Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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Little Rock Look Back: March 20 in City of Little Rock history

For much of Little Rock’s history, the City Council did not meet on March 20.  (Under City Council rules, meetings were often once a month, and later moved to twice a month – usually second and fourth Monday).  Since switching to the City Manager form of government, meetings moved to the first and third weeks of the month.  The first instance of the First Day of Spring being a City Board meeting was in 1961.

At that meeting, there were the usual zoning issues. There were also proposals to close several streets, in anticipation of industrial development.  That Little Rock was anticipating industrial development was indeed news.  After the 1957 crisis, the city had no new businesses locate to Little Rock for several years.  One of the longtime tenants in Little Rock, Westinghouse Corporation, was experiencing legal issues on the national level.  As a way to show that Little Rock was open for business, the City Board passed a resolution on March 20, 1961, to thank Westinghouse Corporation for their continued commitment to Little Rock.

The next City Board meeting on March 20 was in 1973.  In addition to the usual zoning issues, there were a couple of items of note for future projects which would impact Little Rock in the late 1970s and beyond.  The first was to enter into an agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding a park at Murray Lock and Dam.  The second dealt with the planning for Metrocentre Mall.  There was also a lengthy discussion about the proposed annexation of 55 square miles in southwest Little Rock.

Six years later, on March 20, 1979, topics addressed included upgrades to University Park and Greyhound bus service to Texarkana and Memphis.  $316,800 was appropriated to reconstruct Markham from Ellis Drive to I-430, a distance of 0.4 miles.  Rules and regulations for the Fire Department were also approved.  In addition, some citizens spoke about the Batty Glass collection, which was then at the Museum of Science and Natural History.   In 1984, if Big Brother was watching on March 20, most of the items were routine.  Southwestern Bell did have a request for a project on Hinson Road in anticipation of future growth in that area.

The location for a future west Little Rock park took up much time at the March 20, 1990, City Board meeting.  Several sites were under consideration. Each of the seven City Directors seemed to have his or her own favorite.  Ultimately no final decision would be made that evening.  Parks were a topic at the next March 20 meeting, in 2001.  Parks Director Bryan Day (who was celebrating a birthday that day) was recognized for being the Outstanding Parks professional in a five state region.  There was a lengthy discussion that evening about additional funding for the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility, which ultimately passed.  At the end of the meeting, there were updates on the proposed Summit Mall.

On March 20, 2007, the City Board spent time discussing potential projects for a short-term financing bond issuance.  Items included HVAC repairs to the Dunbar Community Center and Central Fire Station, improving the elephant exhibit at the Zoo, new city vehicles and computer software upgrades.  Five years later, Milton Crenchaw was recognized with the Spirit of Little Rock Award for his role as an instructor to the Tuskegee Airmen and other accomplishments in the fields of aviation and Civil Rights.


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Little Rock Look Back: St. Pat’s Day with Mayor Pat Robinson

On this date in 1900, future Little Rock Mayor Pat L. Robinson was born.  While it cannot be verified that he was indeed named after St. Patrick, it would be fairly reasonable to assume there might be a connection.  He was born in a community outside of Arkadelphia, but moved to Little Rock with his parents.

By the 1920s, Robinson was a rising star of Little Rock Democratic politics.  In April 1929, just weeks after his 29th birthday, he was elected Mayor.  He had twice been elected as City Attorney (1926 and 1928) and was one of the youngest to serve in that position.

During Mayor Robinson’s tenure, he announced plans to construct a new airport.  That project led to the creation of what is now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.  Mayor Robinson was also involved in helping Philander Smith College secure the property where it is now located.  In addition, during his tenure, what is now the Museum of Discovery was folded into the City of Little Rock.  Shortly after taking office, he championed several projects for approval by Little Rock voters. The projects he supported were approved; the ones he did not support did not pass.

Single at the time he was in office and generally considered good looking, Mayor Robinson was sometimes referred to as the “Jimmy Walker of the Southwest.” Walker was the handsome and charming Mayor of New York City at the time.

