Category Archives: Architecture

Little Rock Look Back: Plans Approved for new City Hall in 1906. But will it be built?

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

On July 9, 1906, the Little Rock City Council approved Resolution 281 and Ordinance 1,295. These actions approved the plans for a new City Hall complex to be constructed on land at the northwest corner of Markham and Broadway Streets.  A few days later, the contract was awarded for the construction of the new building.

Mayor Warren E. Lenon had first called for a new city hall complex in his annual address in April 1904. He repeated his request in April 1905.   The City Council took up Mayor Lenon’s quest for a new city hall in December of 1905.  The Council appropriated money for the purchase of land for a city hall, jail and auditorium.

In response to this, the Arkansas Gazette daily newspaper ran a story featuring the viewpoints of a few civic leaders weighing in on the need for a new city hall complex which would also include a new jail and a city auditorium.  Two of the respondents, L. B. Leigh and P. Raleigh, stressed the need for paved streets and better sewers instead of a new city hall and auditorium.

The other three businessmen interviewed were more favorable to Mayor Lenon’s proposal.  Morris M. Cohn, a former Little Rock City Attorney, stated “I do not think we can make a better investment than in a fine city hall and auditorium.”  (Mr. Cohn, though an M. M. Cohn, was not related the M. M. Cohn who was the namesake for the longtime Little Rock department store.) County Judge William Marmaduke Kavanaugh offered his satisfaction with the action of the City Council on that matter.  R. E. Walt, a banker, opined that he thought $150,000 was not enough; he suggested $200,000 should be spent.

Later that month the Gazette reported that a site had been selected for the city hall and auditorium complex.  The proposed location was most of a city block located at the corner of Markham and Broadway Streets.  Mayor Lenon was vague as to the details of the deal because negotiations were still underway with the property owners

As 1906 dawned, Mayor Lenon and other city leaders continued to take steps to build the new city hall and auditorium.  They invited three local architects to make presentations for the chance to design the new complex.  The three were Charles L. Thompson, Frank W. Gibb and George R. Mann.  Mr. Thompson was chosen to receive the assignment.

On February 5, 1906, Mayor Lenon announced the creation of a special committee to work on the planning for a future city hall complex.  This committee consisted of Aldermen Louis Walther, A. B. Poe, L. N. Whitcomb, Christopher Ledwidge, and John A. Adams.

Mayor Lenon further stated that the new city hall complex and several private developments would “put us in that march of progress with which nothing can prevent us from having a 100,000 population in a few years.”

The saga to get the building built was just starting.

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Little Rock Look Back: LR City Council authorizes expansion of Museum of Fine Arts

Twenty-two years after authorizing the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts in City Park, the Little Rock City Council was asked to consider expanding the facility.

By 1957, the existing structure was felt to be inadequate.   There was a desire for more gallery space as well as for more space for educational programming.

On July 8, 1957, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts to be able to raise the funds for an expansion.  This was merely the start of the process which would eventually lead to the creation of the Arkansas Arts Center.

The ordinance allowed for the expansion or extension of the building. It also authorized the museum’s board to accept gifts for the project and to invest those gifts for the purpose of the museum.  Since the museum only received City funds for maintenance and salary, the ability to raise funds for the expansion was key to the future of the institution.

Lastly, the ordinance gave the museum’s board the ability to increase its membership by up to six positions without having to get additional approval by the City Council.  With a fundraising drive underway and a larger facility planned, these additional board members could certainly prove to be key.

The ordinance passed with nine Ayes, zero Noes, and one absent.

Little Rock Look Back: The Rices and Little Rock auditoriums

On June 7, 1920, the Little Rock City Council finally authorized the demolition of Little Rock’s 1906 temporary auditorium.  The structure had originally been built as a skating rink which, when chairs were added, could be used for public meetings.  Since the mid 1910’s, the City Council had discussed tearing it down over safety concerns.  But since Little Rock had no other structure as a substitute, the Council kept delaying the decision.

J Rice 1920In 1920, though there was not alternative space available, the Council decided that the structure had to come down.  So City Engineer James H. Rice was authorized to have the building removed.

JimRice RobinsonToday, Rice’s grandson, Jim Rice, is the COO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In that capacity he  oversaw the renovation of Little Rock’s 1940 municipal auditorium – Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Little Rock Look Back: Cornice installed at Robinson Auditorium

On June 1, 1939, the cornice was installed on Robinson Auditorium.  This granite slab noted the name of the building as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  (It is interesting to note that it used the more modern “u” instead of the classical “v” which was often used in buildings during prior decades – as evidenced by the Pvlaski Covnty Covrt Hovse across the street.)

