Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Texarkana Municipal Building
Texarkana Municipal Building
1934 photograph of the Texarkana Municipal Building
1934 photograph of the Texarkana Municipal Building

TEXARKANA MUNICIPAL BUILDING, TEXARKANA, MILLER COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its associations with the development of government in Texarkana, its associations with the growth of Texarkana that paralleled the growth of the railroad in the region, and for its associations with entertainment and recreation in the city.The auditorium in the building has served as a recreational and cultural gathering place for this community during much of the twentieth-century. In addition, the building was built for use by Texarkana as a fire station, jail, courtroom and city offices.The construction of the building in the late 1920s was also a response to the growth of Texarkana as a result of the growth of the railroad industry in the vicinity.The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion C as an unusual example of a building designed combining the Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic styles of architecture. The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding, is being submitted to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple property listing “Railroad Era Resources of Southwest Arkansas, 1870-1945” in conjunction with the historic context “Railroad Era Resources of Southwest Arkansas (Lafayette, Little River, Miller and SevierCounties), 1870-1945.”

ELABORATION

The early history of Texarkana is intimately linked to the development of the railroad in the area.The city of Texarkana grew out of construction camps that were established at the western end of the Cairo & Fulton railroad line and the eastern end of the Texas & Pacific line.The officials of both railroads recognized that the terminus would be an ideal place for a town site, especially since the two lines were constructed using two different gauges, and required that railroad cars be shifted from one line to the other for several years.As a result, on December 8, 1873, the Texas & Pacific began selling building lots on the Texas side, and shortly afterwards the Cairo & Fulton followed suit in Arkansas.

 

The fact that Texarkana was an important railroad junction caused the city to grow rapidly as railroad traffic grew in the area.By the 1920s, Texarkana was a major railroad center in the region, and this was evidenced by the construction of the Texarkana Union Station (NR listed 10/19/78) from 1928 until 1930.The growth of the city in the late 1920s that paralleled the growth of the railroad brought about the need for a new municipal building.

The City of Texarkana, Arkansas, decided to build a municipal building that would be a multipurpose building to serve four separate functions for its citizens – city hall, fire station, auditorium, and jail.The architectural firm of Witt, Seibert, and Halsey of Texarkana was hired to design the structure, and they used the unusual combination of the Collegiate Gothic and Art Deco styles for the building.Although the Collegiate Gothic style had been popular throughout the 1920s, the Art Deco style was just gaining in popularity at the time the building was built.

 

Built over a three year period by the Stewart McGehee Construction Company beginning in 1927, the first section opened in June 1928, as the municipal auditorium. The jail, city hall and fire station were opened at later dates, with completion in 1930. The entire structure was located in the central commerce area of the twin cities located on the state line between Texas and Arkansas.

At that time this building was built in 1927-1930, there was no theater, concert stage, or audience space for 1,000 people in the city. While Texarkana has always been a twin city in both Texas and Arkansas, the MunicipalBuilding served the entire community population in the twin cities for performing arts and a gathering place for civic functions. With its city hall, jail and fire station functions, it was uniquely designed to be multipurpose for the Arkansas-side residents.

 

Community-wide, the auditorium was the primary place for dance recitals, piano recitals of students of Frances Braden and guitar students of Cora Cook, theater productions by the Tex Rep group, as well as school productions. Fashion Shows for the ladies were sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and held in the auditorium.

 

During the World War II era, the railroads through Texarkana were significant in bringing large numbers of visitors and military troops through the area. This auditorium became an important stage for emerging vocalists and musicians and variety shows to entertain the travelers. In 1942, Louis Armstrong appeared, as well as some of the noted Big Bands like the Jay Franks Band. Hotels near the auditorium thrived during this era including a ballroom atop the tallest hotel in town, Hotel Grim.

