Little Rock Look Back: Open House Gala for Museum of Fine Arts

On Tuesday, October 5, 1937, the Fine Arts Club of Little Rock held its first meeting in the new Museum of Fine Arts.  But it was not a typical meeting. It was an Open House and Dedication for the new building.

Construction on the 10,140 square foot building had commenced with the January 3, 1936, groundbreaking.  By September 1937, the keys were presented to the City, marking the end of the construction process.

During the October 5 events, a letter of congratulations was read by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and WPA Administrator Harry L. Hopkins.  A letter which had been prepared by Sen Joe T. Robinson prior to his death was also read.  Mayor R. E. Overman, architect H. Ray Burks, and Fred W. Allsopp spoke at the event.  The latter was chair of the museum’s board.  Over 1,000 people were in attendance. At the time the city’s population was around 87,000.

The museum officially opened its doors to the public on October 28, 1937.  Irene Robinson, a longtime member of the Fine Arts Club, was its first director and would serve in that capacity for two decades.

The original facade of the Museum can still be seen inside the Arkansas Arts Center.  Once the expansion and renovation of that building is complete in 2022, the original entrance will be highlighted even more with the new design.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: President Truman dedicates War Memorial PARK in a national address

Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11, 1949.

(It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place in September 1948, at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried live on nationwide radio (though some radio networks opted to broadcast it later).  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Races without Incumbents

The announcement by Little Rock’s 72nd Mayor, Mark Stodola, that he will not seek a fourth term in 2018, sent the Little Rock Culture Vulture thinking about past mayoral races in Little Rock history.

Election records in the 1800s are spotty at best, so this discussion focuses on those who have run for Mayor once the current City Hall opened in April 1908.

The November 2018 election will be only the sixth mayoral election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor on the ballot.  (Assuming that none of Little Rock’s living seven former mayors choose to run.)

The most recent election without a current or former mayor was in 2006, when Jim Dailey had announced he would not seek another term. It was at that election that former City Attorney Mark Stodola, faced off against two former City Directors (Barbara Graves and Jesse Mason) and former State Senator Bill Walker.

From 1908 through 1957, Little Rock elections were partisan in nature.  In most instances, if one won the Democratic Primary, one was assured of being mayor.  Looking back at municipal general election results (where there was usually only token opposition at best) in those decades does not give a true picture to the spirited nature of races for City Hall.

The first election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor was in 1911. Charles Taylor ran as a reforming outsider and won an open seat for mayor.  He would serve until 1919. That year, former alderman Ben Brickhouse won the open seat.

R. E. Overman was elected to his first term as mayor in 1935, after incumbent mayor Horace Knowlton did  not seek a third term.  After returning to City Hall in 1941 and being re-elected, Mayor Moyer retired a second time in 1945. In that election, Dan Sprick was elected mayor.  That would be the final election in Little Rock without an incumbent or former mayor until 2006.

From 1957 until 1994, the mayor was chosen every two years by members of the City Board of Directors from among their membership.  The last person to be selected in that manner, Jim Dailey, won city-wide election to the mayoral position in 1994 and served until 2006.

Here is a history of all the mayor races since 1908:

1908 Special – Incumbent acting mayor John Herndon Hollis did not seek election to full term.  Former Mayor W. R. Duley elected
1909 – Mayor Duley re-elected
1911 – Charles Taylor elected after Mayor Duley forgoes seeking another term.
1913 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1915 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1917 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1919 – Ben D. Brickhouse elected after Mayor Taylor forgoes seeking another term.
1921 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1923 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1925 – Mayor Brickhouse loses Democratic Primary to County Judge Charles Moyer, who wins the general election.
1927 – Mayor Moyer re-elected
1929 – Mayor Moyer loses Democratic Primary to City Attorney Pat L. Robinson, who wins the general election.
1931 – Mayor Robinson loses Democratic Primary to Horace Knowlton, who wins the general election.
1933 – Mayor Knowlton re-elected
1935 – R. E. Overman elected after Mayor Knowlton forgoes another term.
1937 – Mayor Overman re-elected
1939 – J. V. Satterfield defeats Mayor Overman in the Democratic Primary. He subsequently wins general election.
1941 – Former mayor Moyer returns to City Hall after Mayor Satterfield opts to retire after one term.
1943 – Mayor Moyer is re-elected
1945 – Dan Sprick is elected after Mayor Moyer forgoes another term.
1947 – Sam Wassell defeats Mayor Sprick in the Democratic Primary, subsequently wins general election.
1949 – Mayor Wassell is re-elected
1951 – Republican Pratt Remmel defeats Democratic incumbent Sam Wassell in the general election to become mayor.
1953 – Mayor Remmel is re-elected.
1955 – Democratic nominee Woodrow Mann defeats GOP incumbent Mayor Remmel in the general election to become mayor.
1956 – Voters switch to City Manager form of government, partially in response to actions by Mayor Mann’s administration.  Mayor Mann leaves office in November 1957.

