Little Rock Look Back: 1908 Special Mayoral Election

Following the resignation of Mayor W. E. Lenon so he could devote more time to his business interests, John Herndon Hollis was chosen to serve as mayor until a special election could be held.  Mayor Hollis did not choose to run for the seat.

Alderman A. B. Poe announced his resignation at the City Council meeting so that he could run for the mayoral seat. Several other aldermen were mentioned as potential candidates but none of them ended up filing.  Numerous names outside of City Hall were floated as potential candidates.  With so many potential candidates, one insurance firm offered a free life insurance policy to a person who could accurately predict who would be the mayor. (Contest open to persons between the age of 17 and 60, some restrictions apply.) Records do not indicate who won the contest.

The April 22, 1908, Arkansas Democrat carried announcements of Alderman Poe, former mayor W. R. Duley, E. M. Merriman, Charles J. Kramer, and Harry M. Ramey all seeking the office.  Aldermen R. C. Powers and John H. Tuohey came close to announcing but changed their minds at the last minute.  Alderman George H. Stratman did announce but withdrew before the field was set. Likewise, Mr. Kramer withdrew.

When the Democratic Party announced the May 14 primary, the field was set with Mr. Duley, Mr. Poe, Mr. Ramey, and Mr. Merriman. On April 29, Mr. Merriman withdrew “for reasons best known to himself” leaving three in the race.

As the race got going, so did the politicking.  Mr. Duley advocated for better storm sewers as well as street maintenance. He also expressed the need for a change to the state constitution to allow cities more bonding capabilities for public improvements (an issue that would not be fixed until the 1920s). Mr. Poe campaigned on better drinking water, more sidewalks, better streets, and a new City Hospital.  Mr. Ramey was especially focused on the City’s water supply. He also promised to run the City like a business.

In addition to speeches and newspaper ads, the candidates conducted rallies and parades. Their supporters would march up and down the streets with megaphones, brass bands, and other accoutrements.  In the waning days of the campaign, supporters of the candidates were leveling personal attacks against the opponents. Most of these were made verbally, as the ads in the newspapers where candidates were defending themselves were vague in their references to the attacks’ specifics.

The May 14 election day was fraught with activity. Every available vehicle which could be hired had been by the campaigns to carry voters (all white men) to the polls.  Boys were paid to run up and down the streets advocating for candidates and passing out handbills.

The final results were W. R. “Bill” Duley with 1,429 votes, A. B. Poe with 996 votes, and Harry M. Ramey with 688 votes.  Considering it was his first race for public office, Mr. Ramey and his supporters were pleased with the showing he made.  Mr. Poe was not-quite gracious in defeat. In a statement he released he contended that he had been attacked more unfairly than any man in the city’s history.

Mr. Duley carried wards 2, 5, 6, and 7, finishing in second place in wards 1, 3, 4, and 8. Mr. Poe carried wards 1, 3, 4, and 8, while finishing in second in ward 5, and landing in third in the remaining wards. Mr. Ramey did not carry any wards but did finish in second place in three of them.

Following the primary election, Mr. Duley left town for a short vacation.  On June 17, 1908, the general election was held. As Mr. Duley was unopposed, the election was a formality.

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Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Election of 1903

In April 1903, Warren E. Lenon took the oath of office and became Little Rock Mayor.  He had previously served a decade on the City Council.  A native of Iowa, Mr. Lenon was a banker and real estate developer.

At the time, winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election. The Pulaski County Democratic Committee would set the primary date which would vary yearly anywhere from August to February prior to the April general election.  The primary for this race was set for January 28, 1903.

By July 1902, Alderman Lenon had expressed his desire to run for mayor. He would be challenging incumbent W. R. Duley who was planning on seeking another term. Over the summer, W. C. Faucette, a former alderman who lived north of the Arkansas River, and Col. S. M. Apperson announced their intentions to run for the office too.

In December 1902, Mayor Duley dropped out of the race citing business obligations.  Three days before Christmas, Mr. Faucette also dropped out and endorsed Col. Apperson.

In the primary, Lenon carried all eight of the City’s wards.  In Lenon’s home ward, he received 391 votes and Apperson only 21 votes.  The closest Apperson came was in Faucette’s ward, where Lenon received 159 and Apperson 123 votes.  The total results were 2009 and Apperson 716.

In the April 8, 1903, general election, Mr. Lenon was unopposed and received 662 votes.  This was down from the 1,911 which Mr. Duley had received in 1901 when he had an opponent.

