Arkansas Heritage Month – The Architecture of Little Rock Central High School

centralentranceArchitecture is often overlooked when considering the arts, but it is definitely an art form.

Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects. The New York Times called it the most expensive high school built at the time.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long and includes 150,000 square feet of floor space. The project involved most of Little Rock’s leading architects who were still practicing at the time: John Parks Almand, George H. Wittenberg and Lawson L. Delony, Eugene John Stern, and George R. Mann.  Over the years, different architects would take credit for various facets of the building.  Given the size of the project, there was plenty of work for each architect to do.

More than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel went into the building’s construction. The building contained 150,000 square feet of floor space, upon its completion. It cost $1.5 million to construct in 1927. The school received extensive publicity upon its opening. An article in the Arkansas Gazette said, “we have hundreds of journalists in our fair city for the dedication” of the new high school.

At its construction, the auditorium seated 2,000 people between a main level and a balcony.  The stage was sixty feet deep and 160 feet long so that it could be used gymnasium. From 1927 until the opening of Robinson Auditorium in 1940, the auditorium would be Little Rock’s main site for hosting performances by musical and theatrical groups.

Subsequent additions would include a separate gymnasium, a library, and a football stadium. In 1953 the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of construction of a new high school for students, Hall High School.

In 1977, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. These were in recognition of desegregation events which took place in the school in 1957.

In 1998, President William Jefferson Clinton signed legislation designating the school and visitor center across the street as a National Historic Site to “preserve, protect, and interpret for the benefit, education, and inspiration of present and future generations…its role in the integration of public schools and the development of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.”

Heritage Month – U.S. Arsenal Tower Building

MacPark ArsenalToday is Armed Forces Day.  It is an appropriate day to look at the U. S. Arsenal Tower Building.  Construction on the Little Rock Arsenal began in 1838 and was completed in 1840.  The complex grew to include more than thirty buildings. The arsenal building itself was a two story brick building with an unusual central octagonal tower between two wings. The tower was actually used to move munitions between floors of the building. Other buildings included office buildings, a storehouse, a magazine, a guardhouse, a hospital and other service structures. The hospital and service structures were built of wood.

On 25 Jul 1873 the Little Rock Arsenal became the Little Rock Barracks and remained that until the facility was abandoned 25 Sep 1890. The tower building was converted into married officer quarters. Douglas MacArthur was born 26 Jan 1880, in the tower building at the Little Rock Barracks to then Captain Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and his wife.

The site was turned over to the city 23 Apr 1892, stipulated for use as a city park. In return, the City of Little Rock gave the U.S. Government 1,000 acres  on which Fort Logan H. Roots was established by the U.S. Congress on the same date, 23 Apr 1892. All of the remaining buildings on the original site were sold or destroyed except the Arsenal Tower building.

The land became known as City Park and later MacArthur Park.  The Tower Building remained empty and in deteriorating condition until the late 1930s, when the City of Little Rock renovated the building.  For many years, the Aesthetic Club met in the building as the only tenant.  When others refused to pay the utilities, the Aesthetic Club members did.  The organization continues to meet in the building.

In 1942, the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities opened in the building; it had previously been located in Little Rock’s City Hall. The name of the museum changed in 1964 to the Museum of Science and Natural History, and again in 1983 to the Arkansas Museum of Science and History. In 1997, the museum moved to a new location in the River Market, where it now is known as the Museum of Discovery.

In May 2001, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History opened in the building.

The structure was listed in National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1970.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.

Heritage Month – Joseph T. Robinson House

JT Robinson HouseThe Robinson House or the Foster-Robinson House is located at 2122 Broadway.

It was designed by Frank W. Gibb and built in 1904 for lumber man H. H. Foster.  Senator Robinson purchased the home from Foster’s widow and the house remained in the Robinson family until 1972 (following the Senator’s death in 1937 and his widow’s death in 1958). While visiting the state, President Roosevelt stayed at this house.

The Robinson house is a 2-1/2 story wood frame structure resting on a foundation of granite and brick. The exterior is sheathed in clapboards, and the roof is steeply pitched with a complex and irregular plan. There are four chimneys, two of brick and two of granite and brick. The main facade consists of a full-width porch supported by three square granite posts, above which are two pairs of sash windows, topped by a pair of gable ends, each with two small square windows. The gable ends are finished in stucco with decorative half-timbering. The porch is decorated with flattened Tudor-style arches and ornamental brackets, and shelters the main entrance, which is under the right gable, and paired windows under the left gable.

The interior has a wealth of high-quality woodwork, made using some of the choicest and most unusual cuts available at the time.

In addition to the house, the property includes a carriage house built using the same methods as the house. The yard is enclosed by an iron fence on the south and east sides, and a rock wall on the north and west sides.

It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 28, 1975.  On October 12, 1994, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.