Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.


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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.

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.


Women’s History Month – Gretchen Hall

At the 2017 Downtown Little Rock Partnership annual meeting, Gretchen Hall became the first woman to receive solely receive the Top of the Rock Award.

A hardhat and reflective vest were part of Gretchen‘s work wardrobe almost every day for the past 30 months.  As the President and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, she actively oversaw the deconstruction and reconstruction of Robinson Center Performance Hall. Taking a New Deal era assembly hall and making it into a state-of-the-art performance facility was not an easy task. Gretchen and her team have worked with the architects, engineers, designers and consultants to make it happen.

Gretchen joined LRCVB in 2001 and worked her way up through the organization.  In May 2011, she was named to her current position.  Since that time, the LRCVB has undertaken numerous efforts to enhance Little Rock including a new amphitheatre in Riverfront Park, enhanced programming at the River Market, and increased financial support of cultural organizations.  She has worked to improve not only the meeting space available for conventions, but also to enhance the dining and lodging scenes in Little Rock.  In addition, she helped lead the effort to see the additional penny of the hotel tax be dedicated to support the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.


Little Rock Look Back: LR votes to Restore Robinson!

restore-robinson-121013On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.


Thank You Little Rock concert by Arkansas Symphony tonight

aso-thankyou_ticketOn November 1, 2016, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra distributed free tickets to tonight’s “Thank You, Little Rock” concert.  In 39 minutes, they were all given away.

But for those without tickets, there is still an opportunity to see this concert from the stage of Robinson Center Performance Hall.  A livestream will be available at the ASO website .

The program for tonight’s concert (under the direction of Maestro Philip Mann) consists of:

  • arr. Toscanini – Star Spangled Banner
  • DVORAK – Carnival Overture
  • BERG, Stephanie – Breathe **WORLD PREMIERE feat. ASO with Youth Strings**
  • MUSSORGSKY – Pictures at an Exhibition

The concert is sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust and the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

 


RobinsoNovember: Barry Travis

bl-travisThe new patrons lounge in Robinson Center is named in honor of Barry L. Travis.  He retired as CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2006 after 35 years with the bureau.  (His retirement took effect on February 9, 2006, the anniversary of his start date in 1971.)

Over his 35 years at LRCVB, Travis was involved with the agency taking over Robinson in late 1971 as well as the renovations and creation of the convention center from 1972 to 1974.  Over the years, he led efforts to upgrade Robinson and to garner support from voters during two Little Rock capital bond elections.  He was also successful in LRCVB bond elections to build and later expand Statehouse Convention Center.

In recognition of his efforts, Travis received the Henry Award from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in 1989. That goes to the top person in the tourism industry in the state.  In 2002, he was inducted into the Arkansas Hospitality Association’s Tourism Hall of Fame.  In 2005, he received the Maurice Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award.


RobinsoNovember: James Rice and Jim Rice

J Rice 1920On June 7, 1920, the Little Rock City Council finally authorized the demolition of Little Rock’s 1906 temporary auditorium.  The structure had originally been built as a skating rink which, when chairs were added, could be used for public meetings.  Since the mid 1910’s, the City Council had discussed tearing it down over safety concerns.  But since Little Rock had no other structure as a substitute, the Council kept delaying the decision.
In 1920, though there was not alternative space available, the Council decided that the structure had to come down.  So City Engineer James H. Rice was authorized to have the building removed.

JimRice RobinsonToday, Rice’s grandson, also known as Jim Rice is the COO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.  In that capacity he oversaw the renovation of Little Rock’s 1940 municipal auditorium – Robinson Center Music Hall.

While his grandfather was efficient at demolishing a worn out building that was beyond repair, Jim deftly helped make sure that the existing city auditorium was refitted and restructured so that it would no longer be worn out.