Mayor Robinson ran afoul of some of the Democratic party leaders. While the extent of the discord is not exactly known, it IS known that shortly after taking office he confronted the City Council over a special election.  Mayor Robinson sat silently while the City Council voted to approve a special election with a variety of options for voters. Only after the Council approved it did he disclose he only supported three of the initiatives.  In a bit of political brinkmanship, the Council subsequently voted to cancel the election. The Mayor vetoed their vote.  The aldermen chose not to attempt an override (though they had the votes based on disclosures made to the public and the press).  It appears that the relationship between the Mayor and the City Council never recovered.

IMG_4532During this era in Little Rock, it was customary for an incumbent mayor to be given a second term. But City Clerk Horace Knowlton challenged Robinson in the primary.  It was a bitter campaign with Robinson linking Knowlton to disreputable denizens and Knowlton charging Robinson with “an orgy of spending.”  Robinson initially came out 17 votes ahead. But after a review and a lawsuit, it was found that Knowlton ended up with 10 more votes and became the nominee.  At the time, being the Democratic nominee was tantamount to election.

After he left office, Robinson practiced law for a few years in Little Rock and then left the city.  He married a woman from England, Arkansas in the 1930s, but by the 1940 census, he was listed as divorced and living as a lodger.  He later served in the Army during World War II.  Robinson died in June 1958, and is buried in Clark County.


LR Women Making History – Mollie Irvin

Mollie Irvin spent her life serving others.  She was a wife, mother, and grandmother. She was a volunteer in her church and her children’s schools.  She helped her friends.  She may have never seen herself as someone who would start spending every Tuesday night at Little Rock City Hall.

But she did.

Miss Mollie, as she came to be known at City Hall, had long been active in the Cloverhill/Pennbrook Neighborhood.  For many years, she served as president of the neighborhood association where she organized crime watches, police night outs and 4th of July celebrations.

When a young lady was injured crossing John Barrow in front of Henderson Middle School, Miss Mollie sprang into action.  She felt there needed to be a stoplight on the street.  She launched a campaign to have a stoplight installed at John Barrow Road and Cloverhill Road.  At the time the City did not have the money for the necessary widening and installation of the light, but was expecting it after the 2003 passage of capital bond improvements.  To make sure the City did not forget her request, Miss Mollie would come to every meeting. Sometimes she would be by herself, other times she would have guests. She was always polite and forceful with grace and humor when she made her plea.

Finally, the effort paid off.  She was actually tasked with flipping the switch to turn on the traffic signal.

Her goal met, Miss Mollie did not stop coming to City Hall.  After sitting through all those meetings, she had found herself interested in a variety of issues. She would attend the City Board meetings, neighborhood meetings, public budget meetings, and just about any other City meeting as a way to learn more. She was contacted by others for advice on how to lobby.   Her efforts were recognized nationally when the Cloverhill/Pennbrook Neighborhood was named Neighborhood of the Year by Neighborhoods USA.

Miss Mollie was as much a fixture at City Hall as city staff and elected officials.  When the holidays rolled around, Miss Mollie would show up at City Hall with individually prepared baggies full of baked goods for City officials.  She was also a fixture at Henderson Middle School as a volunteer.

Throughout her new career in civic engagement, she continued to be devoted to her family, her church, and her friends.  (She would regularly meet with friends she had known since elementary school.)

Following a brief illness, Miss Mollie died in 2016.  But her legacy lives on in the lives she touched and in a stoplight at John Barrow Road and Cloverhill Road.

LR Women Making History: Lottie Shackelford

Lottie Shackelford has been a trailblazer throughout her career in public service.

Active in community activities and politics, she ran for the City Board in 1974 and lost.  But she was appointed to the Little Rock City Board in September 1978 to fill a vacancy.  This made her the first African American woman to serve on he City Board, and indeed on any governing board for the City (during Reconstruction, there were at least three African Americans on the City Council, but they were all men.) She was subsequently elected to a full-term on the City Board in 1980 winning 55% of the vote over three male candidates.

She was subsequently re-elected in 1984 (unopposed) and in 1988 (with 60% of the vote).

