Category Archives: LR Look Back

Remembering Aretha Franklin at Robinson Center with the ASO

On Tuesday, November 16, 2004, Aretha Franklin showed why she was an unparalleled entertainer.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brought Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which I saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

Earlier in the day, I had the chance to meet her.  The ASO had contacted me to see if I could pick up three copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography for her to have him sign.  I was out and about on Clinton Library-related errands that day, so I happily obliged.  I picked up three copies and delivered them to Robinson Center.  Miss Franklin was on a break in between rehearsals and was about to be interviewed by Craig O’Neill for KTHV.  I only got to shake her hand and briefly say hello, but I could tell she was thrilled to receive the books.

I obviously did not ask to be reimbursed for the expense. The chance to spend a few seconds with her was payment enough.

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Little Rock chosen as site for War Memorial Stadium on August 9, 1947

As has been noted in a previous post, War Memorial Stadium was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 1947.  The work then began on the finalization of the location.

Four cities were in the running:  Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.  Each of the cities was required to donate the land for the stadium, provide parking for it, and sell local subscriptions equivalent to $250,000 to raise money for it as well.

On May 19, 1947, the City Council approved Resolution 1,747 to donate the land for the stadium in Fair Park if Little Rock was selected.  This was not the first mention of a stadium in City records.  In March of 1947, the City Council had set aside land in Fair Park to use for a playground — with the stipulation that if it was eventually needed for a stadium, it would be relinquished for that purpose.

On August 9, 1947, the War Memorial Stadium Commission met in the House Chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol to select the location for the stadium.  West Memphis dropped out prior to the meeting; they had not been able to raise the sufficient local funds.  That left the three remaining cities.  (Cities had until June 24 to file paperwork expressing their interest in applying and were to submit their proposals by August 1.)

Instead of meeting in a usual committee room, the meeting was held in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.  The location for the meeting had been set because a large crowd was expected.  And the attendance did not disappoint.  City government and business leaders from all three cities turned out in full force.

The members of the Commission were Ed Keith, Chairman, Magnolia; Gordon Campbell, Secretary, Little Rock; Ed Gordon, Morrilton; Senator Lee Reaves, Hermitage; Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones, Conway; Dallas Dalton, Arkadelphia; Judge Maupin Cummings, Fayetteville; Dave Laney, Osceola; and Leslie Speck, Frenchman’s Bayou.

For several hours the nine heard proposals from the three cities.  Little Rock’s location was in Fair Park, North Little Rock’s was near its high school, and Hot Springs was on land next to Highway 70 approximately 2.5 miles from downtown.  Finally it was time to vote.  After two rounds of voting, Little Rock was declared the winner on a weighted ballot.

The north shore’s leadership was magnanimous in their defeat.  Hot Springs, however, was far from it.  In the coming days they filed suit against the Stadium Commission alleging flaws in Little Rock’s proposal as well as improprieties by members of the commission.  A preliminary decision sided with the state.  Ultimately, Hot Springs’ relatively new mayor Earl T. Ricks opted to drop the suit.  The Spa City’s business community was concerned that fighting the location might delay construction – and could negatively impact legislative and tourists’ feelings toward Hot Springs.  (And it was entirely possible that the State Police could have been used to “discover” that there was gambling going on in Hot Springs.)

Though ground was broken later in the year, by December 1947, the stadium was still $250,000 shy of funding for the construction.  This was after the state and Little Rock had previously both upped their commitments to $500,000 each.

The building did eventually open on schedule in conjunction with the 1948 Arkansas Razorback football games.

As for Mayor Ricks of Hot Springs, he moved to Little Rock to serve as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard during the governorship of Sid McMath.  He later held leadership positions in the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC.  He died in 1954 at the age of 45.  Among the ways he was memorialized was a National Guard armory in Little Rock, which stood in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium.

Birth of William E. Ashley in 1823 – first LR Mayor to have been born in LR

On August 6, 1823, future Little Rock Mayor William Eliot Ashley was born in Little Rock.  He would go on to become the first Little Rock Mayor to be born in Little Rock.  Ashley was the son of Mary and Chester Ashley; his father would later serve as a U. S. Senator from Arkansas.  He was the second of the couple’s seven children.