1957 to 1994 – City Manager form with mayor selected from among membership

1994 – Mayor Jim Dailey wins election as Little Rock’s first popularly elected mayor since 1957.  He had previously been selected mayor by his city board colleagues.
1998 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2002 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2006 – Mark Stodola is elected mayor after Mayor Dailey forgoes another term.
2010 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2014 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2018 – Mayor Stodola announces he will not seek another term.

Little Rock Look Back: LR Votes FOR a Municipal Auditorium

On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters went to the polls to vote on three different municipal bond issues.  One of them was the construction of a municipal auditorium.

The bonds for the auditorium would be $468,000 in general obligation bonds which would be paid off between 1940 and 1971. This was toward a total cost of $760,000 for the entire project.

The official campaign for the auditorium was sponsored by the Little Rock Forward Committee which was led by W. H. Williams. In campaign advertisements it showed the value of conventions in New York City which was estimated at $100 per convention attendee. Little Rock organizers were estimating a $10 a day expenditure by visitors, which the committee stressed was very conservative. The campaign committee emphasized the importance of acting at that time due to the federal government money involved.

Various committees and organizations endorsed the auditorium project including the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Young Business Men’s Association.

The thrust of the campaign focused on the economic benefit to Little Rock as well as the fact that the auditorium would be for all citizens. This message was picked up in editorials by both the Democrat and Gazette. In editorials on January 23 and 25, the Democratopined that the benefits of the auditorium would be distributed among all classes of the citizenry. The next day, both papers ran editorials which touted the economic boon an auditorium would bring through conventions and meetings.

The Democrat’s approach broke down the current value of conventions to Little Rock with, what it termed, the city’s “existing inadequate” facilities. The paper emphasized a conservative estimate of what the added value to Little Rock’s economy would be with the new auditorium.

In expressing support for the auditorium the Gazette stressed the values for local, statewide and national groups. “An auditorium would provide a more convenient and better adapted community center for all kinds of local gathering,” and continued that it would make Little Rock “the logical meeting place for state conventions of every sort.” In discussing the value of state, regional and national meetings the paper stressed that the outside money spent by convention attendees has an impact beyond stores, hotels and restaurants.

Both papers also echoed the importance of the federal government financing to make this possible. The Democrat noted that the Public Works Administration grant and federal low cost loan made this an ideal time.

On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters approved the auditorium bond by a vote of 1,518 to 519. It passed in each of the city’s 23 precincts. Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman expressed his pleasure at the outcome of the vote and extended his thanks to the voters.

After the election, a Gazette editorial commented on the low turnout for the special election by commenting that the weather had been nice and there were no other barriers to voting. The editorial writer opined that those not voting in the election must not have been opposed to the endeavor.

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Auditorium groundbreaking 80 years ago today

 

122437 GroundbreakOn 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.

Little Rock Look Back: City of LR approves 1935 municipal auditorium plan

An August 25, 1935, rendering in the ARKANSAS GAZETTE of the proposed Little Rock auditorium at Capitol and Scott Streets.

On August 26, 1935, the City of Little Rock took its first significant step in a decade for the creation of a City auditorium..  Under the leadership of Mayor R. E. Overman, the City Council approved authorization for the City to apply for $1,000,000 from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (PWA) for the construction of an auditorium.  The PWA had issued a September 16, 1935, deadline for applications to be received as it sought to spend $4.8 billion in construction projects.

The auditorium plan was announced on Saturday, August 24, 1935.  Much preparation had already been undertaken before the project was publicly unveiled.  Private presentations hhad taken place, a team of architects had been chosen (Eugene Stern and the firm of Wittenberg & Delony), and a location had been selected.

The auditorium complex was slated for a block bounded by Capitol, Scott, Fourth and Cumberland Streets.  The Women’s City Club building on that block would remain with the new structure being built to wrap around two sides of the existing structure. The site was chosen because it was one block east of the Main Street business corridor and near existing meeting locations such as the Boys Club, Albert Pike Hotel, Albert Pike Masonic Lodge and several churches.

As planned by the architects, this structure’s front façade would have run the length of the Capitol Avenue side of the block.  The building was proposed to be constructed of concrete, stone and steel.  It would have a large hall with a proscenium stage and seating capacity of 4,000 with overflow of an additional 500.  The adjoining exhibition hall could seat 3,500 people.  The plan called for 150 cars to be parked in the building, and an additional 100 cars to be parked on a surface lot on the site.

Following an August 26 closed door meeting to discuss the project from which members of the public and press were excluded, in open session the City Council voted to pursue the funding for the million dollar auditorium.  If approved by the PWA, the funds would be provided in grants and loans, to be paid by over a 35 year period.

The auditorium proposal was filed with the PWA in Washington in September 1935.  Throughout the next several months, Mayor Overman and the city were engaged in a series of conversations and negotiations with the PWA for the expansion of both the water system and the sewer system. This diverted attention from pursuing the auditorium immediately.  This specific auditorium project stalled.  But because the plan had been filed by the September 16 deadline, it allowed the City to make use of PWA funds a few years later which would lead to the construction of Robinson Auditorium.

Little Rock Look Back: President Truman dedicates War Memorial Park

HST in LR2Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11.  (It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried on nationwide radio.  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.