Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Death of Joseph Taylor Robinson

Eighty years ago today, on July 14, 1937, U.S. Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson died in his apartment in Washington D.C.

The Senator’s wife, Ewilda, was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. (She was informed of her husband’s death when her sister-in-law called to express condolences. No one had yet notified her in Little Rock.) Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  The Democrat’s 1928 Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Robinson was particularly close to FDR. He had successfully steered numerous pieces of New Deal legislation through Congress.  However, at the time of his death, the Senator was facing an uphill climb trying to build consensus on the President’s unpopular Court Packing scheme.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

Five months after her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson participated in the groundbreaking of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  The groundbreaking ceremony was the first time it was announced that building would be named in his memory.   On a plaque inside that building today, a quote from President Roosevelt stands as a further testament of the importance of Senator Robinson to the US.  Taken from President Roosevelt’s remarks upon learning of the Senator’s death, the plaque reads, in part, “A pillar of strength is gone.”

Seventy-eight and a half years later, the church was the site of the funeral of longtime US Senator Dale Bumpers in January 2016.


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Little Rock Look Back: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

On January 30, 1882, future U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born.  In 1936, he visited Little Rock as part of a statewide tour in conjunction with Arkansas’ Centennial celebration.  While in the state he spent time outside of Hot Springs at Couchwood, the vacation home of Arkansas Power & Light founder Harvey Couch, who was the chair of the Centennial activities.

In honor of President Roosevelt’s visit, a portion of Highway 365 in Little Rock was designated Roosevelt Road. He followed part of that road while in the Capital City before making a public appearance.

President Roosevelt’s address on June 10, recounted Arkansas’ territorial and statehood history. At the end he paid tribute to his Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson.  The Senator was a friend and confidant who often led the charge for FDR programs in congress.  Indeed, it would be New Deal programs which would allow for the construction of a municipal auditorium in Little Rock, which would be named in memory of Sen. Robinson after his death in the summer of 1937.  (As the Democratic leader of the Senate, it had been Robinson who accompanied FDR and Eleanor in the motorcade to the 1933 Presidential inauguration ceremony.)  A quote by President Roosevelt upon learning of Senator Robinson’s death adorns a wall of Robinson Center.

FDR’s visit to Arkansas had political implications as well.  The late Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana had been arguably FDR’s biggest adversary in Washington.  Long was very popular in rural areas of Arkansas and had campaigned for Hattie Caraway when she ran for re-election to the Senate, to the dismay of many of Arkansas’ Democratic establishment.  Harvey Couch had worked to bring about a detente between FDR and Long prior to the latter’s assassination in 1935.  But between a lingering mistrust of FDR by Long supporters and discontent from some sectors based on New Deal programs, it was important for FDR to shore up Democratic support in Arkansas.  At the time the state had nine electoral votes.

FDR would return to Central Arkansas in 1943 to review troops at the military facility named for Sen. Robinson.  That would be his final visit to Arkansas before his death in April 1945.

As a character in the musical Annie, FDR has been on the stage of Robinson on numerous occasions.


Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock takes possession of Robinson Auditorium

10.+citylittlerock-2On January 25, 1940, the City of Little Rock officially took complete possession of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium. By assuming custody of the structure from the contractor and the PWA, the City accepted responsibility for any of the remaining work to be completed.  This event happened one day shy of the third anniversary of the election which approved plans to issue bonds for an auditorium.

E. E. Beaumont, the Auditorium Commission chairman, stated that an opening date could not be set until more work was completed. A major unfinished task was the laying of the front sidewalk which had been delayed due to cold weather.

The night before Little Rock took possession, Robinson Auditorium had been a topic of discussion at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. The new Chamber president Reeves E. Ritchie (who as an Arkansas Power & Light executive had been engaged in the lengthy discussions about the installation of the steam line and transformers of the building) pledged that the Chamber would work to bring more and larger conventions to Little Rock at the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.


RobinsoNovember: Mayor J. V. Satterfield Jr.

Satterfield AuditUpon taking office as mayor in April 1939, J. V. Satterfield felt he was getting a handle on Little Rock’s precarious financial situation. He would soon discover that it was more unstable than he had imagined.  Included in this was Robinson Auditorium, currently under construction across the street from his office in City Hall.  Mayor Satterfield disclosed that he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 because he felt the finances were not sufficient. But as the mayor, he promised to open the building.

By the summer of 1939, it was becoming apparent that there would not sufficient money to finish the construction.  Even with the issuance of the final round of approved bonds (which had been held back as a reserve), there would not be enough money.  The Mayor and Harvey Couch made plans to go to Washington DC to try to get more money from the federal government.  Mr. Couch was a personal friend of President Roosevelt as well as head of Arkansas Power & Light.  The pair made the trip but returned with no additional money.

At the same time, the Auditorium Commission, which had been appointed by Mayor Overman to oversee the governance of the building, resigned as a group. They said they had been appointed to administer a building, not a construction site. Since it was uncertain as to when the building would open, they stepped down.

Mayor Satterfield was able to negotiate a series of deals to get the necessary work completed for construction of the building to be completed. Part of it involved issuing another round of bonds after the building had been officially opened to finish furnishing the building as well as complete the landscaping.  In January 1940, with a new opening date becoming a stronger possibility, the mayor appointed a new Auditorium Commission.

At the same time, regular events started to take place in the lower level exhibition hall.  There had been a few in November and December, but with a lack of utilities and ongoing construction upstairs in the music hall, those were curtailed.

