August 9, 1947 – Little Rock chosen as site for War Memorial Stadium

War Memorial Stadium was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 1947.  The work then began on the finalization of the location.

Four cities were in the running:  Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.  Each of the cities was required to donate the land for the stadium, provide parking for it, and sell local subscriptions equivalent to $250,000 to raise money for it as well.

On May 19, 1947, the Little Rock City Council approved Resolution 1,747 to donate the land for the stadium in Fair Park if Little Rock was selected.  This was not the first mention of a stadium in City records.  In March of 1947, the City Council had set aside land in Fair Park to use for a playground — with the stipulation that if it was eventually needed for a stadium, it would be relinquished for that purpose.

On August 9, 1947, the War Memorial Stadium Commission met in the House Chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol to select the location for the stadium.  West Memphis dropped out prior to the meeting; they had not been able to raise the sufficient local funds.  That left the three remaining cities.  (Cities had until June 24 to file paperwork expressing their interest in applying and were to submit their proposals by August 1.)

Instead of meeting in a usual committee room, the meeting was held in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.  The location for the meeting had been set because a large crowd was expected.  And the attendance did not disappoint.  City government and business leaders from all three cities turned out in full force.

The members of the Commission were Ed Keith, Chairman, Magnolia; Gordon Campbell, Secretary, Little Rock; Ed Gordon, Morrilton; Senator Lee Reaves, Hermitage; Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones, Conway; Dallas Dalton, Arkadelphia; Judge Maupin Cummings, Fayetteville; Dave Laney, Osceola; and Leslie Speck, Frenchman’s Bayou.

For several hours the nine heard proposals from the three cities.  Little Rock’s location was in Fair Park, North Little Rock’s was near its high school, and Hot Springs was on land next to Highway 70 approximately 2.5 miles from downtown.  Finally it was time to vote.  After two rounds of voting, Little Rock was declared the winner on a weighted ballot.

The north shore’s leadership was magnanimous in their defeat.  Hot Springs, however, was far from it.  In the coming days they filed suit against the Stadium Commission alleging flaws in Little Rock’s proposal as well as improprieties by members of the commission.  A preliminary decision sided with the state.  Ultimately, Hot Springs’ relatively new mayor Earl T. Ricks opted to drop the suit.  The Spa City’s business community was concerned that fighting the location might delay construction – and could negatively impact legislative and tourists’ feelings toward Hot Springs.  (And it was entirely possible that the State Police could have been used to “discover” that there was gambling going on in Hot Springs.)

Though ground was broken later in the year, by December 1947, the stadium was still $250,000 shy of funding for the construction.  This was after the state and Little Rock had previously both upped their commitments to $500,000 each.

The building did eventually open on schedule in conjunction with the 1948 Arkansas Razorback football games.

As for Mayor Ricks of Hot Springs, he moved to Little Rock to serve as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard during the governorship of Sid McMath.  He later held leadership positions in the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC.  He died in 1954 at the age of 45.  Among the ways he was memorialized was a National Guard armory in Little Rock, which stood in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium.

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Sandwich in History today at War Memorial Stadium

You are invited to join the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s next “Sandwiching in History” tour, which will visit the War Memorial Stadium at 1 Stadium Drive in Little Rock beginning at noon on Friday, July 12th, 2019.

Note: We will gather inside gate 9, which is adjacent to the stadium’s administrative offices, which face Markham Street to the north. Please park in the lot along the western edge of the stadium. We will walk the interior circumference of the stadium on our tour.

War Memorial Stadium, completed in 1948, was designed as not only a large-scale sports venue for the city of Little Rock, but also a living memorial to Arkansas’s veterans and fallen soldiers. With an initial seating capacity of just over 31,000, the stadium today can hold more than 54,000 spectators. War Memorial Stadium has hosted over 200 Razorback football games, as well as many other Arkansas collegiate and high school teams and even an NFL game. The stadium has also hosted soccer games, major concerts and famous entertainers throughout its 70-year history.

Sandwiching in History tours are worth one hour of AIA continuing education credit. If you would like to receive email notifications of upcoming tours instead of postcards or need additional information, please contact Callie Williams, Education and Outreach Coordinator for AHPP, at 501-324-9880 or Callie.Williams@arkansas.gov.

Women’s World Cup Watch Party today at War Memorial Stadium

Image may contain: stripesThe City of Little Rock and War Memorial Stadium invite the public to watch Team USA take on the Netherlands in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, today, July 7.

This is a free watch party, and the public is asked to bring blankets and/or lawn chairs to view the game from the field.

No cleats; shoes must be worn.

Concessions will be sold. Gates open at 9:30. The match begins at 10.

The Little Rock Zoo invites persons to stop by the Zoo for lunch and to see the exhibits there following the match.

70 Years Ago Today – War Memorial Park dedicated by President Truman with foreign affairs 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: Creation of War Memorial Stadium approved

On March 18, 1947, Governor Ben T. Laney signed the bill into law which authorized the construction of War Memorial Stadium.

The plans for the stadium were the brainchild of Arkansas Secretary of State C.G. “Crip” Hall and University of Arkansas Athletic Director John Barnhill.

