Little Rock Look Back: First City Auditorium Approved

1906 auditoriumOn August 20, 1906, the Little Rock City Council approved plans for the City’s first municipal auditorium.

A week earlier, businessman A. C. Read petitioned the City for the right to construct a skating rink.  The matter was referred to the Street & Fire Committee, the Superintendent of Public Works and Aldermen Louis Volmer and Benjamin S. Thalheimer, who represented the Sixth Ward, in which the structure would be located.

Neither the Gazette nor the Democrat carried a mention of this petition in their coverage of that meeting.  By the next Council meeting a week later, the committee had reported back with a recommendation for approval.  Resolution 288 was adopted giving Mr. Read the right to build the skating rink.  Interestingly, the resolution did not contain the words “skating rink” though the original petition had.  Instead it permitted Mr. Read to construct a building “suitable for purposes as defined” by the City.  The resolution also stated that within three years the building would become property of the City.

Based on photos and postcards, the exterior of the building appears to have been covered in stucco.  It was said to be modeled after San Antonio’s Alamo, but what that really meant was that it was in the Spanish Revival style.  It was shorter and had more entrances than the Texas building did.  The Markham Street façade featured faux windows and a front portico which extended the length of the building only interrupted by three entrance archways. The center one was taller and wider than the eastern and western entrances.  All three, which projected southward from the building, mimicked the outline of the auditorium building.

The building was located on the western half of the City Hall property (and was constructed before City Hall).  In 1912, the new Little Rock Central Fire Station (now the City Hall West Wing) was built between the auditorium and Markham Street.  The auditorium stood until 1920.  During that time it was used as a roller rink, opera house, rifle range, National Guard armory, convention hall, and gymnasium.

Heritage Month – U.S. Arsenal Tower Building

MacPark ArsenalToday is Armed Forces Day.  It is an appropriate day to look at the U. S. Arsenal Tower Building.  Construction on the Little Rock Arsenal began in 1838 and was completed in 1840.  The complex grew to include more than thirty buildings. The arsenal building itself was a two story brick building with an unusual central octagonal tower between two wings. The tower was actually used to move munitions between floors of the building. Other buildings included office buildings, a storehouse, a magazine, a guardhouse, a hospital and other service structures. The hospital and service structures were built of wood.

On 25 Jul 1873 the Little Rock Arsenal became the Little Rock Barracks and remained that until the facility was abandoned 25 Sep 1890. The tower building was converted into married officer quarters. Douglas MacArthur was born 26 Jan 1880, in the tower building at the Little Rock Barracks to then Captain Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and his wife.

The site was turned over to the city 23 Apr 1892, stipulated for use as a city park. In return, the City of Little Rock gave the U.S. Government 1,000 acres  on which Fort Logan H. Roots was established by the U.S. Congress on the same date, 23 Apr 1892. All of the remaining buildings on the original site were sold or destroyed except the Arsenal Tower building.

The land became known as City Park and later MacArthur Park.  The Tower Building remained empty and in deteriorating condition until the late 1930s, when the City of Little Rock renovated the building.  For many years, the Aesthetic Club met in the building as the only tenant.  When others refused to pay the utilities, the Aesthetic Club members did.  The organization continues to meet in the building.

In 1942, the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities opened in the building; it had previously been located in Little Rock’s City Hall. The name of the museum changed in 1964 to the Museum of Science and Natural History, and again in 1983 to the Arkansas Museum of Science and History. In 1997, the museum moved to a new location in the River Market, where it now is known as the Museum of Discovery.

In May 2001, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History opened in the building.

The structure was listed in National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1970.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.