Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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.

Advertisements


UALR Historian Dr. Deborah Baldwin to serve as interim provost

baldwin-cropped-700x709Dr. Deborah Baldwin, associate provost of collections and archives and director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, has been named the interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Baldwin will serve as the interim provost for the spring 2017 semester, following the departure of UALR Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and Provost Dr. Zulma Toro, who will begin her tenure as president of Central Connecticut State University on Jan. 3. The university will conduct a search for a permanent provost with an anticipated start date of July 1, 2017.

Baldwin has served the university in a number of positions, including six years as the chair of the Department of History and nearly 20 years as the dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Throughout her years of administrative service, Baldwin has continued to teach in the public history program and has overseen graduate student work with community organizations. Baldwin holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.

Through her public history teaching, Baldwin and her students have helped to document the history of various Little Rock businesses and institutions. Among those are the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Discovery and Little Rock Zoo.


RobinsoNovember: J. N. Heiskell

At the age of 87, J. N. Heiskell in 1960.

John Netherland (J. N.) Heiskell served as editor of the Arkansas Gazette for more than seventy years.  He was usually called “Mr. Heiskell” by all, but a very few confidantes felt confident to call him “Ned.”

Mr. Heiskell is the person most responsible for Robinson Center Music Hall being located at the corner of Markham and Broadway.  As Chair of the Planning Commission and editor of the Arkansas Gazette he had twin bully pulpits to promote this location when those on the City Council (who actually had the final say) were looking at other locations.  He felt the location would help create a cluster of public buildings with its proximity to the county courthouse and to City Hall.  Mr. Heiskell finally succeeded in winning over the mayor and aldermen to his viewpoint.

He was born on November 2, 1872, in Rogersville, Tennessee, to Carrick White Heiskell and Eliza Ayre Netherland Heiskell. He entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before his eighteenth birthday and graduated in three years at the head of his class on June 7, 1893.

His early journalism career included jobs with newspapers in Knoxville and Memphis and with the Associated Press in Chicago and Louisville. On June 17, 1902, Heiskell’s family bought controlling interest in the Arkansas Gazette. Heiskell became the editor, and his brother, Fred, became managing editor.

Governor George Donaghey appointed Heiskell to succeed Jeff Davis in the United States Senate after Davis’s death in office. Heiskell served from January 6, 1913, until January 29, 1913, when a successor was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly.  His tenure is the shortest in the U. S. Senate history.  His first speech on the Senate floor was his farewell.  He was also only the second US Senator to live to be 100.

On June 28, 1910, Heiskell married Wilhelmina Mann, daughter of the nationally prominent architect, George R. Mann. The couple had four children: Elizabeth, Louise, John N. Jr., and Carrick.

In 1907, he joined a successful effort to build the city’s first public library. He served on the library board from that year until his death and was issued the first library card.  He also served on the City’s Planning Commission for decades.  In 1912, he was instrumental in bringing John Nolen to Little Rock to devise a park plan.

In the paper and in his own personal opinions, he crusaded on a variety of progressive causes.  Perhaps the most famous was the Gazette’s stance in the 1957 Central High desegregation crisis.  It was for this effort that the paper received two Pulitzer Prizes.

Although Heiskell stopped going to the office at age ninety-nine, he continued to take an active interest in the newspaper. He began by having a copy of the newspaper delivered to his home by messenger as soon as it came off the press each night. Eventually, he switched to having his secretary call him daily at his home and read the entire newspaper to him. He operated on the premise that “anyone who runs a newspaper needs to know what’s in it, even to the classified ads.”

A few weeks after turning 100, Heiskell died of congestive heart failure brought on by arteriosclerosis on December 28, 1972. He is buried in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.  Interestingly, he is buried in the same cemetery as two of his most notable adversaries: Governor Jeff Davis, and segregationist Congressman Dale Alford.

Mr. Heiskell donated his vast papers to UALR. They are part of the Arkansas Studies Institute collection. These papers give insight into not only his career as a journalist, but also his political and civic affairs.  Thankfully he saved much of his paperwork. Without it, much insight into Little Rock in the 20th Century would be lost.

 


Arkansas Heritage Month – The architecture of AIA/ALA award winning CALS libraries by Polk Stanley Wilcox

To encourage excellence in the architectural design and planning of libraries, the AIA and the American Library Association/Library Administration and Management Association created this award to distinguish accomplishments in library architecture.  In 2011 and again in 2015, Polk Stanley Wilcox won the award for projects designed for the Central Arkansas Library System.

