.

Though it would be the McClellan-Kerr navigation project before the Arkansas River would become a permanent home to commercial river traffic, boats up and down the Arkansas River helped establish Little Rock as an important trading post.


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LR Women Making History – Charlotte Gadberry

Charlotte Gadberry has long been a supporter of Little Rock’s various cultural institutions. She has both served on boards and consulted with boards in strategic planning.  Her major focus these past few years has been the founding of the ACANSA Arts Festival.

A trip to Charleston, South Carolina, amid it’s Spoleto USA arts festival inspired her to dream that Little Rock could play host to a similar endeavor.  Using her fundraising prowess and connections, she started to raise funds, friends and awareness for this idea.

In September 2013, the inaugural ACANSA Arts Festival was announced for September 2014.  Under her leadership, ACANSA (a name derived from an early Native American variation of what is now called Arkansas) incorporated both local cultural institutions as well as performers brought in for the event.

In the first four years ACANSA has featured theatre, dance, mime, puppetry, instrumental music, choral music, opera, jazz, painting, photography, history, lectures, and gallery tours.  It has worked with the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas, Central Arkansas Library System, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and Wildwood Park for the Arts as well as numerous galleries and performance venues.

Because of her efforts to found ACANSA and lead it, Charlotte is being honored with an Arkansas Arts Council 2018 Governor’s Arts Award on March 29, 2018.


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LR Women Making History – Janis Kearney

Janis Kearney is the only person to have held the title of U.S. Presidential Diarist. In 1995 she was appointed to that position by President Bill Clinton.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, she was hired by the State of Arkansas as a program manager.  Nine years later, she became managing editor for the Arkansas State Press. She later purchased it from owner Daisy Bates.

In 1992, she took a leave from the paper to work on the Clinton presidential campaign.  Following the election, she worked in the transition office, the White House, and the U.S. Small Business Administration until her appointment as Presidential Diarist.

In 2001, she moved to Chicago and started working on a book, while also having fellowships at Harvard and DePaul.  In 2004, she founded Writing Our World Press and published her first book, Cotton Field of Dreams.  Her Clinton biography, Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton-From Hope to Harlem was published in 2006.  Since then she has also published a novel, a biography of Daisy Bates, and the second part of her memoirs.

She is also active in the Celebrate! Maya Project. This program seeks to honor and promote the inclusive literacy, creativity, and social consciousness of the life and work of artist and activist Maya Angelou.