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.
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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.

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.