AIA ALA PSW ASIThe 2011 award went to for work on the Arkansas Studies Institute.  This actually combines three buildings of three different centuries and construction types into one architectural timeline, evoking imagery of pages of an opening book.

The Arkansas Studies Institute is a repository for 10 million historic documents and the papers of seven Arkansas Governors, including President Bill Clinton. Located in a thriving entertainment district comprised of rejuvenated warehouses near the Arkansas River, the design combines significant, but neglected buildings from the 1880’s and 1910’s with a new technologically expressive archive addition. This creates a pedestrian focused, iconic gateway to the public library campus – and the public face of Arkansas history.

The design philosophy is based literally on the book – a physical container of information, with pages flowing into a site-sensitive narrative of the building’s function. Taking cues from the medium for which the Institute was created, the entrance acts as an abstract book cover, pulled away from the building as a double wall, defusing western sunlight and heat in the atrium beyond.

Public Spaces – galleries, a café, museum, and meeting rooms – enliven streetscape storefronts, while the great library research hall encompasses the entire second floor of the 1914 warehouse building. A thin atrium pulls the new structure away to protect the old, stretching the building’s length and flooding all levels with light – a key sustainable strategy. 100 historic images in glass handrails signify that architecture can and should actively engage in storytelling. Suspended bridges span the gap between new and old, open and secure, today and yesterday.

The Arkansas Studies Institute weaves history, research, pedestrians, and a restored streetscape together, healing a gaping wound in the urban fabric, while expanding environmental stewardship into the public realm and serving as a beacon of knowledge.

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCIn 2015, the award went to PSW for their work on the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.

Based on experiential learning where hands-on education teaches life skills needed to become responsible adults, a new Children’s Library and Learning Center boosts hopes for a neglected neighborhood, serves as an exemplary tale of urban renewal, and acts as a beacon of hope for an entire city.

This “community embedded, supportive learning center” offers not only books, but also a performance space, teaching kitchen, greenhouse, vegetable garden, and an arboretum. It is the state’s first library holistically imagined as a children’s education destination. The Library Director’s challenge was to create a “playground without equipment” where nature and imagination create grand adventures on an abandoned six acre site in the heart of the capital city. A charrette with youth uncovered a surprising and heartbreaking result: their top desire wasn’t for the latest video game technologies… it was food security. They wanted to learn how to feed themselves. Children also desired a place that was uplifting, inspirational and full of natural light, while in contrast feeling safe, secure, and sheltered. They wanted a place that “lifted expectations”.

An interstate highway—the railroad tracks of our generation—split Little Rock 40 years ago and destroyed a unified city grid, contributing to racial and socioeconomic divisions that separated citizens physically and emotionally. The site’s border condition became a national symbol for gang violence when featured in a 1990’s HBO documentary. Its opposite side, however, continued to be the city’s version of New York City’s Central Park—the place to live, work, and play. The design team’s overarching idea was centered on three moves: bridge the gap by stretching the park across the highway, create a library that is “the place to be” for all children, and develop civic pride in an underserved neighborhood, helping to mend partitions that have plagued the city for so long.

Landscape ecology and urban connectivity themes provide experiential education. Children see natural vegetation representing the state’s varied ecological regions from the Ozark Highlands to the Mississippi Delta. Two bus lines within a quarter mile assure access from distances, while the hundreds of children living within a half mile can walk or bike. An instructional greenhouse, gardens, and teaching kitchen allow children to cultivate, harvest, prepare meals, and sell produce in a planned farmer’s market. A full time ‘Environmental Educator’ oversees programs, teaching proper use of water, energy, and resources, and how we keep healthy through decisions made within the built environment. The lobby’s smart monitors can display real time water and energy consumption. Mechanical and structural systems are purposefully exposed so operations and construction methods can be discussed.

While this Library exceeded expectations by achieving LEED Gold, the true measure of success beyond points is the neighborhood’s feel, which shifted from dangerous to full of life and pride. The library is a safe zone and home to a sustainable-minded community.


Black History Month Spotlight – Arkansas Studies Institute

ASI CALS UALRThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

The Arkansas Studies Institute building is a Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) facility. It houses both the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (a CALS department) and the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, a department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).

Exterior and interior panels are featured showing Arkansas African American life through historic photographs. Both archives offer genealogy and photography collections, and visual, audio and reference materials relating to African American history and civil rights topics in Arkansas. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, a Butler Center project, has many entries on African American history.

