On June 10, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Little Rock as part of a day-long series of appearances in conjunction with the Arkansas Centennial celebration. (The actual statehood dates is June 15.)
His day started in Memphis before he journeyed by train to Hot Springs. After events there that morning and lunch at Couchwood (his longtime friend Harvey Couch was chairman of the Centennial celebration). He then traveled to Rockport and Malvern for appearances before arriving in Little Rock. He made his remarks at the State Fairgrounds in a temporary structure called “Centennial Stadium.”
The street he traveled to get to the fairgrounds had been renamed Roosevelt Road in February 1935 in anticipation that he would visit Little Rock in 1936 as part of the state centennial and would likely use that route. The street was officially named Franklin D. Roosevelt Road. But given the unwieldy street signs that would be required to bear that name, the ordinance was amended to note that the signs would bear the name “Roosevelt Road.”
Following his remarks, which officially kicked off the six month Arkansas Centennial celebration, he retired to Senator Joseph T. Robinson’s house on South Broadway. He dined with the Robinsons in the house before departing with the Senator at 8:45 that evening. The Presidential entourage then journeyed to Texas for the next day.
On March 3, 1866, William Marmaduke Kavanaugh was born in Alabama. He later moved with his family to Kentucky before coming to Little Rock as a newspaper reporter.
Kavanaugh served as editor and manager of the Arkansas Gazette before entering politics. From 1896 until 1900, he served as Pulaski County Sheriff, which at the time also included the duties of tax collector. From 1900 until 1904, he was County Judge of Pulaski County. In that capacity he helped wrangle several cities, railroads and trolley lines to create a compromise which lead to the completion of the Third Street Viaduct which connected Little Rock with Pulaski Heights. It is still in use today.
After leaving his post as County Judge, he had a varied career in banking and business interests.
When Senator Jeff Davis died in early January 1913, he left the last few weeks of his term incomplete as well as the new term he was set to start in March 1913. There was much interest in who would fill the remainder of Davis’ current term, because that person might be the frontrunner to also fill out the new term. (This was at the time that the U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures.) Defeated Governor George Donaghey appointed J. N. Heiskell to fill out the term. But once the Arkansas General Assembly convened in mid-January, they overrode Donaghey’s appointment and replaced Heiskell with Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh served in the Senate from January 29, 1913 until March 3, 1913. He was succeeded by Joseph T. Robinson who had only recently taken office as Governor. Speculation was that Kavanaugh would not want the full six year term, so that he was acceptable choice to all of the politicians jockeying for the full appointment. From 1912 until 1915, he was an Arkansas member of the Democratic National Committee.
Another interest of Kavanaugh’s was baseball. He served as president of the Southern Association minor league starting in 1903. The baseball field in Little Rock situated at West End Park was named Kavanaugh Field in his honor. It stood until the 1930s when it was replaced by what is now known as Quigley Stadium. (In 1927, Little Rock High School had opened on the land which had been West End Park.)
Kavanaugh died on February 2, 1915 at the age of 48. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.
Prospect Road was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in his memory.
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. (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.
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.
Since today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is a good day to pay tribute to the Lincoln Avenue Viaduct. This arched bridge is traversed by thousands of cars each day, with most having no idea the name of the structure. The Lincoln Avenue Viaduct is the arched bridge connecting LaHarpe with Cantrell Road which (literally) bridges downtown with the west along Highway 10.
The Lincoln Avenue Viaduct is a reinforced concrete rainbow arch bridge. It was opened at 2:05 p.m. on Friday, December 28, 1928, and, despite later alterations, it remains particularly well-preserved. The Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, considered the most important railroad company in the state, constructed the bridge amid a series of improvements in Little Rock made necessary by the damage wrought by the infamous spring floods of 1927.
Though the bride was constructed by the railroad, the City had to give authorization to do so, this was accomplished by the passing of Ordinance 4,335, at the May 28, 1928, City Council meeting.
Lincoln Avenue was one of several names for stretches of Highway 10 in Little Rock. By the 1960s, the areas west of the Lincoln Avenue viaduct were all renamed Cantrell in honor of the man who had developed much of the area west of the Heights. The longest stretch of the road already carried that name. There had been an effort to rename Highway 10 (including sections named Lincoln, Q, and Cantrell) in Little Rock for Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson in 1930. He declined the offer because he did not want to diminish the contributions of Mr. Cantrell. Over time the entire stretch bore the name Cantrell.
