LITTLE ROCK—The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas’s 2013 list of Arkansas’s Endangered Places is comprised of two antebellum houses, a neighborhood school, a grand orphanage with pastoral grounds, a service station shaped like an oil can, a turn of the century commercial building that housed an opera house and two Mid-Century Modern gems.
The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas announced the list in front of the historic William E. Woodruff House in Little Rock on May 23.
“The 2013 list of endangered places highlights distinctive sites throughout Arkansas that represent important aspects of Arkansas’s culture and history. Though each circumstance is difference, each of these places is important to the community where it is located and each is worth saving,” said Vanessa McKuin, executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, a statewide non-profit organization.
“By calling attention to these sites now, we want to encourage local action to rehabilitate and maintain these important places.” said McKuin. “By listing these properties, we hope to bring attention to the places and to encourage local support and involvement in these preservation efforts throughout the state.”
Named to the list were:
- Hantz & Durst Houses, 1950 & 1951, 855 & 857 Fairview St., Fayetteville, Washington County
- Ferguson House, 1861, 416 North 3th Street, Augusta, Woodruff County
- Frith-Plunkett House, c. 1858, 801 Main Street, Des Arc, Prairie County
- Park Hill Elementary School, 1924, 3801 JFK Boulevard, North Little Rock, Pulaski County
- Roundtop Filling Station (Happy’s Service Station), 1936, Old Highway 67, Sherwood, Pulaski Co.
- St. Joseph’s Home, 1910, 6800 Camp Robinson Rd., North Little Rock, Pulaski County
- Wynne Opera House, c. 1900, 218 S. Front Street, Wynne, Cross County
Hantz & Durst Houses
The Hantz House and the adjacent Durst House form a distinctive unit of Mid-Century Modern residences that represent the important legacies of significant figures in art and architecture in Arkansas whose contributions also helped shape the University of Arkansas. The Hantz House is E. Fay Jones’ first house, designed while he was a student in Fayetteville, prior to being mentored by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Durst House was designed by John Williams, the founder of the University of Arkansas’s Architecture program, for David Durst, who served as the chair of the Fine Arts Department and was influential in getting Edward Durrell Stone to design the campus’ award-winning Fine Arts Building. These modest scaled houses also stand out as fine examples of the adaptation of high style, Modern architecture to the distinctive terrain of the Arkansas Ozarks.
The properties, which abut the UA campus, are challenging to maintain and are also threatened by a changing context as the UA campus continues to build and expand. The classic preservation issue of balancing development with preserving historic context and integrity and the ongoing need for repairs and maintenance of modern architecture are the two greatest challenges in this complicated case. Combined, these factors create an uncertain future for these houses.
The 1861 Ferguson House was built by one of Augusta’s earliest and most prominent families, James P. and Maria Alcorn Ferguson. Built in the vernacular style with Greek Revival characteristics, the house was constructed with local hand-cut virgin pine and cypress.
The house belonged to various members of the Ferguson family for over a century, including W.E. Ferguson, the Ferguson’s eldest son, who served as a state senator and who held every county office in Woodruff County and was a significant figure in the community’s civic and social history. The Ferguson House is also associated with Civil War History.
The Ferguson House is in vacant and in critical condition, though the owners and local supporters hope to raise awareness of its importance and find a way to rehabilitate the house.
As Des Arc’s oldest residence, the vernacular Greek Revival style Frith-Plunkett house reflects the prosperity of the most successful economic era in the rural river town’s history. The Frith-Plunkett House presents a unique representation of the architecture that formed the backdrop for Des Arc’s pre-Civil War development. During the Civil War period, many buildings in Des Arc were burned and others moved to nearby DeValls Bluff. Because of the Frith-Plunkett house’s function as a hospital during war, it remained intact.
Currently the house is vacant and in disrepair. In 2002, the current owner purchased the building to save it from demolition, but the building has since remained vacant. Though the owners have made small steps throughout the years, the condition of the building has caused the city council to again consider a resolution to demolish the Frith-Plunkett House. The owners and other concerned citizens are working to raise awareness about the importance of saving the Frith-Plunkett House and resources to stabilize and eventually rehabilitate the property.
Park Hill Elementary School
The issues that affect the 1924 Park Hill Elementary School are representative of problems that face many historic schools in Arkansas and nationwide, leading to disappearance of historic school buildings. District consolidation is a factor in rural communities, while other factors include movement of student population and changing technology and classroom needs. Due to tight district budgets, often maintenance is deferred for years, leaving older school buildings in need of major updates and repairs. Statewide policies that encourage new construction over rehabilitation of older school buildings and that make it difficult for school districts to dispose of property, even for reuse for public or community purpose also prove to be impediments to preserving schools like Park Hill Elementary School.