Though he was raised in Little Rock, he did receive some schooling out of state. The State History Commission has correspondence between eleven year old William, studying in New York, and his father. Part of the letter is a request for money.

On October 26, 1846, he married Frances Eliza Grafton at Christ Episcopal Church.  They were the first Little Rock residents to be married in that church.  The couple had five children, including triplets.  Only one of the children, Frances (who was one of the triplets) survived to adulthood.

Ashley was first elected Mayor of Little Rock in 1857. After completing a two year term, he was succeeded by Gordon N. Peay (another scion of a prominent Little Rock family).  In 1861, Ashley returned to the office of Mayor.  He was reelected to a third term in 1863.  In September 1863, following the defeat of Confederate troops by the Union forces at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations.  On September 21, 1863, Little Rock municipal government closed its doors, stopped collection of taxes and disbanded.  Thus Ashley’s third term ended.

In addition to his interest in local government, Ashley was a member of St. John’s College Board and a director of the newly-formed Little Rock Gas Company.

William Eliot Ashley died on August 16, 1868, at the age of 45.  He was buried in Mount Holly Cemetery (which sat partially on land that had once belonged to his family). His parents, wife and children are all buried in Mt. Holly as well.

Interestingly, for someone who grew up in a prominent family, there does not appear to be a surviving likeness of Mayor Ashley – either in painting or photograph.  Several exist of his parents, but none of him.

1906 verdict scuttles plans for new LR City Hall with Auditorium

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

Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon had been advocating for a new City Hall a municipal auditorium since shortly after taking office in April 1903. After plans were approved in July 1906, a group of citizens, led by Arkansas Gazette publisher J. N. Heiskell, filed suit to stop the City.

The closing arguments in the trial against plans for a new City Hall and auditorium complex had been heard on Monday, July 30.  The case was heard by Chancery Judge J. C. Hart.  Serving as an advisor to Chancellor Hart throughout the trial (though with no official legal standing) was Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Lea.  To accommodate the expected large attendance, the trial had been moved into his courtroom which was larger than Chancellor Hart’s.

On Friday, August 3, Pulaski County Chancery Judge J. C. Hart issued an injunction to keep the City from signing a contract for the construction of a city hall, jail and auditorium.  Chancellor Hart concurred with the plaintiffs that Arkansas’ constitution and laws dictated all taxation must be for public purposes.  He found there was nothing in Arkansas case law which defined an auditorium to be used for conventions as a public purpose.

As had been the case throughout the trial, the tone of the coverage of the decision differed greatly in the city’s two daily papers.  The subheading in the Democrat noted that the plaintiffs would be liable for any losses to the municipal government’s coffers due to a delay in commencing the construction if Little Rock eventually prevailed.  That fact is not mentioned by the Gazette.  Both papers did make note that Judge Lea agreed with the Chancellor’s decision.

For now, it looked as if the City of Little Rock would be stuck in the 1867 City Hall on Markham between Main and Louisiana.  Mr. Heiskell and his compatriots waited to see if the City would appeal the decision.

While August would be a quiet month publicly, work would go on behind the scenes.  More on that, in the future.

Happy Birthday to Jim Dailey! Little Rock’s 71st Mayor and current Director of Tourism for Arkansas

On July 31, 1942, Dalton James “Jim” Dailey, Jr. was born to Dalton and Ellen Dailey.   He would serve fourteen years as Little Rock’s 71st mayor and is now continuing his public service as the Director of Tourism for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

After graduating from Little Rock Catholic High School, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He joined his father in the family business, Dailey’s Office Furniture.

In 1974, Dailey was elected to the City of Little Rock Board of Directors.  He served one four-year term. The last two years of that term, he was the Vice Mayor of Little Rock.

Following that term, he remained engaged in civic activities including serving in leadership capacities in community campaigns.  He also served as president of the National Office Products Association – the first Arkansan to do so.  Dailey also served as the founding chair of Leadership Greater Little Rock.

In 1988, Dailey was elected to return to the City Board.  He was reelected in 1992.  Dailey served as Vice Mayor in 1991 and 1992.  In January 1993, he was chosen by his fellow City Directors to serve a two year term as Mayor.  Under his leadership, the Future-Little Rock goal-setting process took place.

