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.

Rock the Oscars: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, he defected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.

Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

Happy 100th Birthday to Kirk Douglas

Actor-director-producer Kirk Douglas turns 100 today! 

In 1994, at the tender age of 78, Douglas received a Kennedy Center Honor during the second year of President Bill Clinton’s first administration.  

While the awards are non-partisan and the presidents have no role on selecting the recipients, there is usually some mutual admiration between the arts legends and the leader of the free world.  

At a White House reception prior to the 1994 presentation, President Clinton remarked that he and his wife had been watching all of Mr. Douglas’s movies and were “wondering whether, when the history of this Administration is over, it will be more like ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”   The jury may still be out on that one.

Arkansas Heritage Month – The architecture of AIA/ALA award winning CALS libraries by Polk Stanley Wilcox

To encourage excellence in the architectural design and planning of libraries, the AIA and the American Library Association/Library Administration and Management Association created this award to distinguish accomplishments in library architecture.  In 2011 and again in 2015, Polk Stanley Wilcox won the award for projects designed for the Central Arkansas Library System.

AIA ALA PSW ASIThe 2011 award went to for work on the Arkansas Studies Institute.  This actually combines three buildings of three different centuries and construction types into one architectural timeline, evoking imagery of pages of an opening book.

The Arkansas Studies Institute is a repository for 10 million historic documents and the papers of seven Arkansas Governors, including President Bill Clinton. Located in a thriving entertainment district comprised of rejuvenated warehouses near the Arkansas River, the design combines significant, but neglected buildings from the 1880’s and 1910’s with a new technologically expressive archive addition. This creates a pedestrian focused, iconic gateway to the public library campus – and the public face of Arkansas history.

The design philosophy is based literally on the book – a physical container of information, with pages flowing into a site-sensitive narrative of the building’s function. Taking cues from the medium for which the Institute was created, the entrance acts as an abstract book cover, pulled away from the building as a double wall, defusing western sunlight and heat in the atrium beyond.

Public Spaces – galleries, a café, museum, and meeting rooms – enliven streetscape storefronts, while the great library research hall encompasses the entire second floor of the 1914 warehouse building. A thin atrium pulls the new structure away to protect the old, stretching the building’s length and flooding all levels with light – a key sustainable strategy. 100 historic images in glass handrails signify that architecture can and should actively engage in storytelling. Suspended bridges span the gap between new and old, open and secure, today and yesterday.

The Arkansas Studies Institute weaves history, research, pedestrians, and a restored streetscape together, healing a gaping wound in the urban fabric, while expanding environmental stewardship into the public realm and serving as a beacon of knowledge.

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCIn 2015, the award went to PSW for their work on the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.

Based on experiential learning where hands-on education teaches life skills needed to become responsible adults, a new Children’s Library and Learning Center boosts hopes for a neglected neighborhood, serves as an exemplary tale of urban renewal, and acts as a beacon of hope for an entire city.

This “community embedded, supportive learning center” offers not only books, but also a performance space, teaching kitchen, greenhouse, vegetable garden, and an arboretum. It is the state’s first library holistically imagined as a children’s education destination. The Library Director’s challenge was to create a “playground without equipment” where nature and imagination create grand adventures on an abandoned six acre site in the heart of the capital city. A charrette with youth uncovered a surprising and heartbreaking result: their top desire wasn’t for the latest video game technologies… it was food security. They wanted to learn how to feed themselves. Children also desired a place that was uplifting, inspirational and full of natural light, while in contrast feeling safe, secure, and sheltered. They wanted a place that “lifted expectations”.

An interstate highway—the railroad tracks of our generation—split Little Rock 40 years ago and destroyed a unified city grid, contributing to racial and socioeconomic divisions that separated citizens physically and emotionally. The site’s border condition became a national symbol for gang violence when featured in a 1990’s HBO documentary. Its opposite side, however, continued to be the city’s version of New York City’s Central Park—the place to live, work, and play. The design team’s overarching idea was centered on three moves: bridge the gap by stretching the park across the highway, create a library that is “the place to be” for all children, and develop civic pride in an underserved neighborhood, helping to mend partitions that have plagued the city for so long.

Landscape ecology and urban connectivity themes provide experiential education. Children see natural vegetation representing the state’s varied ecological regions from the Ozark Highlands to the Mississippi Delta. Two bus lines within a quarter mile assure access from distances, while the hundreds of children living within a half mile can walk or bike. An instructional greenhouse, gardens, and teaching kitchen allow children to cultivate, harvest, prepare meals, and sell produce in a planned farmer’s market. A full time ‘Environmental Educator’ oversees programs, teaching proper use of water, energy, and resources, and how we keep healthy through decisions made within the built environment. The lobby’s smart monitors can display real time water and energy consumption. Mechanical and structural systems are purposefully exposed so operations and construction methods can be discussed.

While this Library exceeded expectations by achieving LEED Gold, the true measure of success beyond points is the neighborhood’s feel, which shifted from dangerous to full of life and pride. The library is a safe zone and home to a sustainable-minded community.

Last Week to see First Ladies Gowns

OSH GownsThe Old State House Museum’s First Ladies’ Gown collection, which contains over 120 years of inaugural gowns worn by Arkansas’s First Ladies, will temporarily close to the public on September 8, 2014, so the gowns can be assessed for conservation needs. The last day to see the collection before the assessment is September 7, 2014.