In 2012, the North Little Rock School District passed a large millage to address the buildings that it owns. Some buildings will be renovated, but others may be sold or demolished. The concern of Park Hill neighbors and others is that, given the difficulty of disposing of older school buildings, the NLR School District might instead be forced to demolish this community anchor and landmark once it is closed.
Round Top Filling Station (a.k.a. Happy’s Service Station)
In 1936, Pierce Oil contracted the Justin Matthews Company (developer of many communities in North Little Rock) to construct a uniquely shaped gasoline station along U.S. Highway 67. W.D. “Happy” Williford was the operator of the station from its inception until 1981, when he retired.
For years the gas station-turned-landmark sat abandoned, becoming the victim of vandalism and theft. In the mid-2000s, Becki Vassar, a former City Council member, advocated for preservation of the station and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
The Sherwood History and Heritage Commission hopes to restore the exterior of the Roundtop and adapt the building for use as a Police substation, and perhaps eventually, a history museum for Sherwood. The biggest challenges facing the Roundtop Filling Station and the City of Sherwood are protecting the fragile building from vandalism and securing funding for the project. The Commission hopes to draw attention to the station’s history and the urgent need to take steps now to preserve this landmark for future generations of citizens of Sherwood.
St. Joseph Center of Arkansas
St. Joseph Orphanage was commissioned by Bishop John Baptist Morris in 1908 to house and care for orphaned children. Architect Charles Thompson designed the 56,000 sq. ft. home atop a hill as a beacon of hope which served the North Little Rock and Little Rock communities for almost a century. The orphanage operated until 1978, then the building served as a day care and retreat center for many years. In 2007, the last two nuns returned to their mother-house, St. Scholastica Monastery in Ft. Smith.
Due to the expense of operating and maintaining the property the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock considered selling the property in 2008. In response, a group of concerned citizens formed St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, Inc. (SJCA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit to save the building and adjoining 63 acres. SJCA signed a 50-year lease with the Diocese in 2010 to assume fiscal and management responsibility while researching adaptive re-use options to make the property self-sustaining. The resident caretaker since 1956 continues to keep things running with the help of former residents and friends who regularly volunteer.
SJCA is committed to preserving, restoring and developing St. Joseph Center but many challenges remain. A plan for the building and property is due for presentation to the Diocese by September 1, 2013, in order to continue operations. If SJCA cannot provide a viable business and financing plan, the Diocese will be faced with a tough decision leaving the future of the building and its pastoral setting in limbo.
Wynne Opera House
Located in the Wynne Commercial Historic District, the two-story brick building known as the Wynne Opera House has served a variety of purposes for over a century in the seat of Cross County. The building was constructed about 1900 as a grocery on the first floor and an opera house above. By 1903 the first floor was vacant but the “opera hall” seemed to be thriving. The building later served as a temporary courthouse for Cross County and later a hardware store and tin shop. A record of those uses remains in painted “ghost signs” on the building.
For the last 40 years, very little has been done into the building. Because of the lack of updates over the years, the building retains some interesting historic elements, including cast iron storefront columns. However, because the building is open to the elements, it is quickly deteriorating and there is concern that if the building is not stabilized soon, it will be lost.
Though the property is privately owned, the Wynne Downtown Revitalization Committee and the Cross County Historical Society, are working to bring attention and possible support for saving the Wynne Opera House.
The Arkansas’s Most Endangered Historic Places list highlights historically and architecturally significant properties throughout the state that are facing threats such as deterioration, neglect, insufficient funds, insensitive public policy, and inappropriate development. The Alliance solicited nominations from residents and organizations across Arkansas.The Alliance launched Arkansas’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of Arkansas’s historic properties to our state’s heritage. Previously-listed places listed include the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, the Donaghey Building in Little Rock, Bluff Shelter Archaeological Sites in Northwest Arkansas, the Westside Junior High in Little Rock, the Woodmen on Union Building in Hot Springs, the Packet House in Little Rock, the Stephen H. Chism House in Booneville, and the John H. Johnson House in Arkansas City.
The Historic Preservation Alliance is the statewide non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Arkansas’s architectural and cultural heritage. For more information about the Alliance and becoming a member, contact Vanessa at 501-372-4757, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit preservearkansas.org.
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