Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Land for first LR public park is transferred to city

April 23, 1892, marked the beginning of the City of Little Rock’s public park system.  On that date, the City officially took possession of land which would become what is now known as MacArthur Park.

The park land had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock.  By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal.  The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.  

The land served as a military outpost until 1892.  On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)  In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots. 

After clearing most of the buildings from the land and preparing it for recreation, the park opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use.  In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century. 

The City Council’s action to name it MacArthur Park in March 1942, was accompanied by petitions encouraging the action which were submitted by the Arkansas Authors and Composers Society, the Arkansas Engineers Club and the Pulaski County Republican Central Committee.  

City records do not indicate if anyone registered opposition to the name change. It would be another decade before General MacArthur would return to the site of his birth, a place he had not visited since his infancy.


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Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Charles Moyer

On April 18, 1880, future Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Moyer was born in Glenwood, Minnesota. A man of contradictions, he was both a candidate backed by (and probably personally involved in) the Ku Klux Klan, yet he also brought the Goodwill Industries organization to Little Rock and Arkansas to help those less fortunate.

He came to Little Rock shortly after the turn of the 20th century as a clerk in the Post Office, and later served as a mail carrier. He then worked for Plunkett-Jarrell Wholesale Grocer Company in Little Rock. On January 1, 1921, he took office as County Judge for Pulaski County. In 1924, he ran against incumbent mayor Ben Brickhouse in the Democratic primary. Since Brickhouse had displeased the Klan, which was an active part of Democratic politics in Little Rock and throughout the nation at the time, Moyer won the primary.

Mayor Moyer led the City of Little Rock from April 1925 through April 1929. In 1927, the last lynching in Little Rock took place. While race-baiting crowds were surrounding City Hall demanding an African American prisoner be released to them for vigilante justice, Mayor Moyer was in hiding at an undisclosed location. Not able to get the prisoner they wanted, they took out their venom on another man who had assaulted a white woman and her daughter.

After leaving office in 1929, Moyer moved for a time to Batesville. He returned to Little Rock and was a chief deputy sheriff. From 1937 to 1941, he served as Pulaski County Assessor. In 1941, he returned to the office of Little Rock Mayor after J. V. Satterfield opted to serve only one term and did not seek re-election. Mayor Moyer led Little Rock through most of World War II. He left office in April 1945 and died on May 29, 1945, barely one month after leaving City Hall.


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Little Rock Look Back: Benjamin Harrison becomes first sitting president to visit LR

On April 17, 1891, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to visit Arkansas.  He was on a cross-country railroad trip having left DC on April 13.

The morning of the 17th he spoke in Memphis and then took the train to Little Rock.  Accompanying him from Memphis to Little Rock were a delegation which included Governor and Mrs. James P. Eagle, Mayor H. L. Fletcher and Col. Logan H. Roots.  Also in the party was Mrs. W. G. Whipple, a former first lady of Little Rock.

They arrived in Little Rock in the afternoon.  A parade took them from the train station to the State House (now the Old State House Museum) where the Governor formally welcomed the President and his party.

In his brief remarks, President Harrison spoke of the hospitality and the natural resources available in Arkansas.  He also touched on the Civil War, which at the time was less than 30 years in the past. He noted “The commonwealth rests upon the free suffrage of its citizens and their devotion to the Constitution and the flag is the bulwark of its life.  We have agreed, I am sure, that we will do no more fighting among ourselves.” These remarks were met enthusiastically by the crowd assembled.

The President concluded is brief remarks thanking the State officials and the citizenry.  He then took the train to Texarkana where he made his third set of remarks of the day.

Benjamin Harrison was on the Presidential ticket two times. The first time he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland. The second time he lost both the popular and electoral votes to Cleveland.  He did not carry Arkansas in either election. Though he was the first sitting president to visit Little Rock, there is nothing here named for him.  Since there was already a Harrison Street named after his grandfather, he is skipped between Cleveland and McKinley in the presidential streets.


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109 and Looking Fine: Little Rock City Hall

City Hall circa 1908

109 years ago today, Little Rock City Hall officially opened at the corner of Markham and Broadway.

On April 15, 1908, the Italian Renaissance Revival style building, which had been designed by local architect Charles Thompson, played host to an open house. Staff had started moving into the building in March of that year.   This was, as often is the case, behind schedule.  The date in the cornice toward the top of the building is 1907, but the building was not completed until 1908.

An open house took place on April 15, 1908, presided over by Acting Mayor John Herndon Hollis and his wife as well as former Mayor W. E. Lenon and his wife.  (Mayor Hollis’ wife is a distant cousin of the Culture Vulture.)

In 1903, W. E. Lenon became Mayor of Little Rock. Back then, the terms were two-year terms.  Before the start of his second term in 1905, he realized that the City was outgrowing City Hall, which was, at the time, on the northeast corner of Markham and Louisiana – where part of the Statehouse Convention Center sits today.

In February 1906, Mayor Lenon appointed a committee of five aldermen to over see the planning for the building of a new City Hall. In July 1906, the City Council approved plans, which called for a City Hall with an municipal auditorium wing. There was some hue and cry about the cost spending and a resulting lawsuit, so, in September 1906, those plans were scrapped and a simpler City Hall was approved for the cost of $175,000.

The last resolution in the old City Hall called for the banning of smoking in the new Council Chambers – while the Council was in session. This may well have been the first smoking ban in a public government building in the history of Arkansas.

When the building opened, the third floor was not finished out. The space was not needed. When the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities (now the Museum of Discovery) moved into City Hall in 1929, they had to finish out their space.

