Bricks and sticks can tell stories about how we live. Our aesthetic sensibilities, our civic histories and our priorities are embodied in the types of places we choose to shelter in, from the humble log cabin hidden by the wood framing of the Hinderliter Grog Shop to the 1 percenters’ McMansions of Little Rock. These structures, all residences with a few exceptions, are but a few guides to Little Rock and North Little Rock history, reaching back 180 years and extending to today. Many thanks to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Facebook pages Arkansas Modernism and Jim Pfeifer’s History of the Heights for their research into many of the houses, and to architect Tom Fennell for guidance.
The Hinderliter Grog Shop
Historic Arkansas Museum grounds
At Jesse Hinderliter’s tavern, built on what was then Mulberry Street, early Arkansans could pick up their mail and get a beer from the German brewery nearby. As the National Historic Register nomination says, it is believed that the territorial legislature met there, “if only on an informal basis. This cannot be documented, nor can it be disproved.” The structure, the oldest standing wood building in Little Rock, was built of hand-hewn logs covered by cypress siding. Hinderliter and family lived on the second floor; 60 years on it became tenements, with a restaurant inside.
Built 1840 by Albert Pike
411 E. Seventh St.
The city’s most stately antebellum residence, this Greek Revival structure has almost everything going for it: It is both a handsome building and houses a history that has helped define Little Rock. Yet, it has been singularly ignored by the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (previously the Arkansas Arts Center), the institution that, thanks to a deed from the William Terry family and an endowment of Rockefeller money and local matches, used it as the Decorative Arts Museum between 1985 and 2003 and later as the Arkansas Arts Center Terry House Community Gallery before losing interest. The structure where Adolphine Fletcher Terry and the Women’s Emergency Committee once worked to reopen Little Rock’s schools after the 1957 desegregation crisis is now in its own crisis, with crumbling walls and rotten windows — windows where the names of the WEC are etched, the AMFA having spent, rather than invested, the $1.6 million endowment on running the Arts Center. The AMFA, ostensibly a public institution but actually directed by a private foundation, now takes the cynical position that there really was no endowment and it owes nothing to a building it long occupied. Donors to the capital campaign now raising funds to endow the new AMFA might consider where their dollars will really be spent.
Methodist Episcopal Church, South
Camp Joseph T. Robinson, North Little Rock
In 1880, residents of Frenchman’s Mountain — now the Cato community — who’d come to Arkansas for land available under the 1862 Homestead Act built a two-story frame church and Masonic lodge to take the place of the log cabin church that had burned. It has been slightly altered from its original design (the second story was removed to keep the building from falling down), but the one-room church’s cornerstone set in 1880 remains.
The Stephen G. Brown house
52 Wingate Drive
Architect Noland Blass made his mark on Mid-Century Modern design in Little Rock with several houses, including the Brown house in the Wingate subdivision off Mississippi Street. The fascinating Facebook page for Arkansas Modernism includes a writeup on the house, which features a curved front and a hexagonal glass feature that allows a tree to grow up in the middle of the living areas. How Blass overcame the challenges of the hilly and wedge-shaped lot — with a foundation of stone piers — and its design earned the house a write-up in the national magazine Architectural Record.
Hanger Hill District
1500 block of Welch Street
Early 20th century Little Rock was not split by an interstate highway, but was a coherent collection of neighborhoods that included the area now east of the ever-expanding Interstate 30. (The streetcar, which helped the move to West Little Rock, was the first blow to the neighborhood’s prominence; I-30, as interstates do, dealt an almost fatal blow.) The 10 houses of the district include several built with chunky bulging blocks of ornamental concrete, then a new style of construction material. (Sears and Roebuck sold a concrete block maker for $42.50, so some blocks may have been constructed onsite.) Many of the original occupants were employed by the nearby railroad, and many of the wives worked outside the home. The district is within the larger Hanger Hill neighborhood, part of which has now been given the chic moniker “East Village.”
Barney Elias House
335 Goshen St., North Little Rock
This brick-and-poured-concrete house, constructed by Governor’s Mansion builder Elias for his family, is one of the few built in the Art Moderne/International styles of architecture in Pulaski County. Interesting facts: The original roof held an experimental cooling system in which water was allowed to pool (it didn’t work properly, requiring roof replacements and the addition of gutters), and the backyard had concrete furniture. Other homes in Modernist styles in Pulaski County include the Matthews House at 406 Goshen and the Werner Knoop home at 6 Ozark Point in Little Rock. The style took off in Northwest Arkansas in the 1950s, thanks to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture.
The birth of the McMansions came in the 1990s, as teardowns, the leveling of modest homes to accommodate imposing, lot-packing residences, became commonplace. Large, elegant Georgians were built in the 19th century in the Quapaw Quarter, for sure, but most do not hold a candle to the super-sized residences in the neighborhood of the Country Club of Little Rock and later in the Chenal neighborhood of West Little Rock. Chenal was developed with the sort of big digs that 1 percenters desire, so the streets don’t have the Jack O’Lantern smile of some of the roads in the silk stocking ward. The looming architecture of both eras — Little Rock young and old — testifies to the existence of extraordinary wealth among the few.
Just south of Twelfth Street in the Oak Forest neighborhood is a rare Lustron house, a prefabricated house with steel siding and enameled steel walls in the interior. The houses were fabricated from 1947 to 1950 by the Lustron Corp. of Columbus, Ohio; the Oak Forest house would have sold for $4,590 in 1947. Only 2,500 Lustron houses exist today; the Ohio manufacturer could not turn a profit and went under in 1950. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Sen. J. William Fulbright likened their appearance to a bathtub, but Lustron house owners are a proud set, including owner Michael Goodrich, who is knowledgeable about the history of the houses. Because of the home’s steel walls, Goodrich can hang his artwork with magnets. A Little Rock Lustron house nearby that was on the National Register of Historic Places was torn down by the city after it purchased the block it stood on.
2010 block of Battery Street
Early 20th century
This once prominent downtown block is still the address of several historic houses, including the Tudor Revival home of banker and wholesale grocer Maxwell F. Mayer, built over three years starting 1922 at 2016 Battery. Its oversized garage is thought to have been designed to accommodate his collection of Packard automobiles. The house fronts the street’s unique feature: Flower Park, a 400-by-40-foot grassy strip that bisects Battery, built in 1916.
Scipio Jones house
1872 Cross St.
The Craftsman home of Scipio Africanus Jones — the Black lawyer who represented the “Moore defendants” of the Elaine 12, men sentenced to die in a kangaroo court in Helena after the 1919 massacre of farmers in and around the East Arkansas town — is one of Preserve Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places. The son of a formerly enslaved mother, Jones moved to Little Rock to teach school, earn a bachelor’s degree and study law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Elaine 12 case, that there had been grievous errors in the handling of the trials, was momentous, establishing precedent for the court to hear evidence in state criminal cases. Jones’ life will be told in the upcoming film “The Defender,” starring Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”) as the lawyer.
Charlotte Moorman house
219 Rosetta St.
The famed “topless cellist” did not live in this house when it was built in the new streetcar suburb of Stifft’s Addition, but as a child and teenager starting in the 1930s. She played the cello in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra as a 12-year-old and was a Central High School debutante in 1950; her top didn’t come off until she moved to more avant-garde circles in New York with her roommate, Yoko Ono, and later collaborator Nam June Paik. In the 1970s, on her last visit to Little Rock, she played the cello in a hot air balloon for a downtown festival. Despite the moniker, Moorman is recognized as a revolutionary artist.