Tag Archives: Robinson Center Performance Hall

Remembering Sen. Joseph Taylor Robinson

Eighty-one years ago today, on July 14, 1937, U.S. Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson died in his apartment in Washington D.C.

The Senator’s wife, Ewilda, was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. (She was informed of her husband’s death when her sister-in-law called to express condolences. No one had yet notified her of her husband’s demise.) Following the news, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  The Democrat’s 1928 Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Robinson was particularly close to FDR. He had successfully steered numerous pieces of New Deal legislation through Congress.  However, at the time of his death, the Senator was facing an uphill climb trying to build consensus on the President’s unpopular Court Packing scheme.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

A sealed mailer containing bound copy of remarks delivered at Sen. Robinson memorial. It bears the franking signature of Sen. Hattie Caraway.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

Five months after her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson participated in the groundbreaking of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  The groundbreaking ceremony was the first time it was announced that building would be named in his memory.   On a plaque inside that building today, a quote from President Roosevelt stands as a further testament of the importance of Senator Robinson to the US.  Taken from President Roosevelt’s remarks upon learning of the Senator’s death, the plaque reads, in part, “A pillar of strength is gone.”

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Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes in preparation for Second Act

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.

Flag Day 2018

Today is Flag Day.  Here are several photos of the Stars and Stripes taken in Little Rock over the past few years.

Flag at Robinson Center
Flag outside of Tipton & Hurst main store in Heights
Flag outside of Tipton & Hurst main store in Heights
Flag at the Clinton Presidential Center
The red, white and blue stand out against the night sky and limestone of the Arkansas State Capitol.
The red, white and blue stand out against the night sky and limestone of the Arkansas State Capitol.
The stars and stripes unfurled from the balcony of the Capital Hotel.
The stars and stripes unfurled from the balcony of the Capital Hotel.
Flag Day 4
American flags mark the graves of veterans in Mt. Holly Cemetery

Little Rock Look Back: Truman attends WWI Reunion

Outside of his capacity as President of the United States, Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock on June 10, 1949, for the annual reunion of the 35th Division, his World War I unit.  He was joined on this trip by members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and his sister.

Upon arriving in Little Rock, President Truman gave brief remarks at a welcome reception inside Robinson Auditorium.  He also spoke at a reception at the Hotel Marion and following a ball given at Robinson Auditorium.

In all of his June 10th remarks, President Truman spoke of the hospitality he always enjoyed in Little Rock. He discussed visits he had made over the years, including a stay at the Hotel Marion while in Arkansas campaigning for Senator Hattie Caraway.

At the ball, he commented on how, as a Baptist, he had not learned how to dance.  He then joked that however he had picked up other habits which were perhaps not in keeping with his Baptist faith.

At one event, President Truman asked all in attendance to shake hands with their neighbors as a way to shake his hand by proxy.  He explained that on inauguration day, he had shaken over 25,000 hands. Given the fact that he signed 600 documents a day, regardless whether he was in Washington or not, he felt he could not keep up with shaking hands all day.

As he concluded the day, he previewed that he would be giving a national address the next day while in Little Rock.  In his usual, self-deprecating way, Truman remarked “…if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.”

The texts of all of his remarks while in Little Rock can be found here.

Rocking the Tonys: The Boss in The Rock!

One guaranteed winner at the 2018 Tony Awards is Bruce Springsteen.   His show Springsteen on Broadway continues to sell out at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

His one man show is part concert, part conversation, and all hit.  After previews beginning in early October, it opened on October 27 for a run that was originally to be one month.  It has been extended multiple times, and is now set to conclude in December 2018 – a full 13 months later than the original plan.

He will perform on the Tony Awards and receive an Special Tony Award tonight in recognition of his artistic contributions (and the unspoken financial contributions) to this season.

On May 3, 1976, Springsteen appeared on stage at Robinson Auditorium.  He was on a national tour riding the wave of the success of his August 1975 album Born to Run.  His set list for the concert included:  “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Spirit in the Night,” “It’s My Life,” “Thunder Road,” “She’s the One,” “Born to Run,” “Pretty Flamingo,” “Growin’ Up,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” “Backstreets,” “Jungleland,” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” The encore was “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Detroit Medley.

The concert sold poorly. Springsteen vowed never to return to Little Rock again.  He did eventually come back, but it would be the year 2000.

Rocking the Tonys: Baryshnikov at Robinson (part 2)

One of the presenters at Sunday’s 72nd Tony Awards is Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Twenty-nine years ago, he himself was a 1989 Tony nominee for Actor in a Play (for playing a man-turned-cockroach in an adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

In 1985, Baryshnikov returned to Little Rock to perform again at Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   He had performed here two years earlier, as well.

Among the dancers who joined him in the program was future Tony nominee Robert LaFosse.  He would be nominated for a 1989 Tony as well. But he was up for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.  Other dancers in the company were Cynthia Harvey, Susan Jaffe, Leslie Browne, Elaine Kudo, Cheryl Yeager, Amanda McKerrow, Deirdre Carberry, Bonnie Moore, Valerie Madonia, Ross Stretton, Peter Fonseca, Gil Boggs, John Gardner, and John Turjoman.

The company danced to pieces choreographed by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Marius Petipa, future Tony Award winner Twyla Tharp, Lisa de Ribere, and La Fosse.  The music composers included George Gershwin, Jacques Offenbach, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Hector Berlioz, as well as composers who wrote songs for Frank Sinatra.

While Ballet Arkansas did not have any dancers perform during the evening, the organization presented it and was able to receive the proceeds which exceeded the expenses.  For several years in the 1980s, the Ballet would either commence or conclude their season with such an performance. In fact, the 1985 Baryshnikov program contained a promotion of a 1986 visit by Alvin Ailey’s dance company.

Whereas the 1983 Baryshnikov appearance had been sponsored by the Arkansas Democrat, this time, the rival Arkansas Gazette was the sponsor.

 

Little Rock Look Back: The Rices and Little Rock auditoriums

On 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.

J Rice 1920In 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, 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 Performance Hall.