“The Arkansas First Ladies Gowns at the Old State House Museum are, through the years, our most popular artifacts,” said Bill Gatewood, director of the Old State House Museum. ”Our responsibility to preserve the gowns yet make them accessible to the public creates a very challenging situation.  The Museum staff’s decision to begin conservation of the gowns exhibit must balance both considerations.”

During routine assessments this summer, Old State House Museum staff began noticing deterioration of many gowns. Two gowns were immediately removed from display for conservation, and internal discussion began about the futures of every gown. The decision was made to quickly move to have the gowns assessed.

“During a routine survey of artifacts on exhibit I noticed signs of stress on certain gowns in our First Ladies gowns exhibit,” said Jo Ellen Maack, curator at the Old State House Museum. “Upon closer inspection I determined a conservator specializing in textiles should examine the collection. My goal is to create a prioritized list of conservation needs for gowns in the exhibit. Once these needs have been identified, treatment will begin. The challenge is to do this while keeping as much of the exhibit as possible open to the public.”

The assessment will take place at the Old State House Museum beginning September 8 and the exhibit will be closed during this process. The collection will be examined by Textile Conservation Services and handled by Harold Mailand, who first examined the gowns in 1983. Mailand will examine the condition of each gown and work with the professional staff at the Old State House Museum to create a preservation strategy, and may include immediate removal of some gowns from display. The exhibit will then re-open. At a later date, more gowns may be removed from exhibit at the Old State House Museum to an off-site location to make changes in casework and lighting in the exhibit. The exhibit would be closed for several months if the Museum feels it necessary to make those upgrades..

“Even though the physical gowns may not be on permanent display at the Old State House Museum, we’re committed to providing access to information, photos and educational programs about the gowns through the Web, our publications, and any emerging media that becomes available” Gatewood said.

The First Ladies’ Gowns collection was the first exhibit to showcase Arkansas history at the Old State House Museum, debuting in 1955. The oldest gown in the collection is from 1889 and belonged to Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle, the wife of Arkansas’s 16th Governor James Philip Eagle. The collection contains 30 inaugural dresses, including four from former Arkansas First Lady and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Currently, visitors to the Museum are able to view all 30 gowns, minus the two removed earlier this year, belonging to Elizabeth Little and Ewilda Robinson. After the assessment, the ability for visitors to view all the gowns at once may change.

The First Ladies’ Gowns collection is just one of many collections the Old State House Museum is tasked with maintaining and preserving. Other textile collections curated by the Museum include Civil War flags and quilts sewn by black Arkansans.  The Old State House Museum will provide updates about the gowns on social media including Facebook, Twitter and e-mail lists.

About the Old State House Museum

The Old State House Museum is a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage and shares the goal of all seven Department of Arkansas Heritage agencies, that of preserving and enhancing the heritage of the state of Arkansas. The agencies are Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Historic Arkansas Museum, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and the Old State House Museum.

Sundays in the Library with Hillary (Starting in September)

READSunday can now be one more fun day with extended library hours at the Central Arkansas Library System’s (CALS) Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center, 4800 West 10th Street.  Beginning September 7, the Children’s Library’s operating hours will include Sundays from 1-5 p.m.

The interior of the Children’s Library includes a computer lab with fourteen computers, teaching kitchen, large activity area, individual and group study rooms, theater, and community room in addition to a collection of more than 21,000 books, DVDs, and CDs.   The grounds are on a six-acre site which includes a greenhouse and teaching garden, walking paths, and an amphitheater. The surroundings reflect the topography of Arkansas’s ecosystems, from the native hardwood trees in the highlands to vegetation of the wetland areas, which are both planted and original to the site.

The Children’s Library hours are Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. The Main Library, 100 Rock Street, is also open on Sundays from 1-5 p.m.

The Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center is one of fourteen CALS branches serving Pulaski and Perry counties. For more information, call 978-3870 or visit

Little Rock Look Back: Nixon Resigns


Nixon with Mills

Forty years ago today, Richard M. Nixon resigned as the President of the United States.  Five months earlier, in a press conference in Little Rock, Congressman Wilbur Mills predicted that Nixon would resign.  Mills, still chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, predicted that the resignation might be prompted by errors in his tax returns.  As part of investigations into Nixon resulting from Watergate, the President’s taxes were being reviewed by Congress.

Nixon had been the first Republican President since the Reconstruction era to win Arkansas and gain the state’s electoral votes in 1972.  The 1968 election cycle had seen third-party candidate George Wallace win the state’s votes though Nixon handily won that election too.

Little Rock weighed prominently in Nixon’s earlier career.  He was Vice President when Eisenhower sent the troops into Little Rock to ensure the Little Rock Nine would desegregate Central High School.  In a 1960 Presidential debate, he and Senator Kennedy were asked whether they would have sent in the troops.  Kennedy begrudgingly said that he would have, though he would have wished the situation were different.  Nixon did not really answer the question, but instead used it as an opportunity to point out that Senator Johnson, as Kennedy’s running mate, had actively opposed civil rights legislation at the time.

There are many other connections between Nixon and Little Rock.  During his Presidency he both relied up and clashed with Arkansas’ legislative giants: Mills, Senator J. William Fulbright and Senator John L. McClellan.  Hillary Clinton served on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee as it investigated Nixon.  It would be during Bill Clinton’s presidency that Nixon died.