Little Rock City Hall turns 111 today

City Hall circa 1908

111 years ago today, Little Rock City Hall officially opened at the corner of Markham and Broadway.

On April 15, 1908, the Italian Renaissance Revival style building, which had been designed by local architect Charles Thompson, played host to an open house. Staff had started moving into the building in March of that year.   This was, as often is the case, behind schedule.  The date in the cornice toward the top of the building is 1907, but the building was not completed until 1908.

An open house took place on April 15, 1908, presided over by Mayor John Herndon Hollis and his wife as well as former Mayor W. E. Lenon and his wife.  (Mayor Hollis’ wife is a distant cousin of the Culture Vulture.)

In 1903, W. E. Lenon became Mayor of Little Rock. Back then, the terms were two-year terms.  Before the start of his second term in 1905, he realized that the City was outgrowing City Hall, which was, at the time, on the northeast corner of Markham and Louisiana – where part of the Statehouse Convention Center sits today.

In February 1906, Mayor Lenon appointed a committee of five aldermen to over see the planning for the building of a new City Hall. In July 1906, the City Council approved plans, which called for a City Hall with an municipal auditorium wing. There was some hue and cry about the cost spending and a resulting lawsuit, so, in September 1906, those plans were scrapped and a simpler City Hall was approved for the cost of $175,000.

The last resolution in the old City Hall called for the banning of smoking in the new Council Chambers – while the Council was in session. This may well have been the first smoking ban in a public government building in the history of Arkansas.

When the building opened, the third floor was not finished out. The space was not needed. When the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities (now the Museum of Discovery) moved into City Hall in 1929, they had to finish out their space.

In 1913, the new Central Fire Station, designed in the Beaux Arts style, was constructed adjacent to City Hall. During the 1930s, as the City grew, more space was needed. A garage, designed in the “austere, utilitarian” style was built in 1936 and a City Jail Annex, built by the WPA in the modified Art Deco style was built in 1938.

By 1984, the decision was made to stay at Markham and Broadway. An extensive renovation and restoration effort was undertaken. In 1988, the building reopened, and the interior had been restored to its 1908 appearance.

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Little Rock Look Back: First City Council meeting in current LR City Hall

City Hall circa 1908

On April 6, 1908, the first City Council meeting took place in the new Little Rock City Hall.  Located at the corner of Markham and Broadway Streets, this three story structure was designed by Charles L. Thompson.

The idea of a new City Hall had first been raised by Mayor W. E. Lenon in 1904.  After a couple of false starts and delays, the project finally got underway in the autumn of 1906.  (The date on the front of the building is the optimistic and ultimately wrong 1907.  But it is etched in stone and set into the exterior.)

City offices started moving in during January and February 1908 while construction continued.  By the end of March, the building was complete and all offices moved in.  The final City Council meeting in the 1868 City Hall took place on March 30.  One week later, the body reassembled in their new space.

All sixteen of the aldermen were present for this meeting, which was a rare occurrence.  The regular order of business was dispensed with except for approval of payments for the bills and payroll for March.  That totaled $25,719.56. (This is the equivalent of $664,729.65 in 2018).

The floor was then turned over to Mayor Lenon to make an announcement.  In his remarks, the Mayor praised the new building, and then stated he was resigning immediately.  His business interests were such that he did not have time to be mayor.

The Council reluctantly accepted the resignation.  Because there was over a year remaining in the term, a special election would need to be called to select a successor.  If Mayor Lenon had waited two more weeks to resign, the Council would have appointed a new mayor for the duration of the term.

Alderman John Herndon Hollis was chosen to serve as mayor until the special election could be held.  First elected in 1904, he was about to start his third term as an alderman.  Though he did not have to give up his seat (and in fact served as an alderman until 1918), he was referred to as Mayor Hollis during his brief tenure.  He is counted as one of Little Rock’s mayors.  Unlike other times where there was an acting mayor while a mayor was out of town, in 1908, there was no other mayor for whom Mayor Hollis was acting in absentia.

After the selection of the new mayor, a committee was appointed to draft a resolution praising retiring Mayor Lenon.  The final business at the meeting was the reading of a resolution memorializing longtime City Clerk H. Clay Jones.  The former city official had died in March.

