Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: HAIR’s Sun Shines In to Robinson Auditorium

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-six years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.

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Little Rock Look Back: Last meeting of Pulaski Heights City Council

The signatures by Recorder A. M. Edwards and Mayor L. H. Bradley on the final Pulaski Heights City Council minutes

102 years ago today, the Pulaski Heights City Council held its final meeting.  Following the January 4 annexation election, Mayor L. H. Bradley convened the Pulaski Height City Council for the final time on January 10, 1916.

Five of the eight aldermen were present for the final meeting.  E. T. Reaves, R. G. Trickett, W.A. Turner, J. B. Webster, and H.C. Locklar.  Absent were J. S. Murphy, J.H. Hicks, and W. H. Keeton.

The City Recorder was A. M. Edwards, while O. E. White was Treasurer and Jonathan P. Streepey was City Attorney.

At the meeting, bills were paid and allowances were made for the transfer of assets and responsibilities to the City of Little Rock.  The minutes do not reflect if there were any valedictory addresses by any of the elected officials, which were common at that era.

Once Mayor Bradley and the Council had worked their way through the agenda, Alderman Reaves made the motion to adjourn the council sine die which was seconded by Alderman Webster. The motion passed unanimously.  With that, the Pulaski Heights City Council, which had first met in 1904, finished its business.


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Little Rock Look Back: First LR Council meeting after Civil War

One hundred and fifty two years ago today, Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley


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Little Rock Look Back: John Gould Fletcher (the politician not the poet)

Future Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher was born on January 6 in 1831. The son of Henry Lewis and Mary Lindsey Fletcher, he later served as a Captain in the Capital Guards during the Civil War. One of his fellow soldiers was Peter Hotze.

Following the war, he and Hotze began a general merchandise store in Little Rock. They were so successful that they eventually dropped the retail trade and dealt only in cotton. Peter Hotze had his office in New York, while Fletcher supervised company operations in Little Rock. In 1878 Fletcher married Miss Adolphine Krause, sister-in-law of Hotze.

John Gould Fletcher was elected Mayor of Little Rock from 1875 to 1881. He was the first Mayor under Arkansas’ new constitution which returned all executive powers to the office of the Mayor (they had been split under a reconstruction constitution). Following his service as Mayor, he served one term as Pulaski County Sheriff. Mayor Fletcher also later served as president of the German National Bank in Little Rock.

Mayor and Mrs. Fletcher had five children, three of whom lived into adulthood. Their son was future Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Gould Fletcher (neither father nor son used the Sr. or Jr. designation). Their two daughters who lived to adulthood were Adolphine Fletcher Terry (whose husband David served in Congress) and Mary Fletcher Drennan.

In 1889, Mayor Fletcher purchased the Pike House in downtown Little Rock. The structure later became known as the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House. It was from this house that Adolphine Fletcher Terry organized the Women’s Emergency Committee which worked to reopen the Little Rock public schools during the 1958-1959 school year.
In the 1960s, sisters Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan deeded the house to the City of Little Rock for use by the Arkansas Arts Center. For several decades it served as home to the Arts Center’s contemporary craft collection. It now is used for special events and exhibitions.

Mayor Fletcher died in 1906 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery along with various members of his family. Several of his descendants still reside in Little Rock.


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Little Rock Look Back: Voters approve annexation of Pulaski Heights into LR

010416 PH electionOn January 4, 1916, voters in Little Rock and Pulaski Heights voted overwhelmingly to annex the latter into the former.

First platted in 1890, Pulaski Heights had been incorporated as a city in August 1905.  By 1915, Pulaski Heights was booming.  It was growing so fast, that its infrastructure and public safety needs were far outpacing the city’s ability to pay for them.  Though there was a ribbon of commercial businesses along Prospect Avenue (now Kavanaugh Boulevard), it did not produce enough sales tax revenue to pay for City services. Then, as now, property taxes were also an important part of city revenue sources but not sufficient without sales taxes.

The City of Little Rock, likewise, was looking for ways to grow physically. At the time, the City was hemmed in by a river to the north and low, marshy land to the east. Current development was to the south, but even that presented limits in the foreseeable future. The best option was to grow to the west, but Pulaski Heights was in the way.  In 1915, Little Rock Mayor Charles Taylor (after failing in a previous attempt to re-annex North Little Rock into Little Rock), approached Pulaski Heights leadership about the possibility of annexation.

010516 PH electionIn November 1915, there were public meetings in Little Rock and Pulaski Heights to discuss the issue.  As a part of the annexation, Little Rock promised to build a fire station in the area and to install traffic lights, sidewalks and pave more streets.

On January 4, 1916, Little Rock voters approved the annexation of Pulaski Heights by a ten-to-one margin. The majority of Pulaski Heights residents also approved the deal.  The suburb became the city’s ninth ward.

Another special election was held in January 1916 to select the first two aldermen from the 9th Ward.  L. H. Bradley, John P. Streepy and Tom Reaves ran for the two slots. Bradley and Streepy were the top two vote recipients.  Streepy served until April 1921 and Bradley served until April 1928.

This established a couple of precedents for the City of Little Rock which are in effect to this day.  The first is that Little Rock would not be a central city surrounded by a variety of small incorporated towns (in the manner that St. Louis and other cities are).  It was this thought process which has led the City to continue to annex properties.


Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Little Rock Board of Trustees

On Monday, January 2, 1826, Little Rock voters elected their first Board of Trustees. This five member governing body was authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in October 1825.  The five men getting the most votes were Bernard Smith, Isaac Watkins, James C. Collins, Ezra Owens and Sam C. Roane.

The evening of the election, the Board of Trustees held their first meeting.  They chose Mr. Smith (a former US Congressman from New Jersey) as the president.  To serve as the clerk, the men selected Jesse Brown, who was Little Rock’s first school teacher.

In June 1826, Robert Crittenden was appointed to fill out the remainder of Mr. Owens’ term.  The latter had resigned, though media accounts do not indicate why.

Mr. Smith, whose job was as secretary to the governor of Arkansas, would serve on the Board through 1828.  Mr. Watkins served until his murder in December 1827.  Mr. Collins served in 1826 and again in 1828.  Mr. Roane only served in 1826.  Mr. Crittenden served a full term in 1827 and then again in 1830 and 1831.

The Little Rock Board of Trustees was disbanded with the January 1832 election of Little Rock’s first mayor and aldermen.


Little Rock Look Back: Elections on New Year’s Day

M_Cunningham_fIn the first few decades of Little Rock, municipal elections usually took place on January 1.  While occasionally they would take place on another day, it was usually when January 1 fell on a Sunday.

On January 1, 1832, Dr. Matthew Cunningham was elected as Little Rock’s first mayor.  He convened the first Town Council meeting at his house later in January.   (More on that meeting in another post later this month.)

By the 1850s and 1860s, elections were still in January but no longer took place on New Year’s Day.   Municipal elections moved to April with the adoption of the 1874 state constitution.  In the late 1940s, they moved to November to be in line with the federal and state general elections.