In January 1987, Shackelford became the first female mayor of Little Rock when she was chosen by her colleagues on the City Board to serve in that position. She was Mayor until December 1988.

From 1982 until 1992, she served as Executive Director of the Arkansas Regional Minority Purchasing Council.  She left that position to serve as Deputy Campaign Manager of Clinton for President.  She subsequently served on the Clinton/Gore transition team. She later served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from 1993 to 2003. She was the first African American to be in that position.

A graduate of Philander Smith College, she has also studied at the Arkansas Institute of Politics at Hendrix College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In recognition of all of her achievements, she has been included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Little Rock Look Back: Suit filed calling for integration of LR public facilities

Attorney Wiley Branton, who filed the law suit.

On March 8, 1962, 22 members of the Council on Community Affairs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city Board of Directors for the desegregation of “public parks, recreational facilities, Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and all other public facilities.”  The members included journalists, dentists, attorneys, school teachers and other members of Little Rock’s African American professional class.  Attorney Wiley Branton, Sr., filed the suit.

Though the City’s Auditorium Commission was mentioned in the suit, they were not served with papers. So when media contacted them, they made no comment.

Historian John A. Kirk has written, “Members of the City Board were willing to admit that the desegregation of public facilities was ‘a foregone conclusion’ if the case went to court, but they remained committed to fighting the lawsuit if only to buy time to devise other methods to avoid desegregation.”

The decision was rendered in February 1963 that the City must integrate its public facilities.

In 1951, the City’s library facilities had been integrated followed by the bus system in 1956. Both of these had been accomplished without incident.  Of course the same was not said for the integration of the public schools in 1957.

In 1961, there had been attempts to have Robinson Auditorium integrated after Duke Ellington threatened to cancel a concert rather than play to a segregated crowd.  The Auditorium Commission refused to change its policy, and Ellington did not play the concert.

Based on efforts of the Council of Community Affairs working with white business leaders, downtown lunch counters and businesses were integrated starting in January 1963.  The efforts of the Council of Community Affairs and the white business leaders are commemorated in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail with medallions in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber building.

Little Rock Look Back: Civic Leader John Herndon Hollis

On February 5, 1870, future Little Rock alderman and acting mayor John Herndon Hollis was born shortly before his family moved to what is now Cleveland County. His parents were originally from Georgia and came from prosperous and longtime families there.

The Hollis family came to Arkansas after the Civil War and settled in Union County. A portion of that county was carved off and became Dorsey County (named after a Republican US Senator from Arkansas) but was renamed Cleveland County after Grover Cleveland was elected President. Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President in over 20 years. This name change also reflected the political shift in Arkansas from the Reconstruction-led Republican politics to the Democratic Party politics which would dominate for the next century.

John Herndon Hollis was one of six children, and the only one with a middle name. Herndon had been his mother’s maiden name. As one of his brothers described their childhood in Cleveland County, “they all went to country schools in their home neighborhood, worked hard on the farm in the summertime, and were inside their little Methodist Church every time the doors were open.”

Around 1900, Hollis and his new wife Malinda M. “Linda” Taliaferro Hollis (formerly of Rison) moved to Little Rock.  Together the couple had six children. In Little Rock, Hollis worked in the banking industry. For years he worked for People’s Building and Loan Association.

Hollis was first elected to the Little Rock City Council in April 1904. He would serve as one of the Aldermen from the city’s Fourth Ward until April 1918.  This was on the western border of Little Rock at the time. The family lived at 1510 S. Schiller, which is one block east of Central High, though at the time neither the school nor its predecessor (West End Park) existed.  From 1907 until 1913 he also served on the Little Rock School Board.

In April 1908, at the first City Council meeting in the new City Hall, Mayor W. E. Lenon announced his resignation. Because the resignation was effective immediately, there was a vacancy in the office of mayor.  Hollis was selected by his colleagues to serve as acting mayor until a successor could be elected. So from April 1908 through June 1908, Hollis was the City’s chief political and executive leader.

Though he was never formally mayor (and did not resign his position as alderman), since 1908, Hollis’ name has appeared on the list of mayors of Little Rock. The reason seems to be as a sign of respect since there was a vacancy.

