Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Arts Center established

Architectural model of the original Arkansas Arts Center which would open in 1963.

On Tuesday, September 6, 1960, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted ordinance 11,111 which formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

In July 1957, the City Council of Little Rock granted the Museum of Fine Arts the authority to solicit and receive funds for expanding that museum’s physical plant.  During that process, it had been decided that the museum needed an expanded mission and a new name.  By the summer of 1960, the museum supporters had raised sufficient funds to proceed with constructing the new facility.  Therefor the new ordinance was prepared and submitted to the City Board.  (In November 1957, the City Council had been replaced by a City Board.)

Ordinance 11,111 set forth that the Museum of Fine Arts would be known as the Arkansas Arts Center and that the previous museum’s board would serve as the board for the new museum.  The Board of the Arkansas Arts Center was given the authority to have the new building constructed in MacArthur Park and the existing building modified.  As a part of the planning for the new museum, the City committed $75,000 for the capital campaign.

The groundbreaking for the new museum would take place in August 1961.  Mayor Werner Knoop, who signed Ordinance 11,111, took part in the groundbreaking.

Media attending the September 6, 1960, City Board meeting were more interested in discussion about a potential leash law for dogs within the City limits.

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Little Rock Look Back: LR Likes Ike in 1952

Detail from UPI photo of General Eisenhower following his address.

If Ike, Little Rock and September are considered, it is usually in reference to his role in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High in September 1957.  But five years earlier, he appeared in Little Rock on September 3, 1952.

General Eisenhower’s speech to 14,000 in MacArthur Park was the final leg in his swing through the South on his campaign for the White House.  He became the third presidential candidate to visit MacArthur Park in 1952 following General MacArthur (in his ill-fated attempt to gain traction as a GOP candidate during the delegate selection process) and Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.

He visited every southern state except Mississippi on this campaign jaunt.  In comments that neither he nor his audience could have foreseen as prescient, Eisenhower declared that he deplored the government meddling in areas in which it did not belong.  This remark was made in reference to race relations.  His stance was that some rights of minorities should be protected, but it was not necessarily the role of the federal government.

Ike proffered that if white southerners did not protect the rights of African Americans they were in danger of losing their own rights, too.  In the era of the Cold War when people were worried about the imminent loss of rights, this message seems to have crafted to appeal to those concerns.  While Eisenhower did not shy away from addressing civil rights, his Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson was silent on the issue.  But with Alabama segregationist Senator John Sparkman as his running mate, it put Stevenson in a difficult position to try to bring it up.

In the end, Ike lost most of the South.  He did carry Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. The only states Stevenson won were in the South.  Eisenhower’s 43.74% of the Arkansas popular vote was the highest any Republican had garnered since General Grant carried the state in 1868 and 1872.


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Little Rock Look Back: 199 Years of the Quapaw Line

Stones placed in Riverfront Park denote where there Quapaw Line started from La Petite Roche

Stones placed in Riverfront Park denote where there Quapaw Line started from La Petite Roche

On August 24, 1818, the Quapaw Line was drawn.  Starting at La Petite Roche and heading due south, this line formed the boundary between the Quapaw tribe lands and public lands available for settlement.  Though by 1824, the Quapaw were forced to give up all of their lands, the line continued serve as an important marker.  In the ensuing six years, the first permanent settlement of Little Rock took place and streets were planned.It is interesting to note that the 1818 treaty referred to La Petite Roche as the Little Rock.  Some have speculated that this is the first official use of “Little Rock” to designate the outcropping.  When the Post Office was established in March 1820, it was given the name Little Rock.

There is a marker commemorating the beginning of the Quapaw Line located at La Petite Roche in Riverfront Park.  The first segment of the line is also noted in the park.  There are also sunken markers place along the line at various points.  In MacArthur Park, at the corner of 9th and Commerce Streets, there is a marker noting that the line passed through at that location.

A good account of walking the Quapaw Line through downtown Little Rock can be found on this website.

Most of what is now called the Quapaw Quarter was located to the west of the Quapaw Line.  However, it did take its name from the fact that the tribe had once lived in that area and was later sequestered to lands near it.  The name for the area was chosen by a committee composed of David D. Terry, Peg Newton Smith, Mrs. Walter Riddick Sr., Dr. John L. Ferguson, and James Hatcher. They had been appointed to a Significant Structures Technical Advisory Committee to advocate for preservation of important structures as a component of the City of Little Rock’s urban renewal efforts.


Little Rock Look Back: Museum of Fine Arts Established

On May 6, 1935, the Little Rock City Council formally established the Museum of Fine Arts by Ordinance 5235.  The ordinance was sponsored by Alderman Henry G. Leiser.

The ordinance authorized the construction of the museum in City Park.  The money for the construction was all privately raised. Once the building was completed, it would become the property of the City.

The ordinance also created the museum’s board. The original members were named by the ordinance.  They were: Fred W. Allsopp (appointed as a life member), Mrs. Frederick Hanger, Mrs. F.B.T. Hollenberg, George B. Rose, Mrs. C.M. Taylor, Mrs. Frank Tillar, and Dr. Frank Vinsonhaler. In addition, the Mayor and President of the Fine Arts Club were ex-officio members.

The building would start construction in 1936. The groundbreaking was in January 1936, and the cornerstone was laid in October 1936. The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1937.


