Little Rock Look Back: Mayor W. E. Lenon

OMayor Lenonn October 8, 1867 in Panora, Iowa, future Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon was born.  He was one of eleven children of John D. and Margaret M. Long Lenon.

Lenon came to Little Rock in 1888 after finishing his schooling in Iowa.  He helped set up an abstract company shortly after his arrival.  In 1902 he organized the Peoples Savings Bank.  Among his other business interests were the City Realty Company, the Factory Land Company, the Mountain Park Land Company, and the Pulaski Heights Land Company.

From 1895 to 1903, he was a Little Rock alderman, and in 1903, he was elected Mayor of the city. A progressive Mayor, he championed the construction of a new City Hall which opened in 1908.  At the first meeting of the City Council in that building, Mayor Lenon tendered his resignation.  His duties in his various business interests were taking up too much of his time.

Mayor Lenon had been a champion for the establishment of a municipal auditorium. He had wanted to include one in the new City Hall complex. But a court deemed it not permissible under Arkansas finance laws at the time.  He also worked to help establish the first Carnegie Library in Little Rock which opened in 1912.

Mayor Lenon continued to serve in a variety of public capacities after leaving office.  In the 1920s, he briefly chaired a public facilities board for an auditorium district. It appeared he would see his dream fulfilled of a municipal auditorium.  Unfortunately the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the enabling legislation invalid.

In 1889, he married Clara M. Mercer.  The couple had three children, two of whom survived him: a son W. E. Lenon Jr., and a daughter Vivion Mercer Lenon Brewer.  Together with Adolphine Fletcher Terry (also a daughter of a LR Mayor), Mrs. Brewer was a leader of the Women’s Emergency Committee.

Mayor Lenon died June 25, 1946 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery.  Lenon Drive just off University Avenue is named after Mayor Lenon.

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LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: CALS Opens New Downtown Main Library

On September 20, 1997, the Central Arkansas Library System debuted its new main library building.  The building had previously been the Fones Brothers Warehouse building and was repurposed by the Polk Stanley Yeary architectural firm.

The grand opening festivities included storytellers for children throughout the day as well as various special activities.  Linked balloons made to resemble bookworms greeted visitors to the front entrance.

The move and expansion were the dream of then-CALS Director Bobby Roberts.  The previous library space had limited parking and was in a confined (and confining) space with no room for expansion.

To prepare for the move from the old location at 7th and Louisiana Streets, the library’s main branch had closed in July.  They had to inventory the existing materials in anticipation of the move.  The actual transport of the 250,000 books was accomplished in three 16-hour work days by the 65 member staff.

The project cost $13 million dollars, most of which came from a millage approved by voters. The 200 seat auditorium was funded by overdue book fines and areas for the employees were financed by a patron bequest.

At the time it opened, the fifth floor remained undeveloped.

Since September 1997, the fifth floor has been developed and CALS has ultimately developed over one city block in what is now known as Library Square.

Little Rock Look Back: First Meeting of the WEC

Vivion Brewer, Adolphine Terry, and Pat House with an award presented to the WEC around the time the group disbanded.

On Tuesday, September 16, 1958, the first meeting of the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools took place at the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House in downtown Little Rock.  Fifty-eight women were in attendance at the initial meeting.

The group had been envisioned four days earlier, on September 12. At the time, Adolphine Fletcher Terry had invited Vivion Lenon Brewer and Velma Powell to her house to discuss the current school situation. Terry and Brewer were both daughters of former Little Rock mayors.  They were frustrated with the stalemate that was taking place with the Little Rock School District, the State, and the Federal Government.

In a conversation about the group with her friend Arkansas Gazette editor Harry Ashmore, Mrs. Terry stated, “The men have failed, it’s time to call out the women.”

The same day the trio met, an immediate concern superseded their general discontent.

On September 12, Governor Faubus had signed several segregationist bills into law. One of them gave him the authority to temporarily close schools in order to keep the from being integrated. After signing the bills, he issued an order closing Little Rock’s four high schools. He set October 2 as the election day for Little Rock voters to ratify or reject the closing.

The closure of the schools and impending election, gave an urgency and an immediate focus for the WEC. The women sprung into action.

The way the election law was written, keeping the schools open would require a majority of all registered voters — not just those voting in the election.  There were several other requirements written into the law that made it all but impossible to reject the closure.  Nonetheless the WEC went to work.  They wrote letters, made phone calls, made personal pleas, raised money, and placed newspaper ads.

Their need for a quick and efficient organization became even more paramount with the Governor moved the election forward to September 27.  His public reason was to remove the uncertainty; but privately he was likely concerned that there was organized opposition.

Though the voters approved keeping the high schools closed, the WEC was undaunted. They continued to work throughout the 1958-59 school year in a variety of ways. They backed candidates in the December 1958 school board elections, and succeeded in getting three moderates elected.  In May 1959, they were a crucial bloc in the campaign to recall of three segregationist school board members.

Following the reopening of the schools in 1959, the WEC continued to focus on social issues until disbanding in 1963.

The membership of the WEC was kept a secret. No official roll was kept.  With a membership which swelled to over 1,300, obviously not all attended meetings at once. There were well organized phone trees which quickly got the word out to the membership.  During elections, they would create files on all registered voters with codes for Saints, Sinners and Savable.

