Preservation Conversation tonight – Mason Toms discusses Little Rock’s built environment

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A city’s built environment is a tangible link to the past. Walking the streets of cities can be a lesson in architectural history, if you know where to look. Due to the its economic and cultural prominence, Little Rock boasts the best collection of architectural styles in the state of Arkansas . The first Preservation Conversation of 2019 will explore the multitude of different forms that the architecture of the city has taken on over the last 189 years. Learn about what these styles meant to the people that built them and how they related to each other.

The event will take place in the Mixing Room at the Old Paint Factory in the East Village, 1306 East 6th Street, 72202
What Time: 5:30 pm (reception); 6:00 pm (lecture)
RSVP: The event is free and open to the public, but please RSVP. 
Parking: There is parking directly in front of the doors that are marked “live”, “print”, “meet.” If those spots are taken. park in the parking lot to the right. There is also street parking in front of the building.
Entrance: Enter the event space through the door facing 6th Street marked “Meet.”

Questions? Call 501-371-0075 ext. 3 or email qqa@quapaw.com

Speaker Bio: 

Mason Toms is an architectural historian and preservation designer at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. He works within the Main Street Arkansas program to assist building owners in historic downtowns to preserve their facades and storefronts, while still making them visually appealing to the changing demographics of the areas. Mason also works closely with the National Register and Survey staff to research and survey Mid-Century Modern architecture around Arkansas. To get the word out about the many remarkable Modernist structures in Arkansas to the general public, Mason created and continues to administer the Facebook group Mid-Century Modern Arkansas, which features a different Modernist building in the state every Friday.

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Mid-Century Modern work of Frank Doughty topic of architecture lecture

Tonight (January 8), the Architecture and Design Network (ADN) continues its 2018/2019 June Freeman lecture series by taking a look at the Mid-Century Modern work of architect Frank Doughty (1930-present), a lecture by Mason Toms, architectural historian and preservation designer at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.  The program is entitled “The Unexpected Modernism of Frank Doughty.”

There is a reception starting at 5:30pm followed by the lecture at 6pm. It is in the lecture hall of the Arkansas Arts Center.

Frank L. Doughty was born and raised near Tunica, Mississippi at the dawn of the 1930s. After high school and military service during the Korean Conflict, Doughty attended the University of Arkansas architecture program. After graduating from the program, he went to work for internationally renowned architect and Arkansas native, Edward Durell Stone, in his New York office. This was followed by work in the Fayetteville office of equally renowned architect, E. Fay Jones. Eventually he moved to Boca Rotan, Florida, where he operated his own practice before returning to Arkansas to teach at the University of Arkansas School of Architecture.

Though primarily remembered for his 23 years as an architecture professor at the University of Arkansas, Doughty also created a small but meaningful body of work that injected Modernist architecture into the most unlikely of places in a profound and elegant way. Located mainly in the Arkansas Delta region, Doughty’s work drew inspiration from the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Edward Durell Stone as well as the surrounding rural landscape. He uniquely designed his buildings in such a way that they simultaneously stood out and blended into their individual settings.  The excellence of construction and high level of architectural skill present in each of the structures has made them hidden gems of Modernist design in predominantly traditional areas.

Mason Toms is an architectural historian and preservation designer at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. In college, Mason developed a passion for Mid-Century Modern architecture, but was disappointed to learn that there was little research being done on Mid-Century Modern architects in Arkansas. This led him to work closely with the National Register and Survey staff to find, research, and document Mid-Century Modern architecture around the state.

In an effort to raise awareness of the many remarkable Modernist structures in Arkansas, Mason created and continues to administer the Facebook group Mid-Century Modern Arkansas. The group page features a different Modernist building in the state almost every Friday. Additionally, Mason collaborates with local preservation organizations to create tours and present lectures that center on the significance of Mid-Century Modern architecture in general and the unique examples found here in Arkansas.

Architecture and Design Network lectures are free and open to the public. No reservations are required. Supporters of ADN include the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, the Central Section of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and friends in the community.

Sandwich in History at noon today at St. Luke’s UMC in program sponsored by @SavingARPlaces

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program each month sponsors a Sandwiching in History tour which familiarize people who live and work in central Arkansas with the historic structures and sites around us.