Little Rock Look Back: Land for first LR public park is transferred to city

April 23, 1892, marked the beginning of the City of Little Rock’s public park system.  On that date, the City officially took possession of land which would become what is now known as MacArthur Park.

The park land had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock.  By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal.  The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.  

The land served as a military outpost until 1892.  On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)  In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots. 

After clearing most of the buildings from the land and preparing it for recreation, the park opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use.  In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century. 

The City Council’s action to name it MacArthur Park in March 1942, was accompanied by petitions encouraging the action which were submitted by the Arkansas Authors and Composers Society, the Arkansas Engineers Club and the Pulaski County Republican Central Committee.  

City records do not indicate if anyone registered opposition to the name change. It would be another decade before General MacArthur would return to the site of his birth, a place he had not visited since his infancy.


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Women’s History Month – Bernie Babcock

Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade Babcock was an author and museum founder.  When her husband died, leaving her with five children, she starting writing for money. She published several temperance novels and later wrote for the Arkansas Democrat.  She also published a magazine, wrote plays which were performed in New York, and authored a poetry anthology.  She later became recognized as an expert on Abraham Lincoln and wrote several books about him, as well as other historical figures.  For her writing skills, she became the first Arkansas woman to be included in Who’s Who in America.

In 1927, after professional curmudgeon H. L. Mencken wrote derisively of Arkansas, she decided to start a museum. The Museum of Natural History and Antiquities was first located in a Main Street storefront.  In 1929, she “gave the City of Little Rock a Christmas present” by giving the museum to the city.  It was relocated to the unfinished third floor of City Hall, with her as its employee. After being closed during part of the Great Depression, she relocated the museum to the Arsenal Building and reopened it as the Museum of Natural History.  She was involved in the efforts to rename City Park in honor of Douglas MacArthur (who had been born there) and welcomed him when he came to Little Rock in 1952.

Following her retirement in 1953, she moved to Petit Jean Mountain where she wrote and painted.

After more name changes and a relocation, her museum is now known as the Museum of Discovery and is an anchor in the River Market district.


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Little Rock Look Back: MacArthur Returns

General MacArthur and Mayor Remmel

On Sunday, March 23, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur made his only post-infancy visit to Little Rock. He had previously been scheduled to visit Mississippi, and Little Rock Mayor Pratt Remmel had persuaded him to add a visit to Little Rock to the agenda. The fact that Little Rock now had a Republican mayor had apparently piqued the General’s interest.

General MacArthur, accompanied by his wife and son as well as several journalists and members of his military retinue, arrived at Little Rock Airport at 10:40 am. He was met by a delegation of civic leaders including Mayor Remmel. Alderman James Griffey made welcoming remarks on behalf of the city. Then the General and Mayor boarded an open car and led a motorcade from the airport to downtown.

The motorcade’s destination was Christ Episcopal Church at Capitol and Scott streets. It was at this church that MacArthur had been baptized as an infant. The delegation was greeted by the Episcopal Bishop R. Bland Mitchell, Rector J. Hodge Alves, and Rector Emeritus W. P. Witsell. (While he had been Rector, Dr. Witsell had garnered national attention by issuing an Easter blessing to Gen. MacArthur as he had been evacuating the Philippines at the height of World War II.) In order to gain admittance to the church that morning, church members and guests had to have tickets.

Following the worship service, the General and his party went to three events in the park named in his honor. The first was a tour of the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery and located in the River Market; the current tenant of the building is the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History), which was located in the building in which the General had been born. After the tour, he spoke at a dedication of a small rose garden adjacent to the museum. It was sponsored by the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission and the Garden Clubs of Greater Little Rock.

Though every stop of the General’s visit had featured crowds, the largest was at the third location in MacArthur Park. A crowd of several thousand greeted the General as he spoke from the Foster Bandshell in the park’s southwest corner. Chamber of Commerce president Richard C. Butler (brother-in-law of Mayor Remmel) was the master of ceremonies. Following an invocation by Methodist Bishop Paul Martin, the only other speaker was the General. In his remarks he spoke of his Southern heritage and of his appreciation for the support of the citizens of Little Rock over the years.

Several gifts were bestowed upon the MacArthurs at the ceremony. The City of Little Rock presented Mrs. MacArthur with an engraved silver serving tray.

Following the events in MacArthur Park, the family retired for a brief respite to the Hotel Marion. They then attended a luncheon buffet in their honor at the home of Howard and Elsie Stebbins on Edgehill Road. The General and Mrs. MacArthur circulated through the house greeting guests and then eschewed a special table in favor of balancing their plates on their laps and sitting in wingback chairs. Meanwhile Arthur MacArthur stayed upstairs and discussed stamp collecting and other hobbies with the Stebbins’ two teenage sons.

Following the luncheon, the MacArthur party went back to the airport and by 4:00pm, the plane was in the air.

Though this visit was coming at the end of a whirlwind of activities, by all accounts, the General and Mrs. MacArthur were very gracious and accommodating. The General was being mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for President, but purposefully steered clear of any political comments in his remarks. He and Mrs. MacArthur dutifully posed for photos not only for the media but also for amateur photographers. At lunch, the General even asked a Gazettephotographer to take a photo of him with his Little Rock Police motorcycle escorts so that they could have a souvenir of the visit.