In an effort of intimidation (as if anyone could intimidate Adolphine Fletcher Terry), there were efforts to force the WEC to disclose membership lists. The officers and their legal counsel replied that there were no lists in existence, so there was nothing to disclose.

On March 13, 1998, the names of the WEC were made public for the first time when they were published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  This was done in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the year of the founding.  Later in the year, the names were etched in glass in the solarium of the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House.  (In the 1970s, the house was given by the family to the City of Little Rock for use by the Arkansas Arts Center.)

A ceremony at the house in October 1998 celebrated the 40th anniversary and the names permanently etched there.  First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton came back to Little Rock to deliver remarks at the ceremony.

Sara Murphy, a member of the WEC wrote a book about the organization which was published in 1997, shortly after her death.  Around the same time, Sandra Hubbard produced a documentary called The Giants Wore White Gloves.  A sold out screening of the film is scheduled today at the CALS Ron Robinson Theatre as a presentation of the Clinton School Speaker Series in conjunction with the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

Legacies & Lunch features Dr Brooks Blevins discussing his new book on the Ozarks

The Butler Center’s monthly Legacies & Lunch program is today.

Brooks Blevins will discuss his book A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1: The Old Ozarks, the first in a trilogy on the history of the region that includes most of the southern half of Missouri, much of northern Arkansas, and some of northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas.

Legacies & Lunch is free and open to the public. Programs are held from noon-1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided. For more information, contact 918-3033.

A native of Batesville, Brooks Blevins is the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. He is the author or editor of eight books, including: Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South; Arkansas, Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State; and Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and their Image.

RIP Ron Robinson

News has broken that longtime Little Rock ad man Ron Robinson has died.

His contributions to the advertising profession in Arkansas would be worthy of note in and of themselves. But Ron was much more than that.  He was a collector — of stamps, of movie posters, of sheet music, of many things.

If Arkansas was included in a piece of music or a film, Ron Robinson wanted it represented in his collection. The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) houses and is in the process of cataloging Robinson’s vast collection of sheet music, film posters, and other memorabilia connecting those industries with Arkansas’s history and culture.

The Ron Robinson Theater in the Arcade Building on the Library Square campus, the newest performance space in the River Market district bears Robinson’s name. Programming in the 325-seat multi-purpose event venue is designed for all ages and includes films, music performances, lectures, and children’s activities.

The Ron Robinson Collection includes a large number of pieces of sheet music of songs about Arkansas or with the state’s name in the song’s title, containing everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes describing the state to hits by Arkansas musicians such as Patsy Montana and the Browns to would-be state songs. The collection also includes a number of vintage recordings-including Edison disks of the “Arkansas Traveler”-and other materials depicting the state’s music. It will include Robinson’s huge collection of Arkansas-related movie posters, from which the Butler Center co-produced with him an exhibition last year called “Ark in the Dark,” as well as a vast number of pieces of Arkansas political memorabilia.

A native of Little Rock, Robinson has been an avid collector of all things Arkansas for the past fifty years. He is past chairman and chief executive officer of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, a full-service advertising, marketing, and public relations firm. He has served on numerous boards and committees including the Friends of Central Arkansas Libraries (FOCAL), Arthritis Foundation, United Way, American Red Cross Public Information Committee, Arkansas Arts Center, and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

2nd Friday (the 13th) Art Night

For those who do not have paraskevidekatriaphobia, tonight is a good night to stop by several downtown museums and galleries for 2nd Friday Art Night.

It runs from 5pm to 8pm (though times at some individual locations may vary slightly).

Among the locations and their offerings are:

CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (401 President Clinton Avenue) –

A Matter of Mind and Heart: Portraits of Japanese American Identity holds up a mirror to Arkansas and U.S. culture and asks what it means to be an American today. Displaying portraits created by Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, this exhibition invites visitors to reflect on American identity and challenge widely held assumptions about living in a diverse society.

A Legacy of Brewers  – Incorporating paintings from both private and public collections, this exhibition of paintings by Nicholas, Adrian, and Edwin Brewer includes portraits and landscapes featuring people and places in Arkansas, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas going back to the early 1900s.

Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E Third Street) – Justin Bryant: That Survival Apparatus.  The exhibit will contain pieces from Justin Bryant’s most recent body of work, which was made in response to Maya Angelou’s poem “Mask.” His drawings and paintings show the bottom half of black faces, images pulled from documentary and commercial photographs of famous individuals and civil rights leaders. Each mouth and chin is carefully rendered, while the eyes and other features are left blank.

Old State House Museum (300 W Markham Street) – Erin Enderlin in Concert.  Beginning at 5:30 p.m., Enderlin will perform on the second floor of the museum. Recently named to the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2018, Enderlin is an Arkansas native and award-winning singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville, Tenn.

Christ Episcopal Church (500 Scott Street) – a selection of small works including paintings and mixed media by a variety of artists from the Little Rock area.

Matt McLeod Fine Art (108 E Sixth Street) – Arkansas League of Artists 2018 Members Show and Sale.

Other participating sites include Nexus Coffee and Creative (301 President Clinton Avenue); The Art Group Gallery in the Marriott Little Rock (3 Statehouse Plaza), Bella Vita (523 S Louisiana), and Gallery 221 (221 W Second Street).