Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: 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: Robinson Auditorium’s first Open House

On March 31, 1940, the City of Little Rock and the Auditorium Commission threw open the doors of Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium to the public for an open house.

The building had officially opened in February 1940, and events had been taking place in the lower level since October 1939. But this was the first time that the public could tour the entire facility from top to bottom.

The event took place on a Sunday from 1pm to 9pm.  Curiously, it took place two days before a special election to approve the bonds to finish the auditorium. Though no one at the time was cynical enough to comment on the connection.

Members of various Little Rock Boy Scout troops led 4,000 visitors on tours of the auditorium.  Visitors were shown all over the building; one scout calculated that the walking tour equated to two miles.  Though most people were from Little Rock, the guest registry indicated visitors from California and Pennsylvania.  Among the last guests to sign the register were Mayor J. V. Satterfield and his family.

The idea for the open house had first been floated in December by Alderman E. W. Gibb after taking a tour of the construction site. He had enthusiastically professed that everyone should be able to tour and see what a magnificent structure it was going to be.  Mayor Satterfield had to tamper the alderman’s enthusiasm. He agreed with Mr. Gibb that it was a fine building but stated that a public open house could not be scheduled for a few weeks because there was still much work to be done.  Mayor Satterfield noted that the seats in the music hall were going to have to be removed and then reinstalled because they needed to be anchored better.


Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium

Robinson Auditorium

Robinson Auditorium

On 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.

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.”

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.


Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Auditorium hits construction milestone in 1939

Many months behind schedule, it was 77 years ago today (December 8, 1939) that the construction of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium was declared “substantially finished.”

On December 8, 1939, the work of the general contractor was complete. The building’s utilities were all fully connected as the steam line and electric transformer were hooked up. While the work of the general contractor was through, there was still much work to be done.

Though there were still unfinished portions of the structure, the exterior was complete and finished surfaces had been installed on the interior. Until the building was officially turned over to the City, the federal Public Works Administration still had to give approval for any uses of the building.Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Jr. told the press that he wasn’t sure when the City would formally accept the building. The connection of the utilities had used up the remaining funds, so there was uncertainty as to when the final tasks would be completed.

When it was built, Robinson Auditorium was the first municipal auditorium in the south central United States to be air conditioned. However, the air conditioning unit was not sufficient to cool both the music hall and the convention hall at the same time. In warm weather months concurrent events would not be able to take place on the two levels.


RobinsoNovember: Emily Miller

emilyFrom January 1940 until December 1971, Emily Miller served on the Robinson Auditorium Commission.  She was the longest serving member of that body and had one of the longest tenures of any person on any City of Little Rock commission.  In keeping with the times, she was always referred to publicly as Mrs. Grady Miller. Probably the only time she was ever listed in a newspaper as Emily Sturges Miller was her obituary in 1993.

Born in Ohio in 1903, she studied at Smith College in Massachusetts. In 1925, she visited Washington DC for the presidential inauguration of Calvin Coolidge. While there she met Grady Miller, who was the brother-in-law of Senator Joseph T. Robinson.  After marrying Mr. Miller, she moved to Arkansas and made it her home for the next seven decades.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she was active in the PTA, Junior League of Little Rock, and Colonial Dames.  Mrs. Miller was also active in Second Presbyterian Church.  As her two children became older, she and her husband traveled extensively.

Because she was related to Senator Robinson’s widow, Mayor J. V. Satterfield asked Mrs. Miller to serve on the Auditorium Commission.  She was subsequently reappointed every time her term came up.  For the 1940 ribbon cutting, Mrs. Miller joined her sister-in-law and Mayor Satterfield on the stage.  They were the only participants.  (It had been Mrs. Miller who informed Mrs. Robinson of her husband’s death.  Mr. Miller had called Mrs. Miller, who was visiting family in Ohio at the time, to inform her.  She then called her sister-in-law to extend her sympathies, not realizing that no one had yet informed Mrs. Robinson who was in Little Rock preparing for a trip.)

