Tag Archives: MacArthur Park

Little Rock Look Back: Sharon Priest

Little Rock’s 70th mayor, Sharon Priest, celebrates her birthday on September 12.

She began her public service at the grassroots level when she led the effort to bring flood relief to Southwest Little Rock and Pulaski County following the devastating flood of 1978 that killed 13 people in central Arkansas.

Sharon was appointed to the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission.  Following that, she challenged an incumbent City Director and won her first elective office in 1986. In January 1989, she was named Vice Mayor of Little Rock by her colleagues on the City Board.  Two years later, she was selected Mayor becoming only the second female to serve as Mayor of Little Rock.  During her service to the City of Little Rock, she spearheaded the effort to create a Little Rock flag.  At the conclusion of her second four year term on the City Board, she decided to run for Secretary of State.

In November 1994, she elected Secretary of State, becoming the first woman to be elected to that position in Arkansas.  She was reelected in 1998.   In the summer of 2000, she became President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. After the 2000 presidential election, she was thrust into the forefront of the movement toward election reform. Ms. Priest testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees on election reform. As Secretary of State, restoring the Governor’s Reception Room and the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the State Capitol to their original splendor and restoring the rotunda marble are a few of her proudest achievements.

In January 2003, Priest was selected to serve as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. She served in that capacity until early 2015.  She has also been a leading champion for the redevelopment of MacArthur Park, the City’s oldest park.

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Little Rock Look Back: Establishment of Arkansas Arts Center

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.

Two Centuries of the Quapaw Line

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 tribal lands and public lands available for settlement.  (In the 1810s and 1820s, the Quapaw alternated between Central Arkansas and Northwest Louisiana depending on preferences of the tribal leadership.)

Though by 1824, the Quapaw were forced to give up all of their lands in the area, 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.

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 and to name the area.  When the U.S. 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 few years ago, engineers from Garver retraced the line using modern technology. They found the original surveyors’ work to be extremely accurate.

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: 1961 Groundbreaking for Arkansas Arts Center

On a warm Sunday afternoon, ten golden shovels turned dirt to mark the start of construction for the new Arkansas Arts Center.  The activity followed a series of speeches that day, August 20, 1961.

The speakers and dignitaries sat on the front portico of the original Museum of Fine Arts in MacArthur Park. That building would be incorporated into the new structure.

Among those who took part in the speeches and groundbreaking were Winthrop Rockefeller, Jeannette Edris Rockefeller, Gov. Orval Faubus, Congressman Dale Alford, and Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop.

The efforts to create the Arkansas Arts Center started in the mid-1950s when the Junior League of Little Rock started an effort to establish a new art museum.  Next, the business community founded a Committee for a Center of Art and Science to accept funds donated.

When a suitable location within Little Rock could not be found, the decision was made to join with the Fine Arts Club and the Museum of Fine Arts.  Under the leadership of the Rockefellers, the drive to form the Arkansas Arts Center was launched. In September 1960, the City of Little Rock formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

Birth of sculptor Tal Streeter who has a piece in MacArthur Park as part of Arkansas Arts Center collection

On August 1, 1934, Tal Streeter was born in Oklahoma City.  After graduating from the University of Kansas, he worked as a sculptor and artist.  He died in 2014.

In 1970, Streeter and the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees donated Streeter’s sculpture Standing Red in honor of Jeannette Edris Rockefeller.  Mrs. Rockefeller had been a champion of the Arkansas Arts Center and had served as longtime chair of the Board.  She had also been instrumental in the recruitment and hiring of Townsend Wolfe who would be the longtime director of the Arkansas Arts Center.

Streeter’s sculpture stands 27 feet tall and is 54 feet from one end to another.  It consists of a T-shaped base and a perpendicular pedestal.  It is in the Minimalist style of art.  In creating it, Streeter focused on the placement of a thin red line into a setting.  It was placed near the then-entrance of the Arkansas Arts Center (which still serves as the entrance for the Museum School and Children’s Theatre).

This was one of the earliest pieces of abstract art in Little Rock.  A silkscreen by Streeter is also in the Arkansas Arts Center collection.

Little Rock Look Back: LR City Council authorizes expansion of Museum of Fine Arts

Twenty-two years after authorizing the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts in City Park, the Little Rock City Council was asked to consider expanding the facility.

By 1957, the existing structure was felt to be inadequate.   There was a desire for more gallery space as well as for more space for educational programming.

On July 8, 1957, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts to be able to raise the funds for an expansion.  This was merely the start of the process which would eventually lead to the creation of the Arkansas Arts Center.

The ordinance allowed for the expansion or extension of the building. It also authorized the museum’s board to accept gifts for the project and to invest those gifts for the purpose of the museum.  Since the museum only received City funds for maintenance and salary, the ability to raise funds for the expansion was key to the future of the institution.

Lastly, the ordinance gave the museum’s board the ability to increase its membership by up to six positions without having to get additional approval by the City Council.  With a fundraising drive underway and a larger facility planned, these additional board members could certainly prove to be key.

The ordinance passed with nine Ayes, zero Noes, and one absent.

125 years of MacArthur Park

On July 4, 1893, Arsenal Park opened in Little Rock.  This was the City’s first municipal public park.  Though it predated the establishment of a formal Parks and Recreation Department by several decades, it is the oldest part of that department.

The land now known as MacArthur Park 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.)  Congressman William L. Terry was active in negotiating the land swap.

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.

The park officially 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.

On March 9, 1942, Little Rock’s first public park was renamed by the Little Rock City Council.  By a vote of fourteen ayes, zero nays and four absent, the alderman approved Ordinance 6,388 which renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.

In 1952, General MacArthur (contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for President) visited Little Rock in March.  Later that year, the eventual GOP nominee (and 34th US President) General Dwight Eisenhower visited the park.

Today, MacArthur Park is the anchor of the burgeoning MacPark district as well as the MacArthur Park Historic Distric.