Following a voter-approved change to the City structure, the position of Mayor was changed to be elected by the people while maintaining the City Manager form of government.  On January 1, 1995, Jim Dailey was sworn in as the first popularly-elected Mayor of the City of Little Rock in over 38 years.

As Mayor, he served as Chair of the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission. He was also a member of the United States Conference of Mayor’s Communications Task Force.  He also served as president of the Arkansas Municipal League in 2002 and 2003.

While he was Mayor of Little Rock, he was a strong proponent of the development of the River Market and worked to locate the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  He also worked to increase public safety support.  He also oversaw the establishment of Central Arkansas Water, the development of downtown headquarters for Acxiom Corporation and Heifer International, and the creation of Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs.  In addition, he was instrumental in leading the efforts for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High in 1997.

Mayor Dailey was re-elected in 1998 and 2002.  His fourteen years as Mayor of Little Rock set a longevity record.  Upon his retirement the City’s fitness center was renamed the Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center.  This was in recognition of his lifelong interest in wellness activities.

Since 1965, he has been married to the former Patti Murphy.  They have four children and six grandchildren.

Remembering Mahlon Martin on what would have been his 73rd birthday

On July 19, 1945, future Little Rock City Manager Mahlon A. Martin was born in Little Rock.

After graduating in 1963 from Horace Mann High School, he attended Philander Smith College.  (He had received a baseball scholarship to Grambling, but chose to remain in Little Rock to be near his ailing grandmother.)  Martin graduated from Philander Smith in 1967 with a degree in business administration.

After working in the private sector for two years, Martin was hired by City Manager Jack T. Meriwether to work for the City of Little Rock in 1969 after the City had received a Model Cities grant.  Martin started working with community organizations and then became promoted to the City’s recruiting officer.

In 1972, he was named to leadership posts at the four-county Central Arkansas Manpower Program.  Three years later, he returned to the City of Little Rock to work on the staff of City Manager Carleton McMullin.  In 1976, Martin was named Assistant City Manager for Little Rock.

Martin left City Hall in 1979 to become a top executive at Systematics, Inc.  However, his stint in the private sector was short-lived.  In 1980, the City Board of Directors asked him to come back and be Little Rock’s sixth City Manager.  At thirty-four, he was one of the youngest chief administrators of a major city in the country and the first African American City Manager for Little Rock.

In 1983, Governor Bill Clinton asked him to join the state of Arkansas as the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration.  He was the first African American to lead that or any major Arkansas state department.  Throughout his tenure with the State, he oversaw numerous initiatives to restore the state to sound financial footing.

Martin joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as president in 1989.  He held that position until his death in 1995.

The name Mahlon Martin lives on in a son and grandson named after him, in an apartment complex on south Main Street, in a street in Clinton Presidential Park, and in the City of Little Rock’s Employee of the Year award.  The latter was created by City Manager Bruce T. Moore in 2004.  At the time Moore noted that Martin had been so popular while City Manager, “It was said you could criticize the Razorbacks to a City of Little Rock employee, but you better not say anything bad about Mahlon Martin to them.”

In 2001, Mahlon Martin was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  A decade later, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies created a fellowship in his memory.  It supports research and programming in the field of public policy in Arkansas.  In 2015, he was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

Three years since USS LITTLE ROCK (LCS) was christened

On July 18, 2015, the new U.S.S. Little Rock (LCS9) was christened and officially launched in a ceremony in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Among those in attendance at the ceremony were Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and US Senator John Boozman.   Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who served on the original U.S.S. Little Rock during the Vietnam War, was also present at the ceremony.

The U.S.S. Little Rock will be the nation’s ninth littoral combat ship.  It has been built for the U.S. Navy by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine Corporation (MMC) at the MMC shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin.

The  christening ceremony celebrated the ship’s physical transition from land to sea.  The ceremony was a symbolic transition from a hull number to a ship with a name and spirit of its own.

Following Janee Bonner’s shattering of the champagne bottle on the hull, the U.S.S. Little Rock was side launched into the Menominee River.  A side launch is unique, because the ship enters the water broadside. It is mostly used on inland waters, rivers and lakes.  To see the side launch, view the video here.

In December 2017, the ship was commissioned in 2017 in Buffalo, New York.  Situated next to the original USS Little Rock (now docked in Buffalo as a museum), it was the first time a ship was commissioned adjacent to a former ship bearing the same name.