Mayor Lenon took office in April 1903 and was re-elected in April 1905 and April 1907. He served until he resigned in April 1908 because of expanding responsibilities in the private sector.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor W. E. Lenon

OMayor Lenonn October 8, 1867 in Panora, Iowa, future Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon was born.  He was one of eleven children of John D. and Margaret M. Long Lenon.

Lenon came to Little Rock in 1888 after finishing his schooling in Iowa.  He helped set up an abstract company shortly after his arrival.  In 1902 he organized the Peoples Savings Bank.  Among his other business interests were the City Realty Company, the Factory Land Company, the Mountain Park Land Company, and the Pulaski Heights Land Company.

From 1895 to 1903, he was a Little Rock alderman, and in 1903, he was elected Mayor of the city. A progressive Mayor, he championed the construction of a new City Hall which opened in 1908.  At the first meeting of the City Council in that building, Mayor Lenon tendered his resignation.  His duties in his various business interests were taking up too much of his time.

Mayor Lenon had been a champion for the establishment of a municipal auditorium. He had wanted to include one in the new City Hall complex. But a court deemed it not permissible under Arkansas finance laws at the time.  He also worked to help establish the first Carnegie Library in Little Rock which opened in 1912.

Mayor Lenon continued to serve in a variety of public capacities after leaving office.  In the 1920s, he briefly chaired a public facilities board for an auditorium district. It appeared he would see his dream fulfilled of a municipal auditorium.  Unfortunately the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the enabling legislation invalid.

In 1889, he married Clara M. Mercer.  The couple had three children, two of whom survived him: a son W. E. Lenon Jr., and a daughter Vivion Mercer Lenon Brewer.  Together with Adolphine Fletcher Terry (also a daughter of a LR Mayor), Mrs. Brewer was a leader of the Women’s Emergency Committee.

Mayor Lenon died June 25, 1946 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery.  Lenon Drive just off University Avenue is named after Mayor Lenon.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Approval of a temporary municipal auditorium

Following the court decision which forbade the City of Little Rock from using public dollars to construct a municipal auditorium, a temporary solution was sought.  On August 20, 1906, the City Council approved plans for such a structure.

Now for some context….

After the September 10, 1906, City Council meeting, the mayor told the Gazette that the Board of Public Affairs had leased part of the City’s land at Markham and Arch Streets to A. C. Read to construct the rink and auditorium.  The lease also allowed the building to extend out into Arch Street (the 1913 Sanborn Map shows it covering approximately two-thirds of the width of the street).  The mayor noted that, “It is stipulated in our lease to Mr. Read that the city shall have the use of the auditorium which he shall erect at any time.”

According to the Democrat, by September the building was already under construction.  That paper also noted that “after three years it passes into the hands of the city, when it can be repaired or remodeled to suit convention purposes.”  In the story about the new plans, the Democrat also gave the facility a very optimistic seating capacity of 9,000 people.

This announcement by Mayor Lenon should not have been a surprise to close observers of the City Council.  On August 13, 1906, A. C. Read, a businessman and real estate developer, petitioned the City for the right to construct a skating rink.  The matter was referred to the Street & Fire Committee, the Superintendent of Public Works and Aldermen Louis Volmer and Benjamin S. Thalheimer, who represented the Sixth Ward, in which the structure would be located.

Neither the Gazette nor the Democrat carried a mention of this petition in their coverage of that meeting.  By the next Council meeting a week later, the committee had reported back with a recommendation for approval.  Resolution 288 was adopted giving Mr. Read the right to build the skating rink.  Interestingly, the resolution did not contain the words “skating rink” though the original petition had.  Instead it permitted Mr. Read to construct a building “suitable for purposes as defined by the Board of Public Affairs.”

The resolution also stated that within three years the building would become property of the City.  The unnamed Gazette reporter at the August 21, 1906, City Council meeting did note in a story the day after the meeting that Mr. Read’s structure would probably be used as an auditorium in three years when the lease was up and the land use reverted back to the City.

Matters often languished in committees of the City Council for weeks; the one week turnaround of Mr. Read’s petition was highly uncommon.  It was also rare for the City Council to meet two weeks in a row.  The fact that it was reported back so quickly would be an indication that this was no standard petition from a citizen.

