Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.

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Little Rock Look Back: Bill Clinton announces LR as site for his library

Refuse on the site where the Clinton Center would be built

On November 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton announced his intentions to locate his presidential library in Little Rock at the end of a warehouse district.

The Little Rock City Board met in a special meeting that day to rename part of Markham Street, which would lead to the site, as President Clinton Avenue.

While the announcement was met with excitement in many quarters, there were still some skeptics who had a hard time envisioning a presidential library and park in the middle of a wasteland worthy of a T. S. Eliot poem.

There would be many hurdles between the November 1997 announcement to the December 2001 groundbreaking. But for the moment, City of Little Rock leaders, celebrated the achievement.  Then Mayor Jim Dailey had appointed City Director Dean Kumpuris and City employee Bruce T. Moore to lead the City’s efforts.  Moore and Kumpuris worked with Skip Rutherford and others to narrow the potential sites.

In September 1997, the Clintons were in town for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School.  They surprised Kumpuris and Moore with a decision for a Sunday afternoon visit to the warehouse district proposed site. Secret Service would not let the limousine drive in part of the property, so the Clintons, Moore, Kumpuris, and Rutherford walked up a path to the roof of the abandoned Arkansas Book Depository.  It was there that the Clintons could see the Little Rock skyline which would be visible from the library.

Of course by the time the library had opened in November 2004, the Little Rock skyline was different. Spurred on by the library, several new highrises had been constructed in downtown.


Central to Creativity – Bruce Moore

Today’s feature is not a Central alum or faculty member – but he has been an active supporter of Central High School and is looking forward to being the father of a Central High student in a few years.

Bruce T. Moore was appointed as Little Rock City Manager on December 17, 2002, after having served as Assistant City Manager since April 1999. Prior to that appointment, he served in a variety of capacities with the City of Little Rock including Assistant to the Mayor and Assistant to the City Manager.

Bruce is one of a very few people who worked on the 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversary commemorations of the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High.  He served as Chair of the 60th anniversary activities.

As City Manager, Bruce is the principal adviser to the governing body on all operational matters pertaining to the overall direction and administration of municipal government overseeing nearly 2,500 employees and a budget of $222.6 million. In addition, he served as the lead City Staff person for the development of William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park in downtown Little Rock.

Brucehas a Master of Public Administration degree from Arkansas State University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Henderson State University. He is a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Arkansas City Manager’s Association (ACMA), immediate Past President of the National Forum of Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) Board of Directors, Chair of the Henderson State University Board of Trustees, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Downtown Little Rock Partnership Executive Board. He has been the recipient of the Just Communities of Arkansas Humanitarian Award, one of Arkansas Business’ “40 Under 40” and the United States Army Commendation Medal/Operation Desert Storm.

Bruce was selected by the United States/Japan Foundation as one of twenty Americans to participate in a two-year business and cultural exchange program with Japan. He also completed the Senior Executive in State and Local Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a graduate of Leadership Greater Little Rock. Bruce is Co-Chair of the Board of City Year Little Rock, and was recognized by City Year as the 2011 Red Jacket Ball honoree.


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Little Rock Look Back: Sixty Years of the Little Rock Nine

Sixty years ago today the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School and stayed. On one hand, this brought to the end a nearly month long standoff between segregationists and those who wanted to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.

In the bigger picture, the struggle did not end that day.  Throughout the remainder of the school year, the Little Rock Nine were subjected to threats, isolation and hostility.  Outside of the school, while the crowds may had dispersed after September 25, the raw feelings did not subside.

This was evidenced by the fact that the following year the high schools were closed to avoid having them integrated.

But September 25, 1957, was an historic day in the United States. Under guard of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School. This action by President Dwight Eisenhower was the result of the intrusive efforts of Governor Orval Faubus who had used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine students out.