In 1913, the new Central Fire Station, designed in the Beaux Arts style, was constructed adjacent to City Hall. During the 1930s, as the City grew, more space was needed. A garage, designed in the “austere, utilitarian” style was built in 1936 and a City Jail Annex, built by the WPA in the modified Art Deco style was built in 1938.

City Hall prior to 1912

By 1955, the copper-clad dome which sat on top of City Hall needed severe repairs. The wooden supports and the copper cladding were both in dire shape. Mayor Pratt Remmel set aside money for the dome to be repaired. After defeating Remmel in his bid for a third term, Mayor Woodrow Mann scrapped plans for the repair and, indeed, scrapped the dome.

Following the lead of County Judge Arch Campbell who had removed the tower at the County Courthouse, Mann proposed removal of the dome. He had an informal survey which had three options: repair the dome, replace the dome with an aluminum one, or remove it. This was open to anyone to respond – voting eligibility or Little Rock residency did not matter. By a slim margin, remove the dome won – so the dome was removed.

In 1960, as air conditioning was installed, windows were bricked in to promote energy efficiency. At the time, the feeling was that a new City Hall would be constructed in the 1970s somewhere more central to the growing city. Relocation talk persisted throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. By that time, City Hall had been modified a great deal – with no thought about historic preservation. When the Police and Fire Department had moved out into their new facilities, their old spaces had become storage.

By 1984, the decision was made to stay at Markham and Broadway. An extensive renovation and restoration effort was undertaken. In 1988, the building reopened, and the interior had been restored to its 1908 appearance.


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Little Rock Look Back: Grant in Little Rock (but not the Capital Hotel elevator)

On April 15, 1880, former president Ulysses S. Grant spoke in Little Rock as part of his world tour. While here he made a couple of appearances and participated in a parade. It was Grant’s first visit to Arkansas either as a soldier or a politician.

At his outdoor speech, his remarks followed brief comments by Governor William R. Miller and Mayor John Gould Fletcher (erroneously referred to as John C. Fletcher in the Memphis Appeal story the next day). Grant’s comments were brief and flowery. He thanked Arkansans for a warm welcome, praised the future prospects of Arkansas and discussed the demise of what he termed “sectionalism” which was undoubtedly a reference to the division between the Union and and former Confederate states.

Also that day, Grant addressed a banquet in Concordia Hall (now part of the Arkansas Studies Institute complex on the Central Arkansas Library downtown campus). His was one of fifteen toasts that evening. It was simply “The United States of America, forever United.” He expounded briefly on the theme of unity of citizens from all states. He also discussed immigration noting, “All foreigners find a welcome here. We make them American citizens. After we receive them, it is but one generation until they are Americans.” He noted that he could speak much more on the topic, but that since he was but one of fifteen toasts and that there was to be music after each toast, “It will be to-morrow (sic) morning when we get through if we all take as much time as the subjects admit of.”

Not everyone was thrilled to have the former commander of the Union Army in Little Rock. The story goes that when he was parading down the street, some Little Rock women (in a display of Souther un-hospitality) sat in chairs with their backs to the parade route. But all in all, it appears to have been a successful visit for the man who was the only Republican in the 19th Century to win Arkansas’ Electoral votes.Grant arrived in Little Rock on the night of April 14 and lodged at the Capital Hotel. He undoubtedly enjoyed some whiskey and cigars while at the Capital. Grant had originally planned on departing in the afternoon of April 15, but Little Rock leaders pled with him to stay so that he could be honored at the banquet. He assented.

Incidentally, there is an urban myth that, while in Little Rock, General Grant rode his horse in the oversized elevator of the Capital Hotel.  This is a relatively recent story. The oversized elevator was not installed until the 1980s, over 100 years after Gen. Grant was a guest of the facility.


Little Rock Look Back: President Thomas Jefferson

On April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia.  Along with Benjamin Franklin, he was one of the first American multi-hyphenate Renaissance men.  Author, musician, inventor, diplomat, epicurean, architect, educator, and President. Certainly his writing of the Declaration of Independence was of paramount importance to the US, even if he had never served as President.

It was during his Presidency that Thomas Jefferson actively pursued the Louisiana Purchase which brought what is now Arkansas into the United States.  While he never visited the area, he did send explorers to chart out the Louisiana Purchase.  The subsequent surveying which took place during the Madison presidency was based on standards developed by Jefferson for the surveying of Ohio.

In Little Rock, Jefferson is remembered with Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson Street. He is also the eponym for Bill Clinton’s middle name.


Little Rock Look Back: A municipal auditorium for Little Rock is announced

On April 12, 1904, Mayor W. E. Lenon made what was the first official proposal for a municipal auditorium in Little Rock.  Little did he know at the time that it would take from April 1904 until February 1940 to make this dream a reality.

Elected as a progressive, Lenon was focused on not just providing city services, but also had an interest in initiatives which would move the city forward.  With that background it is not surprising that Mayor Lenon would be a champion for the construction of both a new city hall as well as a municipal auditorium building.  During his first annual address to the City Council in April 1904 he noted:

Recently a number of our citizens have taken an active interest in building an auditorium in our city.  This being a project of such worthy consideration should not go unnoticed by us.  Apparently this is one of the greatest needs.  Our business, social, commercial and financial interests, in fact, our entire city, would be benefitted by the building of same.  It has therefore occurred to me that an auditorium might be built in conjunction with a new city hall.

The mayor further discussed that these new structures could either be built on the site of the current City Hall or at a new location.  He also touched on possible financing options including the collection of a one percent assessment.

The mayor would bring this up again in his 1905 annual address.  It would not be until December 1905 that the City Council would officially take any action on the plan.