There previously had been acting mayors when the mayor would be absent on business or due to illness. But in those instances, the mayor had not resigned. This is the only instance in Little Rock history when a mayor resigned immediately with no successor in place. So John Herndon Hollis holds a unique role in Little Rock history.

After leaving the City Council, Hollis remained active in civic affairs.  He co-chaired a successful campaign in 1929, to raise a tax for a variety of civic issues.

Hollis’ wife died in 1920.  He later married Ann Jewell of Little Rock (who was a cousin of his first wife). They were married until his death on October 23, 1941.  Ann Hollis lived in Little Rock until her death in 1980.  The Hollis family is entombed in the mausoleum at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Both of John Herndon Hollis’ wives are distant cousins of the Culture Vulture, so he is particularly fond of John Herndon Hollis.

Little Rock Look Back: Charity Event opens 1868 Little Rock City Hall

The 1868 City Hall as featured on a city report.

On January 22, 1868, a charity ball (including a supper) was the first special event held in the new Little Rock City Hall located at 120 to 122 West Markham.

The two story building featured city offices downstairs, including an engine house for the volunteer fire department. Upstairs was the council chambers and a special event space. The facility was the width of two storefronts. The upstairs was accessed by a central staircase which went from street level through an archway directly up to the second floor. The first floor had a stone exterior and the second floor was a combination of brick and woodwork.

Records do not indicate when the first city council in the new building took place. At the January 21, 1868, meeting, the body formally accepted the building and cancelled any clauses in the contract about penalties should the contractor not meet the construction deadline. But there is no indication whether that meeting took place in the new building or in the previous city hall. (The location of that prior city hall is a mystery.). The minutes from the council meetings just prior to and just after the January 21 meeting give no indication as to which building was the site for the meeting.

It IS known that March 30, 1908, was the date of the final council meeting in the 1868 City Hall. After that meeting, city offices completed their move to the edifice at Markham and Broadway, which still serves as Little Rock City Hall.

As early as November 1867, the City Council was getting requests for special events to be held in the new city hall. In November and December the council refused to take action on any requests because the building was still under construction.

The January 22, 1868, event was created to help the destitute in Little Rock. The ARKANSAS GAZETTE encouraged people to be generous and purchase tickets. Even the day before the event, the weekly version of the GAZETTE (which at the time had added daily editions in addition to its weekly issue) was assuring people there would be plenty of space in the splendid new building so there was still room for additional ticket purchases. Tickets were $5 to admit a lady and a gentleman.  (That would be the equivalent of $83.71 today. While cheap for two people to attend a Little Rock event in 2018, in the post-Civil War era, it was a definite hit to the pocketbook.)

The unnamed organization which put on the charity event was led by W. W. Wilshire (president), George W. Clark (secretary), Joseph Meyer (treasurer) and a standing committee of Dr. C. M. Taylor, Dr. P. O. Hooper, A. Adams, F. H. Moody, and E. Langley.  Donations could be made to any of the officers.  The arrangements for the event were handled by Joseph Meyer, A. Adams, J. P. Jones, Alexander George, Jr., Joseph W. Bossert, and Daniel Ottenheimer.  The reception committee was W. D. Blocher, H. C. Ashley, A. McDonald, P. W. McWhorter, T. Lafferty, and F. H. Moody.   Tickets could be purchased at the stores of J. E. Reardon, G. H. Gibbs, Joseph Meyer, Lafferty & Raleigh, S. L. Griffith, McAlmont & Stillwell, Beideman & Co., and Dodge & Co as well as at the Anthony and Commercial Houses.  (It is interesting to note how so many people at the time were publicly listed by only their first initial.)

The building stood for 56 years after City Hall vacated it.  It housed a variety of businesses over the years including being home to Breier’s restaurant (until it moved to a Cantrell Road location in the early 1960s).  The building was torn down in 1964 as part of Urban Renewal.  Today it is the site of part of the Statehouse Convention Center.  It is directly across from the One-Eleven restaurant side of the Capital Hotel.