Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: LR votes to Restore Robinson!

restore-robinson-121013On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.

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RobinsoNovember: Election Days in 1937, 1940 and 2013

Since today is Election Day, it is appropriate to look back at the three different campaigns to build, furnish, and restore Robinson Center Music Hall.  (Note, there have been at least two other General Capital Bond elections which contained money for Robinson, but those were not stand alone elections about the auditorium and have thus been excluded.

1937-robinson-election1937

On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters were asked to approve three bond programs which would build a municipal auditorium, expand the City library, and construct a park for African Americans.  Each issue had its own group of supporters, though they all encouraged “Yes” votes for each question.  The “Forward Little Rock Committee” (sometimes referred to as the “Little Rock Forward Committee) was headed by W. H. Williams and led the charge for the auditorium.   The bonds for the auditorium would be $468,000 in general obligation bonds which would be paid off between 1940 and 1971.  This was toward a total cost of $760,000 for the entire project.

The campaign stressed the economic benefits from all the conventions which would be held in Little Rock after an auditorium was constructed.  The focus was as much, if not more, on the exhibition hall space as it was about the music hall space.   The Municipal Auditorium had the lowest level of support of all three issues, but it still passed overwhelmingly.  It is interesting to note that the design featured in the campaign ad bears little resemblance to the project which was actually constructed.

The final vote total was 1,518 for and 519 against. The project passed in each of the City’s 23 precincts.

 

1940-robinson-election1940

Because the project ran out of money, Robinson Auditorium opened in February 1940 with out any landscaping, furnishings in the meeting rooms, and a lack of equipment in various areas throughout the facility.  To remedy this, additional bonds for the auditorium were added to a request put to the voters on April 2, 1940.  The dollar amount was $30,000 for the completion of the project.  The other two issues were additional fire equipment and establishment of an administrative building at the municipal airport.

The campaign for the new bonds used a similar structure and message as the 1937 election to build the auditorium.  There were newspaper ads by the steering committee (this time simply called the Citizen’s Committee and led by Omar Throgmorton) and support from civic organizations.  One thing very different from the 1937 campaign was the presence of an actual building.  On Sunday, March 31, just two days before the election, there was an open house for the public to explore the edifice.  From 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., members of various Little Rock Boy Scout troops led 4,000 visitors on tours of the auditorium.  Visitors were shown all over the building; one scout calculated that the walking tour equated to two miles.  Though most people were from Little Rock, the guest registry indicated visitors from California and Pennsylvania

On election day, the Auditorium bonds passed with a vote of 1,413 to 423.  Every precinct in every ward of the city voted in favor of the new bonds.

 

restore-robinson-20132013

In an effort to bring Robinson Center Music Hall into the 21st Century, the Advertising and Promotion Commission (which took over administration of Robinson in 1971) leadership decided to dedicate the renewal of their bonds to the renovation of Robinson.  What had been built as a 1940 civic auditorium did not meet the artistic or convention needs of the 2010s.  The Restore Robinson Committee was led by former LR Mayor Jim Dailey, civic leader Charles Stewart and A&P Commissioner Capi Peck.  In campaign literature Mr. Stewart noted: “An upgraded Robinson will allow thousands of children and residents from Little Rock to enjoy future dance recitals, graduations and community gathering in a spectacular new performance and events center.”

Plans called for taking the historic building down to its exterior walls (except for the front lobby which remained).  The music hall level was to be dropped 30 feet to street level.  A new conference center would wrap around the northern facade of the structure.

The referendum passed with 5,183 For vs. 1,800 Against.

The building closed on July 1, 2014 with a ceremonial breaking of the stage flooring.  On July 1, 2015, the reconstruction “topping out” ceremony took place.  The ribbon cutting for the new structure will take place on November 10, 2016, at 10 a.m.


National Park Service Director, Local Leaders to Speak at Black History Month Town Hall Meeting

Feb 2 NPS eventLittle Rock Central High School National Historic Site in partnership with Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and the City of Little Rock, invite the public to join them for a Black History Month Town Hall Meeting entitled Arkansas’s Past-N-Motion to be held at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at 5:30pm on February 2, 2016.

National Park Service Agency Director Jonathan Jarvis will serve as the guest speaker, and will discuss the National Parks Centennial Celebration, his tour to several of our nation’s civil rights-related historic sites and parks, and the importance of the National Park Service’s role in preserving and sharing our country’s history for future generations.  After his remarks, a panel discussion with local individuals will discuss several local institutions, and their roles and recent initiatives in preserving and sharing our city’s African American history, and its unique place in our nation’s civil rights movement.  This discussion will feature State Senator Joyce Elliott as moderator, and feature local panelists: Constance Sarto, Member, Mayor’s Tourism Commission; Dr. John Kirk – Director, UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity; and Charles Stewart, Chairman, Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

This Town Hall Meeting will highlight the resources of Civil Right institutions both from a national and local perspective, and the role of the National Park Service as the nation’s storyteller as it prepares to embark upon its Centennial 100th Birthday celebration on August 25, 2016.

During Director Jarvis’ time in Arkansas, he plans to visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, engage Youth Leadership Academy members from Central High School as well as elementary students around the new White House youth initiative to get all 4th graders and their families to experience the places that are home to our country’s natural treasures, rich history, and vibrant culture FREE OF CHARGE! His visit to Arkansas will mark the start of Director Jarvis’ month-long endeavor to promote Civil Rights Sites during Black History Month.

They have also created the hashtag #ARPastNMotion to encourage local community groups to share information regarding any upcoming events relating to Black History Month.

For more information, please contact Enimini Ekong at (501) 396-3006 or Enimini_Ekong@nps.gov, or visit www.LittleRock.com/NPS.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is located at 2120 Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, diagonally across the street from Central High School. The visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.  Admission is free. For more information call (501) 374-1957 or email chsc_visitor_center@nps.gov.


Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock votes to Restore Robinson

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014, with a completion scheduled for November 2016.