In the span of only 45 years, the Arcade Building and downtown City Market went from a place heralded by city leaders as a sign of Little Rock’s natural progression to a symbol of destruction.
Connecting history, art, and technology
Today, the story of an ever-evolving cityscape amid these cycles of creation and annihilation is told through a massive mural in the lobby of the new Arcade Building in the River Market District. The exhibit was made possible in part to contributions from several UALR faculty and staff members.
The new building, a mixed-use architectural beauty that stands in tribute to the former landmark once located on Sixth and Seventh streets in downtown Little Rock, will boast a lobby mural that spans two walls, as well as massive dimensions to perfectly complement the building’s open and fluid design.
Tom Clifton, UALR professor and interim chair of the Department of Art, was charged with incorporating the historical research of UALR archivist Shannon Lausch into a large-scale design that would flow with the lobby interior while simultaneously telling the story behind the original Arcade Building.
Clifton will present a lecture about the project at noon Thursday, Jan. 23, in the new Ron Robinson Theater of the Arcade Building.
Lausch will join him, as well Joe Swaty of the Emerging Analytics Center at UALR. Grant funding paved the way for an exhibit mock-up and preview created using the cave-like immersive room in the EAC, located inside the George W. Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology.
The exhibit intersperses images of early construction scenes, blueprints, and photographs of the Arcade Building with historical facts about its founders and architects. A listing of the opening and closing of downtown businesses are another highlight, as is a population timeline.
“I enjoy large scale projects like this because they have even more power due to their sheer size,” said Clifton, who worked on the mural for several months.
“The flow of the lines in the mural goes through the life of the city and communicates to people on multiple levels. I think it really helps tell the Arcade Building’s story,” he said.
The history of a modern city
News clippings about the Arcade, located in the Quapaw Quarter Association Records of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, helped Lausch create a timeline of the building’s history.
Lausch said she also discussed with Dr. Deborah Baldwin, dean of the UALR College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and associate provost of the Arkansas Studies Institute, the possibility of preserving old Arcade blueprints and placing them online after digitizing them.
Fortunately, Lausch also discovered during her research that UALR had recently acquired an album of Little Rock photographs from the winter of 1912-1913 with construction photographs for the original Arcade.
“Eventually, I found enough for a full exhibit, so Dr. Baldwin and I discussed the possibility of doing the large wall exhibit,” Lausch explained.
To plan such a massive display, they applied for and received a planning mini grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The terms of the grant included forming a committee from a variety of backgrounds.
In addition to Lausch and Baldwin, who served as project leaders for the grant, the committee included retired architect and consultant Charles Witsell; fiscal agent Kimberly Kaczenski; humanities scholar Stephan McAteer; and audience representative Kristin Mann, an assistant professor of history at UALR.
“The cross-disciplinary approach strengthened the Arcade exhibit, and I’m amazed at how this small project snowballed into a permanent exhibit with such an innovative design,” said Lausch.
The exhibit provides a unique opportunity for Arkansas students, scholars, and citizens to explore downtown Little Rock’s history during the early to mid-20th century and learn more about the Arcade Building.
An “arcade” describes a bisecting, open-ended tunnel—an architectural feature that at one time allowed shoppers to stroll and window-shop indoors.
The Arcade’s lifecycle mirrored the development of downtown Little Rock. Built in the early 20th century when the city took its first steps toward becoming a modern city, the building was demolished in 1960 as Little Rock was again transformed, this time by urban renewal.
“While this cycle is not unique to Little Rock, the intended effect of the exhibit is to foster a greater understanding of human development and illustrate what is lost—for better or worse—in the course of progress,” said Baldwin.
The new Arcade Building is a joint project between the Central Arkansas Library System and Moses Tucker Real Estate.