Little Rock Look Back: Last City Council meeting in 1868 City Hall

On March 30, 1908, the Little Rock City Hall held its final meeting in the 1868 City Hall.  The new city hall, located at Markham and Broadway streets, was nearing completion.  The meeting was presided over by Mayor W. E. Lenon.

The aldermen present were: John A. Adams, John Brod, A. B. Hightower, W. H. Jarrett, Christopher Ledwidge, Louie Miller, Jonathan S. Odom, R. C. Powers, A. L. Smith, George Stratman, Jonathan H. Tuohey, Louis Volmer, and L. N. Whitcomb.  Three aldermen missed the meeting: John Herndon Hollis, A. B. Poe and Benjamin S. Thalheimer.

The meeting was filled with typical requests for zoning and street improvements.  There was actually nothing out of the ordinary about the meeting.  If there was mention that it would be the final meeting, it did not make it into the minutes.

There was a request by the Arkansas Association of Pharmacists to have a meeting at the new building on May 12, 13 and 14.  It was referred to the City Hall Committee.  At prior meetings, there had also been requests by other groups to hold conferences at the new edifice.

At the conclusion of the meeting, it was noted that former City Clerk Clay Jones had died. A resolution memorializing him was proposed to be presented and adopted at the next meeting.

And with that, the meeting ended.  Forty years of City Council meetings at 120 to 122 West Markham came to a close.

Little Rock Look Back: Movie Ball sends LR Film Fans into Frenzy

Autograph seekers crowd around the actors at the Movie Ball (photo from Arkansas Gazette)

As final preparations were being made for the opening of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Municipal Auditorium in early 1940, a glamorous evening took place in Robinson’s lower level convention hall on February 1.

In conjunction with a meeting of film executives and movie theatre owners sponsored by Robb and Rowley Theaters (which later became the United Artists theatre chain), several Hollywood actors were in Little Rock and headlined a Movie Ball. While in Little Rock, Maureen O’Hara, Phyllis Brooks, Arleen Whelan, Tim Holt and Gene Autry had also made a variety of public appearances.

Mr. Autrey had to miss the ball because he had to return to Hollywood early to attend to business matters. Actress Ilona Massey had also been scheduled to attend the events but was unable due to illness.

The quartet who did appear at the Movie Ball caused quite a scene. Upon their entrance, so many of the attendees crowded around for autographs that the evening’s grand march could not take place (a newspaper headline in the Democrat innocently used the word “orgy” to describe the crowd). After two attempts, Little Rock Mayor J. V. Satterfield (who was escorting Miss O’Hara) and the other members of the Little Rock host delegation led the Hollywood foursome to their reserved table. For quite a while that evening, the table was besieged by autograph seekers.

Though it is unknown as to whether he sought an autograph, photos from the evening showed a very satisfied Mayor Satterfield with Miss O’Hara on his arm. Satterfield family lore joked that Mrs. Satterfield (who had stayed home that night to tend to a sick son) was not a fan of Miss O’Hara’s films after that evening.

The Movie Ball showed Little Rock citizens the value of Robinson Auditorium even before it had been officially dedicated. The film industry meetings had taken place at the Albert Pike Hotel which did not feature a ballroom large enough to host the ball. Without the auditorium’s availability for the gala, organizers might not have chosen Little Rock for the meeting.

With the auditorium’s convention hall not attached to any hotel, it opened up the chance for Little Rock to host more events. This had been one of the key arguments for an auditorium since Mayor W. E. Lenon’s first proposal back in 1904. Having a glamorous event this early in the auditorium’s life validated that contention. After having endured the challenges to open the building, it was a nice lagniappe for the auditorium’s proponents who were present.

The actor Tim Holt would again be connected to Little Rock. In September 1951, he tried to obtain a divorce in Arkansas and stated that he had been a resident of the state for at least six weeks. He also had someone else testify to that fact. In October 1951, the divorce was granted. Later Mr. Holt was charged with perjury and fined $200 for falsely representing his length of residence in Arkansas. Judicial sanctions for his legal team, which included a State Senator, were eventually reviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

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.

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.