The Arkansas Sounds music collection contains materials relating to black musicians William Grant Still, Florence Price, Louis Jordan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Al Bell. The Butler Center’s galleries feature local art, jewelry and crafts, many by Arkansas black artists.

The UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture contains extensive archives, including virtual exhibits relating to the Civil War, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, and the city of Little Rock. Adding another dimension to the struggle for civil rights are documents and art from the World War II Japanese American Relocation Camps at Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas, and two large Jewish history collections.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.


2015 In Memoriam – Parker Westbrook

1515 WestbrookParker Westbrook WAS Mr. Preservation for Arkansas. But even though he is gone, it does not mean that preservation efforts in Arkansas are dormant.  Quite the contrary.  Like any good teacher, Parker used his knowledge to inspire others to share his interest in preservation.

It is no surprise that the organization he helped found, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (now called Preserve Arkansas), names its lifetime achievement award after him.  He was not only the founding President of Preserve Arkansas, he was active in it until his final days.  It was not his only founding: he was a founder of Pioneer Washington Foundation (the oldest historic preservation organization in the state), the Main Street Arkansas Advisory Board, Historic Arkansas Museum Commission, the Arkansas State Capitol Association, and the Arkansas State Review Board for Historic Preservation. He served on the latter board from 1975 until his death this year, with the exception of five years from 2002 to 2007.  In recognition of his work in the field of heritage tourism, he was a 2007 inductee into the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Hall of Fame.

His work was not limited by the boundaries of his home state.  He was an Advisor Emeritus to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a 2001 recipient of a Preservation Honor Award from the Trust. Rep. Mike Ross declared him a “National Treasure” in the Congressional Record. He also served for two terms on the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and was named Chairman of the Committee on National Historic Landmarks on the National Park System Advisory Board.

A public servant, he worked for several federal officials from Arkansas, most notably Senator J. William Fulbright. He returned to Arkansas to work for Governor David Pryor.  But whether he worked in Washington DC; Little Rock; or his beloved hometown of Nashville, he was always interested in ensuring the past came alive. It might be through historic preservation, or it might be recounting a colorful moment of Arkansas history. Either way, Parker was a proponent of living history. He did not want it to be relegated to a musty, dusty book or building.
In 2007, he donated papers collected by his late sister Lucille and himself. The Lucille and Parker Westbrook Arkansas and Genealogy Collection is housed in the $20 million Arkansas Studies Institute, a joint project of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  This collection has three parts: the first part focuses on Southwest Arkansas and contains genealogical sources and 3,000 historic photographs; the second highlights his public service and political career including much about the state’s architectural history; the third part consists of family papers, letters and photographs which document the Westbrooks’ deep roots in Arkansas.
He was the epitome of the Southern gentleman.  Not only did he look the part, he acted it. He was gracious in sharing credit with others; generous with his time, labor and talent; and did his best to keep up the lost art of writing letters and notes.


15 Highlights of 2015 – Polk Stanley Wilcox wins AIA/ALA Library Building Award for CALS Children’s Library

Childrens Library 2For the final fifteen days of 2015, a look back at some of the cultural highlights of 2015.

Up first –

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects and the Central Arkansas Library System were honored with Library Architecture’s highest and most prestigious achievement: A 2015 AIA/ALA Library Building Award. 

Of all libraries submitted, the 2015 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards honor only six separate projects. The Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center joins prestigious projects from as far away as Vancouver, Washington, Dartmouth, Mass., Norfolk, Virginia, San Antonio, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa. The projects was honored at the National ALA Conference in San Francisco on June 25-30th.

To encourage excellence in the architectural design and planning of libraries, the National American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington DC and the American Library Association (ALA) created this award to distinguish accomplishments in library architecture. Biennially, representatives of each organization celebrate the finest examples of library design from around the world designed by American Architects.

READThe new Children’s Library and Learning Center is based on experiential learning, where children are educated through hands on activities that teach life skills needed to become responsible adults. Referred to as a “community-embedded, supportive learning center,” this library offers not only books, but also a performance space, a teaching kitchen, a greenhouse and vegetable garden, and an arboretum.

The award is given every two years.  It is the second time that Polk Stanley Wilcox has received the award for a CALS project.  In 2011 the firm won it for the Arkansas Studies Institute building.  Not only is it rare for a firm to receive this award, it is even more rare for the same firm to receive it twice for working with the same client.  These honors are a testament to the leadership at both Polk Stanley Wilcox and the Central Arkansas Library System.