Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: HAIR’s Sun Shines In to Robinson Auditorium

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-six years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.

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Little Rock Look Back: In 1832, the first Little Rock Council meeting

TowncouncilplaqueOn January 16, 1832, Mayor Matthew Cunningham MD presided over Little Rock’s first council meeting. Since Little Rock did not yet have a government hall, the Mayor and his wife hosted the meeting at their house. The Cunninghams owned the entire block which was bordered by what is now Main Street, 3rd Street, Louisiana Street and 4th Street.

A plaque at 3rd and Main Street commemorates this meeting and was placed at the northeast corner of the block in the 1930s. The Cunningham’s house was likely closer to the southwest corner of the block.  The records of this meeting do not exist, though the Arkansas Gazette did carry brief coverage of it. (The earliest records at City Hall date to November 1835 when Little Rock became a city.)

The plaque is on the Fulk building which now houses CJRW. The block also includes the Mann on Main project, which is comprised of the buildings originally constructed for the Gus Blass Department store.  Bruno’s and Samantha’s are also on the block.

Little Rock was chartered as a town in November 1831 and elections were subsequently held. Dr. Cunningham outpolled Rev. W. W. Stevenson to become the first Mayor. (Rev. Stevenson would be elected the second mayor in January 1833; Mayor Cunningham did not seek re-election.)

Joining Mayor Cunningham at the first meeting were the original four Town Council members – Charles Caldwell, Benjamin Clemens, David Holt and John McLain.  Both Mayor Cunningham and Alderman McLain had served on the Little Rock Board of Trustees, Little Rock’s pre-incorporation governing body.

In 1931 a plaque, as part of Little Rock’s Centennial, a plaque was erected to note the first meeting. The plaque erroneously implies that the first meeting was in 1831. This mistake is understandable since the legislation incorporating Little Rock was approved in November 1831. The plaque also refers to the body as the City Council. It was, in fact, the Town Council. There would not be a City Council until 1835 when Little Rock was elevated to City status.


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Little Rock Look Back: MLK in LR

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Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.

A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

Ernest Green has a photo of him with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.


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Little Rock Look Back: Basketball begins at Robinson Auditorium

Coach Earl Quigley in the 1940s

While Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium is known today as a performance and meeting venue, in its early days it was also the home to sports. Seventy-eight years ago tonight the first basketball game was played at Robinson.

One of the first regular activities which took place in the lower level exhibition hall was a series of boxing and wrestling matches.  Building on the success of this, basketball came to the convention hall in January 1940.

A series of games featuring Little Rock High School and North Little Rock High School were announced by Tiger Coach Earl Quigley to take place from January 11 through February 16, the official opening day for the facility.

At that time, neither high school had a gymnasium; therefore both schools played their basketball games on their school auditorium stages with fans seated in the audience. The convention hall offered a regulation size floor (made of pecan block parquet) with seating for over 1,300 people along the sidelines and in the balcony.  The first men’s basketball game in Robinson Auditorium took place between the Little Rock High School Tigers and the North Little Rock High School Wildcats on January 11, 1940.

The Tigers lost the game before a crowd estimated to be 1,300.  Earlier in the evening there had been an exhibition between two women’s basketball teams.  The cost for admission to the games was 35 cents for the reserved seating and 25 cents for general admission.


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Little Rock Look Back: Last meeting of Pulaski Heights City Council

The signatures by Recorder A. M. Edwards and Mayor L. H. Bradley on the final Pulaski Heights City Council minutes

102 years ago today, the Pulaski Heights City Council held its final meeting.  Following the January 4 annexation election, Mayor L. H. Bradley convened the Pulaski Height City Council for the final time on January 10, 1916.

Five of the eight aldermen were present for the final meeting.  E. T. Reaves, R. G. Trickett, W.A. Turner, J. B. Webster, and H.C. Locklar.  Absent were J. S. Murphy, J.H. Hicks, and W. H. Keeton.

The City Recorder was A. M. Edwards, while O. E. White was Treasurer and Jonathan P. Streepey was City Attorney.

At the meeting, bills were paid and allowances were made for the transfer of assets and responsibilities to the City of Little Rock.  The minutes do not reflect if there were any valedictory addresses by any of the elected officials, which were common at that era.

Once Mayor Bradley and the Council had worked their way through the agenda, Alderman Reaves made the motion to adjourn the council sine die which was seconded by Alderman Webster. The motion passed unanimously.  With that, the Pulaski Heights City Council, which had first met in 1904, finished its business.


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Little Rock Look Back: First LR Council meeting after Civil War

One hundred and fifty two years ago today, Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley


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Little Rock Look Back: John Gould Fletcher (the politician not the poet)

Future Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher was born on January 6 in 1831. The son of Henry Lewis and Mary Lindsey Fletcher, he later served as a Captain in the Capital Guards during the Civil War. One of his fellow soldiers was Peter Hotze.

Following the war, he and Hotze began a general merchandise store in Little Rock. They were so successful that they eventually dropped the retail trade and dealt only in cotton. Peter Hotze had his office in New York, while Fletcher supervised company operations in Little Rock. In 1878 Fletcher married Miss Adolphine Krause, sister-in-law of Hotze.

John Gould Fletcher was elected Mayor of Little Rock from 1875 to 1881. He was the first Mayor under Arkansas’ new constitution which returned all executive powers to the office of the Mayor (they had been split under a reconstruction constitution). Following his service as Mayor, he served one term as Pulaski County Sheriff. Mayor Fletcher also later served as president of the German National Bank in Little Rock.

Mayor and Mrs. Fletcher had five children, three of whom lived into adulthood. Their son was future Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Gould Fletcher (neither father nor son used the Sr. or Jr. designation). Their two daughters who lived to adulthood were Adolphine Fletcher Terry (whose husband David served in Congress) and Mary Fletcher Drennan.

In 1889, Mayor Fletcher purchased the Pike House in downtown Little Rock. The structure later became known as the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House. It was from this house that Adolphine Fletcher Terry organized the Women’s Emergency Committee which worked to reopen the Little Rock public schools during the 1958-1959 school year.
In the 1960s, sisters Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan deeded the house to the City of Little Rock for use by the Arkansas Arts Center. For several decades it served as home to the Arts Center’s contemporary craft collection. It now is used for special events and exhibitions.

Mayor Fletcher died in 1906 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery along with various members of his family. Several of his descendants still reside in Little Rock.