Little Rock Look Back: First Dance at Robinson Auditorium

In October 1939, it looked as if Robinson Auditorium would never open.  The construction had run out of money.  But in an effort to generate a little revenue and give the public the chance to see the building, a few events were booked in the lower level.

At the time, the entrance to the lower level was off of Garland Street which ran to the north of the structure.

While Mayor J. V. Satterfield and other leaders were in Washington seeking additional funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium hosted its first event.  On October 4, 1939, the convention hall on the lower level was the site of a preview dance.  The pecan block flooring had been installed just the week before.

RC-dance-orchestraThe first four people to enter the building as paying guests were Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wilheim, Frances Frazier and Bill Christian.  Reports estimated 3,200 people attended and danced to the music of Jan Garber and His Orchestra.

By happenstance, Garber and his musicians had also played in Little Rock on January 26, 1937, the date of the election which approved the auditorium bonds.  Since Little Rock then did not have a suitable space, that appearance had been on the stage of the high school auditorium.

The dance was a success.  But as the building had no heating or cooling mechanism at the time, there were limits as to how long even the lower level could be in use.  After a few weeks, the PWA, which was still in charge of the construction site, halted all future bookings.

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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: Cornice installed at Robinson Auditorium

On June 1, 1939, the cornice was installed on Robinson Auditorium.  This granite slab noted the name of the building as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  (It is interesting to note that it used the more modern “u” instead of the classical “v” which was often used in buildings during prior decades – as evidenced by the Pvlaski Covnty Covrt Hovse across the street.)

This was a milestone marking the completion of the front facade of the structure.  Much work would continue on the interior of the structure.  This step in the construction was considered major enough that the Arkansas Gazette mentioned it in a news article.

(June 1, 1939, was also the first day on the job for the auditorium’s first director – William T. Clemons.  A former Little Rock resident who came from Rochester NY.  The Auditorium Commission which hired him would not disclose the sources of his salary, but assured Mayor J. V. Satterfield the money did not come from City coffers.)

On this date in 2015 and 2016, the cornice was again surrounded by construction materials and braces. But the restoration of Robinson Center finished in November 2016. Once again, the cornice stands proudly atop the six columns with no impediments around it.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor J. V. Satterfield

On May 14, 1902, future Little Rock Mayor John Vines Satterfield, Jr. was born in Marion.   He grew up in Little Rock and Earle. J.V. was a star quarterback for the Earle football team and is featured in a painting of that team by respected painter Carroll Cloar.

Following high school, J.V. taught (including, much to his family’s amusement, a course in penmanship) and coached and sold Fords.  He then moved to Little Rock and sold insurance and later securities.  In 1931 he opened his own business; that same year he built a house at 40 Beverly Place in Little Rock, which would serve as his home until his death.

J. V. Satterfield was elected to serve as Mayor of Little Rock in 1939 and served one term, until 1941.  He was credited with saving the City from bankruptcy because of his fiscal policies. Among his efficiencies were the creation of a central purchasing office and using grass moved from the airport to feed the Zoo animals.

Though as a private citizen he had voted against the creation of a municipal auditorium in 1937, Mayor Satterfield fought valiantly to ensure that Robinson Auditorium opened to the public once he took office.  Shortly after he became Mayor, it was discovered that there were not sufficient funds to finish the construction. After the federal government refused to put in more money, he was able to negotiate with some of the contractors to arrange for the building to be completed. He also oversaw a successful special election to raise the money to finish the project.

Satterfield was a staunch supporter of the airport and worked to expand it.  He would serve as the chair of the first Municipal Airport Commission.  He also established the Little Rock Housing Authority (on which he would later serve on the board).  Mayor Satterfield also served as President of the Arkansas Municipal League in 1941.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Satterfield enlisted in the Army and was given the rank of a Major. He later was promoted to a Colonel and worked in the Pentagon during its early days.

In the late 1940s Satterfield became president of a small Little Rock bank called People’s Bank.  The bank changed its named to First National Bank when it moved into new offices at 3rd and Louisiana in 1953.  By focusing on smaller customers and courting corporate customers, Satterfield grew the bank into one of the state’s largest banks.  He maintained his desk in the lobby of the bank so he could interact with the customers and ensure they were having a positive experience.

Due to chronic health issues, Satterfield retired from the bank in 1964. He died in March 1966.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Races without Incumbents

The announcement by Little Rock’s 72nd Mayor, Mark Stodola, that he will not seek a fourth term in 2018, sent the Little Rock Culture Vulture thinking about past mayoral races in Little Rock history.

Election records in the 1800s are spotty at best, so this discussion focuses on those who have run for Mayor once the current City Hall opened in April 1908.

The November 2018 election will be only the sixth mayoral election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor on the ballot.  (Assuming that none of Little Rock’s living seven former mayors choose to run.)

The most recent election without a current or former mayor was in 2006, when Jim Dailey had announced he would not seek another term. It was at that election that former City Attorney Mark Stodola, faced off against two former City Directors (Barbara Graves and Jesse Mason) and former State Senator Bill Walker.

From 1908 through 1957, Little Rock elections were partisan in nature.  In most instances, if one won the Democratic Primary, one was assured of being mayor.  Looking back at municipal general election results (where there was usually only token opposition at best) in those decades does not give a true picture to the spirited nature of races for City Hall.