Several decades later as a Sunday School teacher in her late 60s, Mrs. Miller was not in favor of the musical HAIR being performed at Robinson.  When a federal judge ruled that it had to be allowed, Mrs. Miller was the only member of the Auditorium Commission who would speak to the press. Her response is one of the Culture Vulture’s favorite statements ever made to a member of the media.  “Oh dear,” was her only reply. She refused further elaboration.  While the Commission was wrong in opposing the show, the fact that none of her fellow commissioners (all men) would speak to the press, shows a lot of moxie on her behalf.


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Little Rock Look Back: Adams Field Dedicated in 1941

adams-field-first-terminalOn November 11, 1941, Adams Field was dedicated in Little Rock.  The ceremony marked the official opening of the airport’s first administration building.  It also marked the official naming of the building in memory of George Geyer Adams.

Adams was captain of the 154th Observation Squadron of the Arkansas National Guard. He also served on the Little Rock City Council from 1927 to 1937.  During that time he helped develop what would become Little Rock’s airport from an airfield first planned in 1929 for military planes to what would become Little Rock’s municipal airport.

Adams left the City Council in April 1937.  Five months later, he was killed in a freak accident when a propeller assembly exploded and sent the propeller careening toward him.

Adams’ family was present at the ceremony on November 11, 1941.  The fact that it was on Armistice Day was no accident.  Little did few realize that US would be plunged into a second world war just a few weeks later.

Top executives from American Airlines came to Little Rock to participate in the festivities.  Others coming to town included members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation.  New Mayor Charles Moyer shared credit for the building with former Mayor J. V. Satterfield who had led the project for most of the time.  (Satterfield would later be the first chairman of the Airport Commission in 1951.) Hundreds turned out for the ceremony.  While they were in town, the congressional delegation and American Airlines executives made the most of interest in them and spoke to various civic clubs and banquets.  They extolled the virtues of airflight and the aircraft industry.

On a personal note:  the terminal building was built by E. J. Carter, a great uncle of the Culture Vulture.

 


RobinsoNovember: Ribbon Cuttings at Robinson Center

j-v-and-ewilda

In this ARKANSAS GAZETTE photo, Mayor Satterfield looks on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon to open Robinson Auditorium.

Today (Thursday, November 10) at 10am, the ribbon will be cut on the newly restored Robinson Center.  It seems like a good chance to look back at two prior ribbon cuttings for the building.

The original ribbon cutting was supposed to be outside on the evening of Friday, February 16, 1940.  It was moved indoors due to rain and cold temperatures.  The ribbon was originally to be stretched across the front columns, but instead was stretched across the front curtain.  The white satin ribbon stood out against the royal blue velvet curtains.

Four people participated in the ribbon cutting:  Little Rock Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Mrs. Ewilda Robinson – widow of Senator Robinson, Mrs. Emily Miller – sister-in-law of Senator Robinson and a member of the auditorium commission, and a D. Hodson Lewis of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.  Mr. Lewis emceed the brief program, which was was broadcast live on a Little Rock radio station.  It consisted of Mr. Lewis introducing Mayor Satterfield, Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Miller.  Mrs. Robinson chose not to make remarks.  Mayor Satterfield spoke briefly (a whopping twenty-nine words).  Then Mrs. Robinson cut the ribbon.  It took a couple of tries for her to get the scissors through the fabric on the ribbon.

Following that the building was officially opened.

In the late 1960s, City leaders started making plans for a renovation and expansion of Robinson Auditorium into a convention center.  In September 1973, a second ribbon cutting was held to celebrate the opening of the renovated space.  That ribbon was bright red and stretched from Ashley Street along Markham, wrapped into the side doors, and then back outside across the front of the building.  At the ceremony, Advertising and Promotion Commission Chairman Warren “Bud” Baldwin joked that they were having the longest ribbon and the shortest ceremony.

While the ribbon may have been long, the ceremony was not short.  Well, perhaps by ribbon cutting standards it was short, but it was certainly longer than the 1940 edition.  Among those participating in the ribbon cutting were Governor Dale Bumpers, Little Rock Mayor Bill Walters, and Miss Little Rock Risa McLemore.  The ribbon was cut by Miss McLemore and Ken Johnson of the Central States Shrine Association.  Over 14,000 Shriners were the first large convention in the new space.