Apparently the Southwest Conference was threatening to kick Arkansas out because of an inadequate football facility. Since the University did not have the funds to build a new one on its campus, Barnhill and Hall decided that the state should build one. Many other states were building War Memorial facilities of a variety of natures. The duo decided that the new football facility could be a War Memorial Stadium to pay tribute to the men who died in the recently concluded World War II.  While the stadium was touted as being of use to all colleges in the state and a variety of other types of activities, it was very much designed to be a home for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Getting the stadium through the Arkansas General Assembly was not easy.  The bill to create the stadium commission sailed through both houses. But even some who voted for it said they would oppose any funding bills.  When time came to vote for the funding, the bill fell far short of the three-quarters vote that was needed in the House for an appropriation bill.

WWII veterans were on both sides of the issue.  Some felt it was an appropriate way to honor those who died.  Others felt it was a gimmick to get the stadium approved.  Some of the opponents felt that a new state hospital for UAMS would be the more appropriate way to honor those who died during the war.  The debates were often heated and personal.

Overnight a new bill was created. It would pay for the stadium through the issuing of bonds. In addition to the state issuing bonds, any city which wished to bid for it would have to put up money for it as well as provide land.  This new bill would require only 51 votes to pass the House.  It was able to pass that threshold.  The Senate made a few amendments (mostly dealing with the composition of the stadium commission and the amount of dollars that the host city had to pledge).  Finally the House agreed to the Senate amendments and it went to Governor Laney.

The next hurdle for the stadium was choosing a location. That process would occupy stadium proponents throughout the spring and summer of 1947.

Johnny Cash’s Birthday

Cleveland County, Arkansas, native Johnny Cash was the subject of the Oscar winning film Walk the Line.  Although he never lived in Little Rock, he was a frequent visitor throughout his career.

Born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, as a young boy he moved with his family to Dyess.  After service in the military (in which he also had his first band), Cash moved to Memphis. It was there he broke into the music scene.

Among the venues Cash played in Little Rock were Barton Coliseum and Wildwood Park for the Arts.  On more than one occasion, he shared the stage with his friend and fellow Arkansan Glen Campbell.   The largest crowd for which Cash performed in Little Rock was in 1989, when he appeared at a Billy Graham crusade at War Memorial Stadium.

He is a character in the musical Million Dollar Quartet which the Arkansas Rep is producing later in 2019.

Thanksgiving Football 1969 in Little Rock: Hogs, Tigers, Warriors, Bearcats and Rockets

The Hogs stop Texas Tech at War Memorial Stadium

On Thanksgiving 1969 (November 27), four Little Rock high schools AND the University of Arkansas all played football games in Central Arkansas.  It was a day for football in the Rock!

It appears this was the only time this feat has happened.

It was a cool and misty day which seems to have made balls slippery and grass fields sloppy. But the precipitation seemed to be more an annoyance than a barrier for the players and fans.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, ranked Number 2 in the nation, played host to the Texas Tech Red Raiders at War Memorial Stadium.  The two teams played before a crowd of 35,287.  This was the smallest crowd in LR that season, likely due to it being Thanksgiving and the presence of the Central/Hall football game the same day.  It would have been hard to fit in two football games, Thanksgiving meals, and a possible church service all within one day.

The Hogs were 16 point favorites for the game with a 1:50 kickoff.  It was broadcast on ABC, and fans were encouraged to wear red to show up well on the color telecast.

The Hogs beat the Red Raiders by a score of 33 to 0 in their penultimate regular season game.  Turnovers were the key with the Hogs recovering a fumble and intercepting five passes.

This game set the stage for the final Hogs regular season game, which was the December 6, 1969, shootout against the Number 1 Texas Longhorns in Fayetteville.

Earlier in the day, Little Rock Catholic took on NLRHS north of the river with a 10am kick off. The Rockets, under head coach George Loss, were 9-2 heading into the game. The Wildcats (coached by Ken Stephens) were 5-4 and had won four in a row. At the end of the game, NLR was triumphant by a score of 21 to 12.

Later that day, Jones High hosted Horace Mann at the same stadium. This game, with a 2pm kickoff, would be the final game between Jones and Mann. Jones was being closed at the end of the year.

The teams had met earlier in the season with Mann triumphing 13 to 8. Mann had a record of 2-8, playing in the larger AAAA classification. Jones, with a record of 4-6, played in the AA classification. For years these all African American schools were not allowed to play in the Arkansas Activities Association. But by the late 1960s, they were now playing in AAA conferences.

Jones scored an upset victory over the Bearcats by a score of 19-8.

Quigley Stadium was less than three miles from War Memorial Stadium. With a 10am kickoff before a sold out crowd, people who had wanted to go to both the Hogs game and Hall/Central game also had the option of listening to the high school gridiron competition on KARK radio (now KARN).

Prior to the game, Hall had captured the AAAA State Championship by virtue of its record. (The top classification did not participate in playoffs until 1983.) C. W. Keopple was the Warriors’ coach, while Gene Hall was the Tigers’ mentor.  The damp field and high stakes of the game turned it into a defensive slugfest.  Hall had 2 fumbles while Central fumbled four times.

At the end of the fourth quarter the scoreboard showed a 0 to 0 tie. And that one went into the record books.  Hall’s season record was 9-0-1, while Central’s was 6-2-2.  It was the best season record Hall had amassed in its 13 years of football.

Four football games within a few miles of each other were a peek into Little Rock life:

  • The Hogs were riding the crest of their 1960s football superiority in the Southwest Conference.
  • The final Thanksgiving football game in Arkansas between two segregated public schools.
  • Continued alternating dominance by Hall and Central in the state’s largest school sports classification.  Soon, Parkview would be added to the mix. Throughout the 1970s, all three Little Rock public high schools would rotate winning state championships.