The stretches east of the viaduct which involved a couple of names were renamed La Harpe Boulevard in honor of the French explorer who first saw the Little Rock. (La Harpe was originally an extension of Riverfront Drive. But with changes to development along the Arkansas River and the coming of I-30, the streets were reconfigured significantly in the 1950s and early 1960s.)
Though the street has been renamed, the bridge still carries the name of the 16th President of the United States.
On December 24, 1937, at 11:30 a.m., Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman, Ewilda Gertrude Miller Robinson (the widow of Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson) and Alexander Allaire of the PWA turned dirt to participate in the brief groundbreaking ceremony for Little Rock’s municipal auditorium. That morning, the Arkansas Gazette ran a brief story on the upcoming groundbreaking. The story mentioned that the building would be named in memory of the late beloved Arkansas politician. This appears to be the first public pronouncement of the Robinson name for this civic structure.
Among others in attendance at the groundbreaking were Mrs. Charles Miller (sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), Mr. and Mrs. Grady Miller (brother and sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), the mayor’s wife, the three architects (George Wittenberg, Lawson Delony and Eugene John Stern), and D. H. Daugherty and Will Terry of the City’s Board of Public Affairs.
Construction had to start by January 1, 1938, in order to receive PWA funds. By breaking ground on December 24, there was over a week to spare. The site had been selected in late October 1937, and the purchase had not been finalized. But the PWA did give permission for the City to let a contract for excavation, demolition and filling on the site.
The groundbreaking took place at the corner of Garland and Spring Streets which was on the northeast corner of the block set aside for the auditorium. Today, Spring Street does not extend north of Markham; the street was closed to make way for the parking structure and what is now the Doubletree Hotel. Garland Street is basically an alley that runs parallel to Markham north of City Hall, Robinson Auditorium and the Doubletree Hotel.
On October 8, 1867 in Panora, Iowa, future Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon was born. He was one of eleven children of John D. and Margaret M. Long Lenon.
Lenon came to Little Rock in 1888 after finishing his schooling in Iowa. He helped set up an abstract company shortly after his arrival. In 1902 he organized the Peoples Savings Bank. Among his other business interests were the City Realty Company, the Factory Land Company, the Mountain Park Land Company, and the Pulaski Heights Land Company.
From 1895 to 1903, he was a Little Rock alderman, and in 1903, he was elected Mayor of the city. A progressive Mayor, he championed the construction of a new City Hall which opened in 1908. At the first meeting of the City Council in that building, Mayor Lenon tendered his resignation. His duties in his various business interests were taking up too much of his time.
Mayor Lenon had been a champion for the establishment of a municipal auditorium. He had wanted to include one in the new City Hall complex. But a court deemed it not permissible under Arkansas finance laws at the time. He also worked to help establish the first Carnegie Library in Little Rock which opened in 1912.
Mayor Lenon continued to serve in a variety of public capacities after leaving office. In the 1920s, he briefly chaired a public facilities board for an auditorium district. It appeared he would see his dream fulfilled of a municipal auditorium. Unfortunately the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the enabling legislation invalid.
In 1889, he married Clara M. Mercer. The couple had three children, two of whom survived him. A son W. E. Lenon Jr., and a daughter Vivian Mercer Lenon Brewer. Together with Adolphine Fletcher Terry (also a daughter of a LR Mayor), Mrs. Brewer was a leader of the Women’s Emergency Committee.
Mayor Lenon died June 25, 1946 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery. Lenon Drive just off University Avenue is named after Mayor Lenon.
Future Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in August 26, 1872. In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term. From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.
He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912. On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office. Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote. At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.
He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader. In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath. He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.
Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937. His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.
It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937. Mrs. Robinson participated in the December 24, 1937, groundbreaking for the auditorium.
Naming the auditorium after him was not Little Rock’s first attempt at honoring Senator Robinson. In 1930, portions of Lincoln, Q, and Cantrell streets were renamed Robinson Drive in his honor. This was part of an effort to give Highway 10 (which had four different names as it wended through the City) a single name in Little Rock. A few months later the Senator requested that the original names be returned. Cantrell had been named in honor of a developer who was continuing to work in the area surrounding that street. The Senator felt it should be named after Mr. Cantrell. As part of that, the name Cantrell was extended to most of Highway 10 within the Little Rock city limits.
In 1935, on Senator Robinson’s ante-penultimate birthday, the Little Rock City Council coincidentally approved the plans for a municipal auditorium which would then be submitted to the Public Works Administration. It was this project which would become Robinson Auditorium.