Little Rock Look Back: The 2004 opening of the Clinton Presidential Center

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

The days leading up to it had 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 S. 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, Ben Beaumont, Denver Peacock — 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.

Among those present were Oscar winning actors Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams, and (of course) Arkansan Mary Steenburgen.  Future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman was also in attendance. Among the Oscar nominees who were present were Bono and The Edge (who performed at the ceremony) and Alfre Woodard.  It was the first public appearance by Senator John Kerry after his loss earlier in the month to President George W. Bush. Scores of Senators and members of Congress as well as countless Clinton Administration staffers were also in attendance.

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

 

 

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Little Rock Look Back: Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Robinson Center

On November 16, 2004, the rafters of Robinson Center Music Hall were shaken by the vocal prowess of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brought Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

Earlier in the day, I had the privilege of picking up several copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography for her to get signed by him.  I delivered them to her as she was resting between rehearsals. She was preparing for an interview with Craig O’Neill, and I hated disturbing her. But I wanted to be sure she got the books.  She was gracious and very appreciative.

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock announced as Clinton Library site

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.

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: Dedication of Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and Bill Clark Wetlands

Photo by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

On a very warm Friday, September 30, 2011, the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge was dedicated.  This completed the eastern loop of the Arkansas River Trail as well as created another feature in Clinton Presidential Park.

The ceremony featured remarks by both President Bill Clinton and the incumbent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Chelsea Clinton also took part in the ceremony.  Former US Senators (and Arkansas Governors) Dale Bumpers and David Pryor were in attendance as was Jim Guy Tucker who followed Clinton into the Arkansas Governor’s Office.  Current Governor Mike Beebe was also present and took part in the ceremony, which was emceed by Stephanie Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation.  Many other former and current elected officials were present.

In addition to dedicating the bridge, the ceremony officially dedicated the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Wetlands which are adjacent to the bridge.  City Director Dean Kumpuris joined Clark’s widow, Margaret, and son, William, in the dedication of the wetlands.

This Clinton Presidential Park Bridge is over 2,600 ft. long.  It was constructed in 1899 as the Rock Island Bridge.  After the Rock Island stopped using the bridge, the lift span was permanently raised.  It had to stay this was for the Clinton redevelopment.  Therefore a new surface was built that slopingly takes persons from park level up to the span level and back down.

The bridge’s “rusty” structure is complemented by a well-lit 12-18-foot walkway flanked on both sides by silver galvanized steel handrails.
The total investment for this area is over $13.5 million.
Later that weekend, the Clinton Foundation hosted an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Clinton’s announcement that he was seeking the Presidency.

The Clinton Center seeks feedback on future exhibit ideas

Be a Museum Curator for a Day – or at least for a few minutes.

The Clinton Presidential Center is seeking public input on future temporary exhibit ideas. They want to hear from you!

What temporary exhibits would you like to see on display at the Clinton Center? Share your opinion and be entered into a drawing for a Clinton Center prize pack!

Complete the short survey here:

On National Dog Day, a Look at Four Canine Sculptures in Little Rock

August 26 is National Dog Day!  To mark this occasion, here are four sculptures found in Little Rock which feature dogs.  Two are in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, one is in the Bill Clark Wetlands, and the other is at the Little Rock Animal Village.

Ken Newman’s FOREVER READY was donated in 2009 by the Sculpture at the River Market.   It is sited in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden.  Mr. Newman is a member of the National Sculptors’ Guild.  One of Mr. Newman’s specialties is animals.  Cast in bronze, Forever Ready depicts a Labrador.  Here is Mr. Newman’s artist statement on the piece.

So, ‘Forever Ready’ is that reflection of the breed (hunter, companion and teacher)…Capturing its intense nature with discipline and loyalty, I have set the lab on edge so intense, that if not given the command to go, it will just fall off. But, it is able to maintain balance – wet and ready to go again. The lab’s shadow is cast in the water below, for a I cannot think of a lab without water.

A few yards from Forever Ready, another dog stands inquisitively.  Commissioned in 2010 and unveiled in 2011, Dan Glanz’s BORIS is a likeness of Boris Kumpuris, the dog and companion of Mary and Dr. Dean Kumpuris.

Glanz captures the friendly and inquisitive nature of Boris in this work, which can be found in the Vogel Schwarz sculpture garden. Most weekends Boris can be seen with Dean as the two walk through Riverfront Park and the River Market. Boris explores and inspects the park along with Dean. Each year during the Sculpture at the River Market show, Boris visits with Dean and meets all the sculptors.

The sculpture was donated by longtime Kumpuris family friend Margaret Clark. She and her late husband Bill were two of the earliest supporters of sculpture along the Arkansas River. They donated another piece in honor of their grandchildren. A sculpture in memory of Bill was stands in the wetlands park which bears his name.

The Bill Clark Wetlands is actually the location of the third dog.  It is Chloe, Bill Clark’s faithful hunting dog.  She stands next to Bill in Clay Enoch’s sculpture STEADY.  Dedicated in 2011, it was a tribute to the man who helped build the Clinton Presidential Library.

This tribute to Clark shows Bill and Chloe in an early morning duck hunt scanning the horizon.  It is also positioned so that Bill is also gazing at the Clinton Presidential Center. His firm was the contractor on that building, and he spent thousands of hours walking in the area looking at the building during the construction.

A portion of the ground he trod during construction has been set aside as the Bill Clark Wetlands, and STEADY is placed in the wetlands as a memorial to Bill.

In 2015, the Little Rock Animal Village unveiled Lorri Acott’s WHO RESCUED WHO.  Located at the entrance to the Little Rock Animal Village, it depicts a person and dog looking at each other. They are sharing a bond of respect, admiration and love.

The human figure has Acott’s trademark extended length legs. These represent the ability to overcome obstacles and rise above adversity.  This is even more apt when considering the role that pets can play in our lives, as well as the role humans play in “adopting” rescued pets.

The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of Jack Adcock. It is given by his family, which includes longtime City Director Joan Adcock, their two children, eleven grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.