The City of Little Rock was largely a bystander in this issue. The form of government was changing from Mayor-Council to City Manager in November 1957. Therefore Mayor Woodrow Mann and the entire City Council were lame ducks. Mann, whose son was a senior at Central, tried to focus on keeping the peace in Little Rock. Most (if not all) of his Council members sided with the Governor.

Congressman Brooks Hays, a Little Rock resident, had tried to broker an agreement between the President and the Governor but was unsuccessful.  Following that, Mayor Mann was in discussions with the White House about the ability of the Little Rock Police Department to maintain order.  Finally, in the interest of public safety, the President federalized the National Guard and removed them. This paved the way for the Army to come in.

Though the school year was not easy, the nine youths who became known worldwide as the Little Rock Nine were finally in school.  They were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee and Mayor Jim Dailey, famously held open the doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine on the 40th anniversary.  Ten years later, Clinton, Huckabee and Dailey returned joined by Governor Mike Beebe and Mayor Mark Stodola to host the 50th anniversary events.

Today, President Clinton was once again at Central.  This time he was joined by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Stodola.  Two people who have played parts in organizing all three of these commemorations are City Manager Bruce T. Moore and Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau.  Others, such as Skip Rutherford and Annie Abrams have participated in all three commemorations.

In light of its role in history, the school is a National Historic Site, while still functioning as a high school.


Little Rock Look Back: Mahlon A. Martin

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.


Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.


Susan Altrui is new director of Little Rock Zoo

cc15 altruiSusan Altrui will take the helm as the Little Rock Zoo’s new director, City Manager Bruce T. Moore announced today.  Altrui, who has been with the state’s only accredited zoo since 2005, fills the position left open by the retirement of longtime director Mike Blakely in October.

“Our goal is for the Little Rock Zoo to become one of the top mid-sized city zoos in the country,” Moore said. “Susan is the person to get us there because of her experience, dedication and vision. I’m excited to have her leading the Zoo as it continues its growth as a world-class institution focused on education, conservation and recreation.”

Altrui began her career at the Zoo as the director of marketing and development and executive director of the Arkansas Zoological Foundation. In July 2015, she was named the Zoo’s assistant director. She has been responsible for marketing, public relations, special events, development, government relations, and fundraising for the Zoo and has helped to maintain the Zoo’s accreditation.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to take on this important new role as the next director of the Little Rock Zoo. I’m ready to work hard with our city leaders, staff, volunteers, board members and other members of the community to grow and develop our Zoo,” Altrui said. “The Zoo is a place that nurtures our passion for animals and encourages respect for all living things. It’s a place where learning lives.”

Under Altrui’s guidance, the Zoo has raised funds for the Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe exhibit, the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost, Diamond Express Train and the Arkansas Heritage Farm exhibit, which opened in April of this year.

Altrui served as project manager for a new master plan and strategic plan. She also worked on the Zoo accreditation by attending hearings on three separate occasions before the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Accreditation Committee. She has developed several successful fundraisers, including Zoo Brew and the annual Wild Wines event, which is now one of Arkansas’s largest food and wine festivals.

Altrui holds a master’s degree in Applied Studies in Communication from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in the same area from Arkansas State University.

Ninety years ago, the Little Rock Zoo brought wildlife to the citizens of Arkansas with just two animals: an abandoned timber wolf and a circus-trained bear. Today, the Zoo is one of Arkansas’ most attended attractions, with approximately 300,000 visitors annually. It cares for more than 700 animals representing 200 different species, many endangered.

The Zoo is part of the AZA Species Survival Plan aimed at saving threatened/endangered species through cooperative breeding, a program that Altrui seeks to expand.

My goal as Zoo director is to enhance our conservation education efforts and to provide an engaging experience for every guest every time they walk through our gate,” Altrui said. “Updating and renovating the Zoo is essential and we have already begun the planning process for the next major animal exhibit. We are also revamping education efforts to provide exciting, engaging programming that helps inspire who you want to be and who you can become. We will help cultivate the next generation of biologists, wildlife scientists and conservationists.”