Museum of Automobiles

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Wednesday, June 05, 2019


Born to power and wealth, Winthrop Rockefeller was a long way from his New York society roots when he first saw the breathtaking views atop Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas. And yet, so captivated was Rockefeller that he purchased 927 acres of mountain top land. His family seemed unsurprised by Rockefeller’s choice to take up residence in a state with poor economic and political conditions whose citizens cited failing schools and a lack of health and dental care as primary concerns.

In the 1930s, Rockefeller left Yale University in his junior year to work in the oil fields of Texas. Later he joined the Army serving as an Infantry Commander in the Pacific during World War II where he was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart. Rockefeller wanted to get his hands dirty and experience life like the every-man, by which garnering lessons which would serve him well in his business and political dealings. According to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute website, brother Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York, said, “Win found himself in Arkansas.” While brother David Rockefeller, president of Chase Manhattan, said, “It was just what he wanted and needed.”

Rockefeller settled into life in Arkansas as a cattleman and philanthropist. He was a successful head of the newly formed Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC) as well as being a patron of many charities, including helping to create the Arkansas Arts Center. In 1966, he was elected Governor or the State of Arkansas and served for four years and, upon leaving office, stated that he hoped his legacy would be that of “a catalyst who hopefully served to excite in the hearts and minds of our people a desire to shape our own destiny.”

Prior to becoming governor, Rockefeller built a state-of-the-art facility atop Petit Jean to house his collection of antique and classic automobiles. The building is described in its National Register nomination form as:

The Museum of Automobiles Building is an early and unusual example of a tensile structure, especially in Arkansas.The building was built in 1964 and designed by the Little Rock architecture firm of Ginocchio, Cromwell, Carter, Dees, & Neyland.The Museum opened to the public on October 18, 1964.The building is built on a continuous cast-concrete foundation and has walls built out of cast-concrete panels and cast-concrete columns.The front façade of the building is fenestrated with large plate-glass windows while the other facades are devoid of fenestration.The four corner columns, from which the tensile cables stretch, are connected by cast-concrete beams that form a compression ring.The roof of the building is clad with a membrane and copper sheets, and slopes towards the building’s center following the drape of the tensile cable system.

The tensile cable system, while not a new design idea, was not widely used in structures and especially not in Arkansas. The Museum’s current look is very much the way the original architects envisioned it—a wide open space with a sweeping roofline and dramatic columns that form the supports for the suspension cables.

Many of the original automobiles came from Rockefeller’s personal collection and the collection he purchased from James Melton who once displayed them, along with other artifacts, in the Autorama in Hypoluxo, Florida. When Rockefeller died in 1973, the memorial was held at his beloved Museum. The museum closed in 1975 and all but Rockefeller’s personal vehicles were sold to Harrah’s Museum in Nevada. 

In 1976, a group of businessmen reopened the museum with a collection of 33 cars loaned from surrounding car clubs. Today, the Museum sits on land owned by the State of Arkansas. The building is leased by the Museum and open to the public showcasing 50 cars ranging from a 1904 Oldsmobile to a 1967 Ford Ranchero (once owned by Elvis Presley), as well as motorcycles and a unique vehicle called the 1923 Climber Touring, which was manufactured in Arkansas and touted for its off-road abilities. Visitors can also see a collection of antiques guns, arcade machines, and other memorabilia.
As of May 2019, the Museum of Automobiles is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because the “Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.”


Recent Posts


Wingmead Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas Main Street Searcy Pulaski County Courthouse Destination Downtown Conference Dr. Ruth Hawkins 13th Amendment Classroom Presentation Burdette Plantation Huntsville Commercial Historic District Leake-Ingham Building Craftsman style architecture Camden to Washington Road Turner Restoration Free Cemetery Preservation Workshops Arkansas History Lesson Plans Paris Arkansas Morrilton Arkansas Arkansas Railroad History African American education Cemetery Preservation Library Barney Elias House Arkansas Humanities Council Main Street Arkansas:Real Estate Transfer Tax Forrest City Arkansas cemetery preservation Pope County Arkansas Tolbert Gill historic architecture Saline County Arkansas Walks Through History Main Street Ozark Gothic Revival architecture downtown revitalization Doddridge Arkansas Houston Methodist Episcopal Church South Main Street Siloam Springs White County Courthouse Little Rock Fire Station No. 2 Russellville Arkansas free history tours Perry County Arkansas Freedom Park steel window restoration workshop historic resort communities most endangered historic places Main Street Arkansas Mississippi Main Street Association Montgomery County Courthouse National Register of Historic Places Carlisle Rock Island Railroad Depot Henry Koen Office Building U.S. Forest Service St. Francis County Historical Society Bogg Springs Arkansas Centennial Baptist Church Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium Museum Three States Lumber Company "Let Freedom Ring" Travel Grants Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Stearns/Gehring Chapel Cemetery Skillern House American Legion Flood Control Ozark Farming Roe Arkansas historic telephone booth Miller County Dionicio Rodriguez Freedmen's Bureau Real Estate Transfer Tax Trail of Tears in Arkansas Arkansas Preservation Awards Arkansas African American Civil War History Prairie County Arkansas Duck Hunting Civil Works Administration Montgomery County Arkansas Buffalo National River Houston Arkansas Poinsett County Arkansas Naturalistic Architecture Phillips County Arkansas Benton Arkansas Arkansas Design Network Mid-Century Modern Architecture Main Street Batesville Elias Camp Morris Art Deco Architecture News Release National Register of Historic Let Freedom Ring Tudor Revival Architecture Folk Victorian Architecture Pike County Courthouse U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Erbie Arkansas Louisiana Main Street program Little Rock Central High School Cumberland Presbyterian Church Ouachita County Arkansas Rosenwald Schools Monroe County Courthouse Bogg Springs Hotel Main Street Texarkana Rustic Architecture Parker-Hickman Farm Historic District Madison County Arkansas Arkansas Historic Preservation Marked Tree Arkansas Kiblah School Booneville Historical Preservation Society Evelyn Gill Walker House Camden Public Library Free Lesson Plan 19th Century Road Construction International-Style Architecture Conway County Library Mississippi County Courthouse Osceola Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Camden Arkansas downtown economic development slipcover removal grants free historic preservation workshop cemetery preservsation Pope County Courthouse Newton County Arkansas Mississippi County Arkansas Arkansas State University Heritage Sites Old U.S. Post Office and Customs House Burdette Arkansas Estes-Williams Post #61 American Legion Hut Nevada County Arkansas Abolition of Slavery Monroe County Arkansas Sandwiching in History New Century Club of Camden National Historic Landmark County courthouse Restoration Grants Central High School Neighborhood Historic District Renaissance Revival Architecture 13th Amendment Clarendon Arkansas Sunken Lands Arkansas Business History Polk County Arkansas Arkansas religious history Huntsville Arkansas Historic Preservation Alliance Fayetteville Arkansas historic Arkansas properties Historic County Courthouses Free Courthouse Poster Civilian Conservation Corps free teacher resources Edgar Monsanto Queeny Booneville Arkansas Arkansas Register of Historic Places Helena Arkansas North Little Rock Arkansas Marked Tree Lock and Siphons Historic Preservation Restoration Grants Pike County Arkansas Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council Main Street Dumas Forrest City Cemetery Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission Delta Cultural Center Rosston Arkansas Downtown Revitalization Grants Arkansas History Monsanto Chemical Corporation