 

By the early 1950s the music scene was changing and the Big Bands were being replaced with the new “rock and roll” music emerging from the Country & Western genre, often referred to as “rockabilly”. Starting in 1954, some very significant young performers were onstage at the auditorium, including several performances by Elvis Presley. During his early career, he traveled between Nashville, Tennessee (the Country & Western recording music center), Memphis, Tennessee (an important area for rhythm and blues artists) and Shreveport, Louisiana, to the Louisiana Hayride (a very popular Country & Western variety show broadcast to a large region on radio). Because of the strategic location of Texarkana to those cities and the audiences available due to the railroads and surrounding communities, Texarkana was a popular stop-over for young performers, such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Jimmie Ed Maxim Brown, George Jones, Floyd Cramer, Johnny Horton and Roy Orbison. A story during that time relates a time in the 1950s when Elvis was to perform but was delayed by a car fire on his trip here. A local talent, “Cheesy” Nelson took the stage that night and was later praised by Elvis, saying “you can go far in this business.” Dr. Nelson remained in Texarkana and became the TexarkanaCollege president for 30 years.

 

In 1956, local musicians were evolving as new jazz and “rockabilly” backups to visiting artists. The Auditorium became the first place in Texarkana for a mixed-race stage performance in Texarkana.A significant event, called the “The Evolution of Jazz,” featured a band with a local black trumpeter, Artis L. Brewster, who was at that time only known in the Texarkana area. In 1946, his segregated black high school baccalaureate was held in the auditorium. For quite some time local talent put together weekly shows slated as “the Big T Jamboree” in the auditorium. Among those young talents were Pat Cupp, (later Rock and Roll

Hall of Fame guitarist), Bill Manning (drummer) and Jerry Atkins (saxophonist).The auditorium remained a center of Texarkana’s cultural life until it was closed in the mid-1970s.

 

Although the auditorium closed in the mid-1970s, the building has served as the fire station, city hall, and jail since it was fully opened in 1930.Although renovations have taken place on the interior, the integrity of most of the exterior architectural features has been maintained. Only the windows and the terra cotta tile mansard roof have been replaced, both done at an unknown date.

 

Significant renovations were done from the late 1960s through the late 1980s in various parts of the building.In 1968, the court room in the city hall was renovated into the city board room by John E. Moore, Jr., or Moore and Thomas Architects in Texarkana along with Q. W. Hargrove, Consulting Engineers from Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1977, the architectural firms of Herb Crumpton, Architect, and Reinheimer & Associates, along with Howie and Howie, Consulting Engineers, designed a false floor in the auditorium at the level of the stage to create office space in the lower level (which would be the basement level of the City Hall area). These newly expanded offices were then in the areas of the auditorium dressing rooms and orchestra pit.In 1988, the City Engineer was responsible for renovations, creating fire station offices by expanding into the first floor of the front part of the auditorium.

 

The MunicipalBuilding has been a center in the life of Texarkana for over 70 years.Although the auditorium has been closed, it is hoped that the space can be restored and returned to its place as one of the great cultural venues in Texarkana.Even with the auditorium not in use, the building remains the governmental center of the community, and a great example of the Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic styles of architecture

SIGNIFICANCE

The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its associations with the development of government in Texarkana, its associations with the growth of Texarkana that paralleled the growth of the railroad in the region, and for its associations with entertainment and recreation in the city.The auditorium in the building has served as a recreational and cultural gathering place for this community during much of the twentieth-century. In addition, the building was built for use by Texarkana as a fire station, jail, courtroom and city offices.The construction of the building in the late 1920s was also a response to the growth of Texarkana as a result of the growth of the railroad industry in the vicinity.The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion C as an unusual example of a building designed combining the Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic styles of architecture. The Texarkana, Arkansas, MunicipalBuilding, is being submitted to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple property listing “Railroad Era Resources of Southwest Arkansas, 1870-1945” in conjunction with the historic context “Railroad Era Resources of Southwest Arkansas (Lafayette, Little River, Miller and SevierCounties), 1870-1945.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Architectural plans for the building and its renovations.

 

Atkins, Jerry, et al.Interview with Judy Walter.5 August 2003.

 

Sai, Prashansa.“Municipal Auditorium Restoration in Works.”Texarkana Gazette, 28 August 2002.

 

Wright, Robert (City Manager of Texarkana, Arkansas).Telephone conversation with Judy Walter.2003.