The tours take place on Fridays at noon, last less than an hour, and participants are encouraged to bring their lunches so that they can eat while listening to a brief lecture about the property and its history before proceeding on a short tour.

Today (January 4) at 12 noon, this month’s tour is at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, located at 6401 West 32nd Street.

Founded in 1956, St. Luke’s United Methodist was one of the first congregations created in the Broadmoor development of Little Rock.  The sanctuary, bell tower, and prayer chapel are early examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture in a church.

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Little Rock Look Back: 1936 groundbreaking of Museum of Fine Arts

On January 3, 1936, the ground was broken for the Museum of Fine Arts building in City Park.  The facility would face Ninth Street and be to the west of the Arsenal Tower Building.   That building was the one remaining structure of more than 30 which had populated the grounds when it was a federal military establishment.

Excavation for the building uncovered the foundation for another structure.  New footings for the Museum would be poured into the old footings.

The cornerstone would be laid in October 1936, and the building would open in October 1937.  The building would serve as the museum’s home until the new construction for the new Arkansas Arts Center began in 1961. That construction would enclose the original Museum of Fine Arts.  By that time, the City had long renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, who was born there when it had been a military installation.

Subsequent additions to the Arkansas Arts Center over the decades have further expanded the museum’s footprint.  After the 2000 expansion, the original 1937 facade was featured prominently in a gallery, giving it more visibility than since 1963. With the Arkansas Arts Center again slated for renovation and expansion, the original 1937 facade will be maintained and re-exposed as an entrance to the building.

But it all began on January 3, 1936.

Little Rock Look Back: Christmas Eve 1937 Groundbreaking for Robinson Auditorium

On December 24, 1937, at 11:30 a.m., Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman, Ewilda Gertrude Miller Robinson (the widow of Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson) and  Alexander Allaire of the PWA turned dirt to participate in the brief groundbreaking ceremony for Little Rock’s municipal auditorium.

That morning, the Arkansas Gazette ran a brief story on the upcoming groundbreaking.  The story mentioned that the building would be named in memory of the late beloved Arkansas politician.  This appears to be the first public pronouncement of the Robinson name for this civic structure.

Among others in attendance at the groundbreaking were Mrs. Charles Miller (sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), Mr. and Mrs. Grady Miller (brother and sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), the mayor’s wife, the three architects (George Wittenberg, Lawson Delony and Eugene John Stern), and D. H. Daugherty and Will Terry of the City’s Board of Public Affairs.

Construction had to start by January 1, 1938, in order to receive PWA funds.  By breaking ground on December 24, there was over a week to spare.  The site had been selected in late October 1937, and the purchase had not been finalized.  But the PWA did give permission for the City to let a contract for excavation, demolition and filling on the site.

The groundbreaking took place at the corner of Garland and Spring Streets which was on the northeast corner of the block set aside for the auditorium.  Today, Spring Street does not extend north of Markham; the street was closed to make way for the parking structure and what is now the Doubletree Hotel.  Garland Street is basically an alley that runs parallel to Markham north of City Hall, Robinson Auditorium and the Doubletree Hotel.

Little Rock Look Back: LRSD Choirs sing Christmas Carols on Robinson Auditorium steps

In front of Robinson Center, one of the sculptures is called “Let the Music Play.” 79 years ago today, the music played on the front steps of the building as construction continued on the inside.

On the afternoon of December 18, 1939, 500 school children from elementary schools were joined by the A Capella Choir of Little Rock High School as they sang Christmas carols on the front steps of the auditorium on a weekday afternoon. The singers were accompanied by the Little Rock High School Brass Sextet. The invocation for the event, which was sponsored by the Little Rock Council of Parents and Teachers, was delivered by the Right Reverend Richard Bland Mitchell, the Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas.

A Christmas tree in front of City Hall was lit up as part of the ceremony as well. Media coverage noted that the audience witnessing the program stood on the front steps of the Pulaski County Courthouse, the side lawn of City Hall and in front of the steps of Robinson Auditorium. It was also noted that most windows in the nearby government buildings were filled with people watching the festivities.

Little Rock Look Back: LR voters overwhelming support bid to Restore Robinson in 2013

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.