Birth of the man who built the Villa Marre

On September 11, 1842, future Little Rock Alderman Angelo Marre was born in Borzonaca, Italy.  He immigrated to Tennessee with his parents in 1854.

During the Civil War, he served in the Confederate Army. From 1865 to 1868, Angelo Marre worked for the Memphis Police Department but was forced to resign after he was accused of killing a man during an argument.  After his acquittal, he returned to the saloon business.  In 1872 Marre was convicted of stealing money and sentenced to three years in prison.

Tennessee Governor John Brown granted Marre a full pardon two years into his sentence, and he regained his citizenship in 1879.

After getting out of prison, he claimed an inheritance and joined his brothers in Little Rock.  He worked as a bartender at the Metropolitan Hotel.  He later opened a saloon and billiard parlor.

By the mid-1880s, Marre owned two saloons, a liquor import business, an office building in downtown LR, 3,000 sharesof stock in mining companies operating in Garland and Montgomery counties, and he was the first president of Edison Electric Company of LR.

In 1883, he was elected as an alderman on the Little Rock City Council.  He lost is bid for reelection in 1885. In 1888, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Pulaski County Sheriff.

villamarreAngelo Marre died February 18, 1889, as a result of his infection.  He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in LR. His custom designed, marble monument was ordered from Florence, Italy, and cost $5,000.

Marre is probably best known today as the builder of the structure now known as the Villa Marre.  Built in 1881, it is designed in the Italianate and Second Empire styles.  It was built in 1881 and 1882 on Block 21, Lots 5 & 6 of the Original City of Little Rock.  The cost was $5,000.

It was originally a red brick structure and has been modified and expanded several times as well as painted white.  It did not bear the name Villa Marre until the 1960s when historic preservation advocate Jimmy Strawn gave it that name.

After serving as the headquarters for the Quapaw Quarter Association for several years, it was returned to a private residence.  It is now available for special events and rentals.

The Villa Marre is probably best known locally and nationally for serving as the facade for the Sugarbaker design firm on the CBS sitcom “Designing Women.”  Though the interior of the house does not match the interior on TV, the building was featured in the opening credits as well as in exterior shots each week.

Final plans approved for “new” (and still current) Little Rock City Hall in 1906

City Hall circa 1908

After a judge ruled in August 1906 that the City of Little Rock could not build a new City Hall and Auditorium complex, it looked like Little Rock would be stuck with its existing inadequate building.

However on September 10 it became obvious that much work had been taking place behind the scenes after that ruling.  On that day, the Board of Public Affairs (a City body charged with overseeing municipal government construction projects and comprised of the mayor and two citizens approved by the City Council) voted to ask the aldermen to cancel plans and rescind legislation for the city hall, jail and auditorium complex.  The Board of Public Affairs then offered up a new plan for a city hall and jail building.  Because no auditorium was involved, these plans would not be in violation of the Chancery Court.

That same evening the City Council followed suit and revoked the plans for the original project.  The aldermen then voted to proceed with building a new city hall and jail without the auditorium.  There was only one dissenting vote; Alderman Jonathan Tuohey voted no.  He explained his negative vote was not a lack of support for the project, but he was not comfortable with the way it was rushed through.

Mayor Warren E. Lenon told the Gazette, “The Chancery Court has enjoined us from erecting an auditorium and the Board of Public Affairs has consequently rescinded all resolutions and orders pertaining to that structure.” He noted that there would “be no appeal from the injunction granted by Chancellor Hart, because there is nothing to appeal.”

The coverage of the actions of the City Council that night was in keeping with the manner in which the two daily newspapers had covered the lawsuit and the trial.  The Gazette headline cried “City Hall Ordinance Railroaded Through” while the staid Democrat merely stated “New $175,000 City Hall Provided by City Council.”  The tone of theGazette’s article matched the headline while the Democrat’s story was more straightforward.

Architect Charles Thompson adjusted his plan for the new City Hall by removing the auditorium wing.  With the revised Th0mpson plan and the approval of the City Council, Little Rock was at last on its way to a new City Hall.  This was over two years after Mayor Lenon had first broached the subject.

Originally slated to open in 1907, the building officially opened in April 1908.

The Arkansas Arts Center was formally established on Sept 6, 1960

Architectural model of the original Arkansas Arts Center which would open in 1963.

On Tuesday, September 6, 1960, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted ordinance 11,111 which formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

In July 1957, the City Council of Little Rock granted the Museum of Fine Arts the authority to solicit and receive funds for expanding that museum’s physical plant.  During that process, it had been decided that the museum needed an expanded mission and a new name.  By the summer of 1960, the museum supporters had raised sufficient funds to proceed with constructing the new facility.  Therefor the new ordinance was prepared and submitted to the City Board.  (In November 1957, the City Council had been replaced by a City Board.)