The first election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor was in 1911. Charles Taylor ran as a reforming outsider and won an open seat for mayor.  He would serve until 1919. That year, former alderman Ben Brickhouse won the open seat.

R. E. Overman was elected to his first term as mayor in 1935, after incumbent mayor Horace Knowlton did  not seek a third term.  After returning to City Hall in 1941 and being re-elected, Mayor Moyer retired a second time in 1945. In that election, Dan Sprick was elected mayor.  That would be the final election in Little Rock without an incumbent or former mayor until 2006.

From 1957 until 1994, the mayor was chosen every two years by members of the City Board of Directors from among their membership.  The last person to be selected in that manner, Jim Dailey, won city-wide election to the mayoral position in 1994 and served until 2006.

Here is a history of all the mayor races since 1908:

1908 Special – Incumbent acting mayor John Herndon Hollis did not seek election to full term.  Former Mayor W. R. Duley elected
1909 – Mayor Duley re-elected
1911 – Charles Taylor elected after Mayor Duley forgoes seeking another term.
1913 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1915 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1917 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1919 – Ben D. Brickhouse elected after Mayor Taylor forgoes seeking another term.
1921 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1923 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1925 – Mayor Brickhouse loses Democratic Primary to County Judge Charles Moyer, who wins the general election.
1927 – Mayor Moyer re-elected
1929 – Mayor Moyer loses Democratic Primary to City Attorney Pat L. Robinson, who wins the general election.
1931 – Mayor Robinson loses Democratic Primary to Horace Knowlton, who wins the general election.
1933 – Mayor Knowlton re-elected
1935 – R. E. Overman elected after Mayor Knowlton forgoes another term.
1937 – Mayor Overman re-elected
1939 – J. V. Satterfield defeats Mayor Overman in the Democratic Primary. He subsequently wins general election.
1941 – Former mayor Moyer returns to City Hall after Mayor Satterfield opts to retire after one term.
1943 – Mayor Moyer is re-elected
1945 – Dan Sprick is elected after Mayor Moyer forgoes another term.
1947 – Sam Wassell defeats Mayor Sprick in the Democratic Primary, subsequently wins general election.
1949 – Mayor Wassell is re-elected
1951 – Republican Pratt Remmel defeats Democratic incumbent Sam Wassell in the general election to become mayor.
1953 – Mayor Remmel is re-elected.
1955 – Democratic nominee Woodrow Mann defeats GOP incumbent Mayor Remmel in the general election to become mayor.
1956 – Voters switch to City Manager form of government, partially in response to actions by Mayor Mann’s administration.  Mayor Mann leaves office in November 1957.

1957 to 1994 – City Manager form with mayor selected from among membership

1994 – Mayor Jim Dailey wins election as Little Rock’s first popularly elected mayor since 1957.  He had previously been selected mayor by his city board colleagues.
1998 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2002 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2006 – Mark Stodola is elected mayor after Mayor Dailey forgoes another term.
2010 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2014 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2018 – Mayor Stodola announces he will not seek another term.

Little Rock Look Back: 44th and 49th Mayor Charles Moyer

On April 18, 1880, future Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Moyer was born in Glenwood, Minnesota. A man of contradictions, he was both a candidate backed by (and probably personally involved in) the Ku Klux Klan, yet he also brought the Goodwill Industries organization to Little Rock and Arkansas to help those less fortunate.

He came to Little Rock shortly after the turn of the 20th century as a clerk in the Post Office, and later served as a mail carrier. He then worked for Plunkett-Jarrell Wholesale Grocer Company in Little Rock. On January 1, 1921, he took office as County Judge for Pulaski County. In 1924, he ran against incumbent mayor Ben Brickhouse in the Democratic primary. Since Brickhouse had displeased the Klan, which was an active part of Democratic politics in Little Rock and throughout the nation at the time, Moyer won the primary.

Mayor Moyer led the City of Little Rock from April 1925 through April 1929. In 1927, the last lynching in Little Rock took place. While race-baiting crowds were surrounding City Hall demanding an African American prisoner be released to them for vigilante justice, Mayor Moyer was in hiding at an undisclosed location. Not able to get the prisoner they wanted, they took out their venom on another man who had assaulted a white woman and her daughter.

After leaving office in 1929, Moyer moved for a time to Batesville. He returned to Little Rock and was a chief deputy sheriff. From 1937 to 1941, he served as Pulaski County Assessor. In 1941, he returned to the office of Little Rock Mayor after J. V. Satterfield opted to serve only one term and did not seek re-election. Mayor Moyer led Little Rock through most of World War II. He left office in April 1945 and died on May 29, 1945, barely one month after leaving City Hall.

Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Robinson Auditorium

robinson-auditorium-by-scott-carterOn February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.  (The concept of a municipal auditorium for Little Rock had first been raised in 1904, so this evening was truly a long time in the works.)

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon


Though he had previously discussed how he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 before entering public life, the mayor’s remarks that evening were appropriately gracious, statesmanlike and a testament to the effort he had invested to get it open upon becoming mayor. “We hope you have a very pleasant evening and hope further that it will be the first in a long series which you will enjoy in this, your auditorium.”

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

Auditorium Commission chairman E. E. Beaumont, a local banker, noted that while event planners knew the evening of ballet and classical music would not appeal to everyone, it was intended to show the wide range of offerings that would be suitable in the new space.  Earlier in the week, children’s theatre performances had been offered to school groups through the auspices of the Junior League of Little Rock.

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.