This was a milestone marking the completion of the front facade of the structure.  Much work would continue on the interior of the structure.  This step in the construction was considered major enough that the Arkansas Gazette mentioned it in a news article.

(June 1, 1939, was also the first day on the job for the auditorium’s first director – William T. Clemons.  A former Little Rock resident who came from Rochester NY.  The Auditorium Commission which hired him would not disclose the sources of his salary, but assured Mayor J. V. Satterfield the money did not come from City coffers.)

On this date in 2015 and 2016, the cornice was again surrounded by construction materials and braces. But the restoration of Robinson Center finished in November 2016. Once again, the cornice stands proudly atop the six columns with no impediments around it.

Little Rock Look Back: City of Little Rock formally establishes Museum of Fine Arts

On May 6, 1935, the Little Rock City Council formally established the Museum of Fine Arts by Ordinance 5235.  The ordinance was sponsored by Alderman Henry G. Leiser.

The ordinance authorized the construction of the museum in City Park.  The money for the construction was all privately raised. Once the building was completed, it would become the property of the City.

The ordinance also created the museum’s board. The original members were named by the ordinance.  They were: Fred W. Allsopp (appointed as a life member), Mrs. Frederick Hanger, Mrs. F.B.T. Hollenberg, George B. Rose, Mrs. C.M. Taylor, Mrs. Frank Tillar, and Dr. Frank Vinsonhaler. In addition, the Mayor and President of the Fine Arts Club were ex-officio members.

The building would start construction in 1936. The groundbreaking was in January 1936, and the cornerstone was laid in October 1936. The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1937.

Little Rock’s former 1868 City Hall celebrated today

2018 marks 150 years since the opening of the 1868 Little Rock City Hall, which was located at 120 to 122 West Markham.  This two story building was the home to Little Rock civic life from 1868 until 1908, when the current building was opened.

After City offices moved out, the building housed private businesses until it was torn down in 1964 for urban renewal.  In the early 1980s, the land once again returned to public use when a portion of the Statehouse Convention Center was built on the site.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the 1868 City Hall, two plaques will be dedicated today.  The first pays tribute to the leaders who oversaw the construction and opening of the building and those who were present when the building closed as City Hall.

The other plaque honors the African American leaders who were on the Little Rock City Council between 1868 and 1893. It also pays tribute to Mifflin Wistar Gibbs who was elected Little Rock Police Judge in 1874.  He became the first African American to be elected to a municipal judgeship in the United States.

While Little Rock city government met in a variety of spaces between 1832 and 1868, records are incomplete as to the locations of those buildings.  The 1868 City Hall location is the first City Hall for which a location and appearance are known.

Little Rock Look Back: LR Voters approve additional funds for Robinson Center in 1940

Though Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium opened in February 1940, there was still money that needed to be raised to finish the construction and the building’s furnishing.  Ten days after the auditorium opening, the City Council approved an ordinance to call a special election on April 2, 1940, for the purposes of approving bonds for three separate projects.  One of these was for $30,000 for the completion of the auditorium; the bonds would not require any additional tax levy.

At the same meeting, a letter was read from the Young Men’s Business Association expressing support for the auditorium in the election, which was to be held in conjunction with the annual municipal general election. The Auditorium Commission had previously asked the City Council to consider issuing the bonds to pay for additional equipment for the building.  In their request to the aldermen, the members stressed that due to the current bond structure, these new bonds would not necessitate any tax increase.

The campaign for the new bonds used a similar structure and message as the 1937 election to build the auditorium.  There were newspaper ads by the steering committee (this time simply called the Citizen’s Committee and led by Omar Throgmorton) and support from civic organizations.  One thing very different from the 1937 campaign was the presence of an actual building.  On Sunday, March 31, just two days before the election, there was an open house for the public to explore the edifice.  From 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., members of various Little Rock Boy Scout troops led 4,000 visitors on tours of the auditorium.  Visitors were shown all over the building; one scout calculated that the walking tour equated to two miles.  Though most people were from Little Rock, the guest registry indicated visitors from California and Pennsylvania.

On April 2, 1940, Little Rock voters approved the new bonds 1,413 to 423.  Every precinct in every ward of the city voted in favor of the new bonds.  Shortly after the election, the bonds were issued.  The auditorium construction which had first been broached in 1904 was now completed in 1940.