Ordinance 11,111 set forth that the Museum of Fine Arts would be known as the Arkansas Arts Center and that the previous museum’s board would serve as the board for the new museum.  The Board of the Arkansas Arts Center was given the authority to have the new building constructed in MacArthur Park and the existing building modified.  As a part of the planning for the new museum, the City committed $75,000 for the capital campaign.

The groundbreaking for the new museum would take place in August 1961.  Mayor Werner Knoop, who signed Ordinance 11,111, took part in the groundbreaking.

Media attending the September 6, 1960, City Board meeting were more interested in discussion about a potential leash law for dogs within the City limits.

Help the ASO with an acoustic test at Robinson Center

The ASO in rehearsal at Robinson Center

School’s back.

It is test time!

Tonight you can take a test that has no wrong answer. It requires no studying.

ASO is conducting an amplified acoustic test and tuning of the Robinson Center on Tuesday, August 27, with a goal of optimizing the concert and listening experience for our Pops Live! series and other concerts with amplified instruments or voice.

The orchestra will be on stage and the ASO needs you to be in the house to get a realistic sonic environment, and to provide feedback on your listening experience. You will have a rare chance to peek behind the curtain at a working rehearsal, where you will hear ASO work on selections chosen to test the venue for an optimized orchestra experience, including two vocalists, a sneak peek at an upcoming Pops Live! Concert, and maybe even a Holiday selection!

This free, general admission event is limited to ASO season ticket holders, Concert Members, SHARP members, donors, members of the ASO’s youth and education programs, and their invited guests. If you have friends you would like to introduce to the orchestra, please invite them! We will ask all attendees to complete a very short survey about your listening experience. We want people to spread throughout the hall so we have listeners in every section, so we can best serve our entire audience. Please RSVP for you and your guests at

The orchestra will work in an empty hall from 7 p.m., the audience will be allowed in to take their seats at 7:45 p.m., and the open rehearsal/test will begin at 8 p.m. and will last about an hour.

August 26, 1935 – plans approved which would lead to creation of Robinson Auditorium

An August 25, 1935, rendering in the ARKANSAS GAZETTE of the proposed Little Rock auditorium at Capitol and Scott Streets.

On August 26, 1935, the City of Little Rock took its first significant step in a decade for the creation of a City auditorium.

Under the leadership of Mayor R. E. Overman, the City Council approved authorization for the City to apply for $1,000,000 from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (PWA) for the construction of an auditorium.  The PWA had issued a September 16, 1935, deadline for applications to be received as it sought to spend $4.8 billion in construction projects.

The auditorium plan was announced on Saturday, August 24, 1935.  Much preparation had already been undertaken before the project was publicly unveiled.  Private presentations hhad taken place, a team of architects had been chosen (Eugene Stern and the firm of Wittenberg & Delony), and a location had been selected.

The auditorium complex was slated for a block bounded by Capitol, Scott, Fourth and Cumberland Streets.  The Women’s City Club building on that block would remain with the new structure being built to wrap around two sides of the existing structure. The site was chosen because it was one block east of the Main Street business corridor and near existing meeting locations such as the Boys Club, Albert Pike Hotel, Albert Pike Masonic Lodge and several churches.

As planned by the architects, this structure’s front façade would have run the length of the Capitol Avenue side of the block.  The building was proposed to be constructed of concrete, stone and steel.  It would have a large hall with a proscenium stage and seating capacity of 4,000 with overflow of an additional 500.  The adjoining exhibition hall could seat 3,500 people.  The plan called for 150 cars to be parked in the building, and an additional 100 cars to be parked on a surface lot on the site.

Following an August 26 closed door meeting to discuss the project from which members of the public and press were excluded, in open session the City Council voted to pursue the funding for the million dollar auditorium.  If approved by the PWA, the funds would be provided in grants and loans, to be paid by over a 35 year period.

The auditorium proposal was filed with the PWA in Washington in September 1935.  Throughout the next several months, Mayor Overman and the city were engaged in a series of conversations and negotiations with the PWA for the expansion of both the water system and the sewer system. This diverted attention from pursuing the auditorium immediately.  This specific auditorium project stalled.  But because the plan had been filed by the September 16 deadline, it allowed the City to make use of PWA funds a few years later which would lead to the construction of Robinson Auditorium.

Farewell Party at the Arkansas Arts Center today

No photo description available.

The Arkansas Arts Center is celebrating the end of an era!

After 56 years, it is time to say goodbye to the current MacArthur Park space with a party that takes over the whole building.

They have filled the galleries with a carnival of activities – karaoke, giant yard games, a beach party, photo booth, and inflatable fun zone. Don’t miss music, dancing, food, drinks and much more!

Join the AAC for family-focused fun and activities for all ages from 2–5 p.m. Starting at 5 p.m., the Farewell Festival will be 21+.

The Farewell Festival is free for Arkansas Arts Center members, with special perks available for members of ’22&You.

Membership Card Required for Entry

PS – Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming events! Just because the facility in MacArthur Park will be closed for reconstruction does not mean the AAC is ceasing having events.