On February 16, 1940, Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. Mayor Satterfield was joined onstage for the ribbon cutting with Senator Robinson’s widow and her sister-in-law, who was a member of the Auditorium Commission.

In April 1940, Little Rock voters approved the final round of bonds which allowed for the building to be finished.

After only two years in office, Mayor Satterfield chose not to seek another term. He left City Hall in April 1941 with finances in order and a new municipal auditorium across the street.


Arkansas Heritage Month – LR Mayor Satterfield oversees opening of Robinson Auditorium

Satterfield AuditUpon taking office as mayor in April 1939, J. V. Satterfield felt he was getting a handle on Little Rock’s precarious financial situation. He would soon discover that it was more unstable than he had imagined.  Included in this was Robinson Auditorium, currently under construction across the street from his office in City Hall.  Mayor Satterfield disclosed that he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 because he felt the finances were not sufficient. But as the mayor, he promised to open the building.

By the summer of 1939, it was becoming apparent that there would not sufficient money to finish the construction.  Even with the issuance of the final round of approved bonds (which had been held back as a reserve), there would not be enough money.  The Mayor and Harvey Couch made plans to go to Washington DC to try to get more money from the federal government.  Mr. Couch was a personal friend of President Roosevelt as well as head of Arkansas Power & Light.  The pair made the trip but returned with no additional money.

At the same time, the Auditorium Commission, which had been appointed by Mayor Overman to oversee the governance of the building, resigned as a group. They said they had been appointed to administer a building, not a construction site. Since it was uncertain as to when the building would open, they stepped down.

Mayor Satterfield was able to negotiate a series of deals to get the necessary work completed for construction of the building to be completed. Part of it involved issuing another round of bonds after the building had been officially opened to finish furnishing the building as well as complete the landscaping.  In January 1940, with a new opening date becoming a stronger possibility, the mayor appointed a new Auditorium Commission.

At the same time, regular events started to take place in the lower level exhibition hall.  There had been a few in November and December, but with a lack of utilities and ongoing construction upstairs in the music hall, those were curtailed.

On February 16, 1940, Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. Mayor Satterfield was joined onstage for the ribbon cutting with Senator Robinson’s widow and her sister-in-law, who was a member of the Auditorium Commission.

In April 1940, Little Rock voters approved the final round of bonds which allowed for the building to be finished.

After only two years in office, Mayor Satterfield chose not to seek another term. He left City Hall in April 1941 with finances in order and a new municipal auditorium across the street.


Little Rock Look Back: FDR

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

On January 30, 1882, future U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born.  In 1936, he visited Little Rock as part of a statewide tour in conjunction with Arkansas’ Centennial celebration.  While in the state he spent time outside of Hot Springs at Couchwood, the vacation home of Arkansas Power & Light founder Harvey Couch, who was the chair of the Centennial activities.

In honor of President Roosevelt’s visit, a portion of Highway 365 in Little Rock was designated Roosevelt Road. He followed part of that road while in the Capital City before making a public appearance.

President Roosevelt’s address on June 10, recounted Arkansas’ territorial and statehood history. At the end he paid tribute to his Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson.  The Senator was a friend and confidant who often led the charge for FDR programs in congress.  Indeed, it would be New Deal programs which would allow for the construction of a municipal auditorium in Little Rock, which would be named in memory of Sen. Robinson after his death in the summer of 1937.  (As the Democratic leader of the Senate, it had been Robinson who accompanied FDR and Eleanor in the motorcade to the 1933 Presidential inauguration ceremony.)

FDR’s visit to Arkansas had political implications as well.  The late Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana had been arguably FDR’s biggest adversary in Washington.  Long was very popular in rural areas of Arkansas and had campaigned for Hattie Caraway when she ran for re-election to the Senate, to the dismay of many of Arkansas’ Democratic establishment.  Harvey Couch had worked to bring about a detente between FDR and Long prior to the latter’s assassination in 1935.  But between a lingering mistrust of FDR by Long supporters and discontent from some sectors based on New Deal programs, it was important for FDR to shore up Democratic support in Arkansas.  At the time the state had nine electoral votes.

Early in World War II, President Roosevelt used a fireside chat to promote the heroism of Little Rock native Corydon Wassell, who had saved several troops in the South Pacific.  FDR would return to Central Arkansas in 1943 to review troops at the military facility named for Sen. Robinson.  That would be his final visit to Arkansas before his death in April 1945.


Little Rock Look Back: City Takes Possession of Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium

10.+citylittlerock-2On January 25, 1940, the City of Little Rock officially took complete possession of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium. By assuming custody of the structure from the contractor and the PWA, the City accepted responsibility for any of the remaining work to be completed.  This event happened one day shy of the third anniversary of the election which approved plans to issue bonds for an auditorium.

E. E. Beaumont, the Auditorium Commission chairman, stated that an opening date could not be set until more work was completed. A major unfinished task was the laying of the front sidewalk which had been delayed due to cold weather.

The night before Little Rock took possession, Robinson Auditorium had been a topic of discussion at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. The new Chamber president Reeves E. Ritchie (who as an Arkansas Power & Light executive had been engaged in the lengthy discussions about the installation of the steam line and transformers of the building) pledged that the Chamber would work to bring more and larger conventions to Little Rock at the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

Today, the building is once again a construction site as it is being renovated and repurposed to become a performing arts and event space for the 21st Century.