Civic observers might also have noted that the resolution contained language that a private citizen had been given permission to construct a building on City-owned property to the specifications of the City’s Board of Public Affairs.  Records do not indicate who concocted this scheme, but it is likely that Mayor Lenon was involved.  However his papers shed no light on that time in his administration.

1906 verdict scuttles plans for new LR City Hall with Auditorium

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon had been advocating for a new City Hall a municipal auditorium since shortly after taking office in April 1903. After plans were approved in July 1906, a group of citizens, led by Arkansas Gazette publisher J. N. Heiskell, filed suit to stop the City.

The closing arguments in the trial against plans for a new City Hall and auditorium complex had been heard on Monday, July 30.  The case was heard by Chancery Judge J. C. Hart.  Serving as an advisor to Chancellor Hart throughout the trial (though with no official legal standing) was Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Lea.  To accommodate the expected large attendance, the trial had been moved into his courtroom which was larger than Chancellor Hart’s.

On Friday, August 3, Pulaski County Chancery Judge J. C. Hart issued an injunction to keep the City from signing a contract for the construction of a city hall, jail and auditorium.  Chancellor Hart concurred with the plaintiffs that Arkansas’ constitution and laws dictated all taxation must be for public purposes.  He found there was nothing in Arkansas case law which defined an auditorium to be used for conventions as a public purpose.

As had been the case throughout the trial, the tone of the coverage of the decision differed greatly in the city’s two daily papers.  The subheading in the Democrat noted that the plaintiffs would be liable for any losses to the municipal government’s coffers due to a delay in commencing the construction if Little Rock eventually prevailed.  That fact is not mentioned by the Gazette.  Both papers did make note that Judge Lea agreed with the Chancellor’s decision.

For now, it looked as if the City of Little Rock would be stuck in the 1867 City Hall on Markham between Main and Louisiana.  Mr. Heiskell and his compatriots waited to see if the City would appeal the decision.

While August would be a quiet month publicly, work would go on behind the scenes.  More on that, in the future.

Little Rock Look Back: Plans Approved for new City Hall in 1906. But will it be built?

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

On July 9, 1906, the Little Rock City Council approved Resolution 281 and Ordinance 1,295. These actions approved the plans for a new City Hall complex to be constructed on land at the northwest corner of Markham and Broadway Streets.  A few days later, the contract was awarded for the construction of the new building.

Mayor Warren E. Lenon had first called for a new city hall complex in his annual address in April 1904. He repeated his request in April 1905.   The City Council took up Mayor Lenon’s quest for a new city hall in December of 1905.  The Council appropriated money for the purchase of land for a city hall, jail and auditorium.

In response to this, the Arkansas Gazette daily newspaper ran a story featuring the viewpoints of a few civic leaders weighing in on the need for a new city hall complex which would also include a new jail and a city auditorium.  Two of the respondents, L. B. Leigh and P. Raleigh, stressed the need for paved streets and better sewers instead of a new city hall and auditorium.

The other three businessmen interviewed were more favorable to Mayor Lenon’s proposal.  Morris M. Cohn, a former Little Rock City Attorney, stated “I do not think we can make a better investment than in a fine city hall and auditorium.”  (Mr. Cohn, though an M. M. Cohn, was not related the M. M. Cohn who was the namesake for the longtime Little Rock department store.) County Judge William Marmaduke Kavanaugh offered his satisfaction with the action of the City Council on that matter.  R. E. Walt, a banker, opined that he thought $150,000 was not enough; he suggested $200,000 should be spent.

Later that month the Gazette reported that a site had been selected for the city hall and auditorium complex.  The proposed location was most of a city block located at the corner of Markham and Broadway Streets.  Mayor Lenon was vague as to the details of the deal because negotiations were still underway with the property owners

As 1906 dawned, Mayor Lenon and other city leaders continued to take steps to build the new city hall and auditorium.  They invited three local architects to make presentations for the chance to design the new complex.  The three were Charles L. Thompson, Frank W. Gibb and George R. Mann.  Mr. Thompson was chosen to receive the assignment.

On February 5, 1906, Mayor Lenon announced the creation of a special committee to work on the planning for a future city hall complex.  This committee consisted of Aldermen Louis Walther, A. B. Poe, L. N. Whitcomb, Christopher Ledwidge, and John A. Adams.

Mayor Lenon further stated that the new city hall complex and several private developments would “put us in that march of progress with which nothing can prevent us from having a 100,000 population in a few years.”

The saga to get the building built was just starting.