Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
South Main Street Commercial Historic District
South Main Street Commercial Historic District

SOUTH MAIN STREET COMMERCIAL HISTORIC DISTRICT, LITTLE ROCK, PULASKI COUNTY

SUMMARY

The South Main Street Commercial Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with the development of Little Rock and Criterion C for its assortment and quality of twentieth-century commercial structures.  The district is being nominated with local significance.  South Main Street Commercial Historic District represents the development of the city through the 1940s.  Its period of significance spans the years from 1905 to 1945.

ELABORATION

From the founding of Little Rock in the 1820s, Main Street has served as one of the city’s primary commercial centers.  The site of Little Rock was established because it was the center of the Arkansas territory, and it was near two important transportation routes, the Arkansas River and the Southwest Trail.  In the 1830s, because it was the territorial capital, Little Rock grew in importance and in size.  When the U.S. Congress admitted Arkansas as a state in 1836, Little Rock was a large frontier town.  It was not until the 1850s that Little Rock obtained many of the trappings of modern cities.  A railroad from Memphis, Tennessee, to Little Rock provided linkage to the growing transportation network of the East.  A college was established in town.Gas lighting and a telegraph line were also introduced.  The Civil War and its aftermath slowed Little Rock’s growth for a time, like many other Southern cities; however, this decline was reversed by the postwar boom of the late 1800s.[1]

After the Civil War, Little Rock had a population of 4,000 persons, but that would soon change as the city went through dramatic changes in the late 1800s.  It was at this time that Little Rock experienced its first building boom.  In the 1860s, Main Street south of Tenth Street was a dirt road.  Fred Hotze described the area as being very rural, where farmers camped on his property and Main Street was “a dim road alongside of which ran a little rail or path where people walked while numerous tree stumps in the middle of the street made wagon transportation rough.”[2]  After the Civil War, the influx of Northern capital resulted in the expansion of the railroad, allowing for the development of Little Rock along Main Street rather than its traditional growth along the river.[3]  By the late 1800s, Main Street had a collection of two- to three-story, brick commercial buildings and was losing its rural feel.

In the early years, the area around South Main Street originally was a residential area for several important individuals in the city.  For example, Colonel William Davidson constructed a home at 1500 South Main Street for $20,000, and it was “one of the best constructed and most palatial homes in the city.”[4]  Additionally, Peter Hotze, who had settled in Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas, in 1856 and entered into the general merchandise business, purchased the plans for a cottage from Memphis architect M. H. Baldwin for $35 and built the 2,000-square-foot house on Block 166 at the southern edge of the original city of Little Rock.[5]  Also, the map Bird's eye view of the city of Little Rock, the capitol of Arkansas 1871 shows a few residences in the area, although overall it is not very developed.[6]

The turn of the twentieth century saw the continued expansion of Little Rock and the growth of the South Main Street area.The Perspective map of the city of Little Rock, Ark., State capital of Arkansas, county seat of Pulaski County of 1887 shows some commercial development between 12th and 14th streets, but the remainder of the area is residential.[7]  By the end of the nineteenth century, the commercial district along Main Street only extended to approximately Tenth Street.  The Little Rock Board of Trade’s Eighteenth Annual Report of 1 April 1907 stated that “the Year of 1906 was the Most Prosperous in the History of Little Rock,” and among the improvements of 1906 was the construction of the Lincoln Building at Main and Fifteenth.[8]

Several other commercial buildings were constructed along South Main Street.While larger “skyscrapers” like the State Bank building were being built in the downtown area, the commercial development along South Main Street retained the typical nineteenth-century commercial building style.  These were one to three stories, with an iron frame and brick veneer.  Most had some sort of stylistic detailing.By the late 1920s, several of the large homes in the commercial area were being torn down to make room for commercial construction.[9]

In addition to the commercial buildings, residential buildings in the area also changed primary functions during this time.  For example, after Peter and Johanna Hotze moved to New York, the First Hotze House became a rented residence and continued as such until about 1932; the last tenant was Albert Haynes, the local U.S. Army recruiter.  During the Great Depression, Mrs. Mary Dodge Hodges, a local schoolteacher, used the house as her private school.  She converted the four main rooms into classrooms for kindergarten, first, second, and third grades.  Hodges continued to operate the Mary Dodge School for about 10 years until World War II.   Because of rationing, many parents took their children out of private schools to attend neighborhood schools within walking distance, and Hodges had to close her school on Main Street.  For approximately the next 25 years, the Ouachita Council of the Girl Scouts used the house as their headquarters.  In 1968, a new Girl Scout headquarters building was constructed on West 29th Street in North Little Rock. After the Girl Scouts vacated the First Hotze House, it was used for many businesses, including the Charles House of Beauty Salon, a daycare center, and the Pettit paint stripping shop.  The property remained vacant for about 14 years immediately prior to its 2001-2002 restoration.[10]

Sanborn maps and city directories from the 1930s and 1940s show that most of the establishments along South Main Street were small businesses that provided services to nearby residences.  They included bakeries, dairies, laundries, etc.Ralph Henson, owner of the Community Bakery at 1318 South Main Street, moved his bakery from North Little Rock to Main Street in 1952.  He said that at that time the “business block resembled a present day shopping center.  The block included a furniture shop, shoe shop, cleaning plant, barber shop, liquor store, grocery-market (Krogers) and the struggling Snell Artificial Limb and Brace Company.”[11]

During the post-World War II economic boom and the resulting creation of large suburbs separated from the core of the city, the commercial area along South Main Street began to decline.  Several of the businesses gradually closed and were replaced or left abandoned.  Also, infill such as the construction of gas stations and chain restaurants resulted in the removal of historic buildings.

The 1980s brought an infamous event to the South Main Street Commercial Historic District.  In 1984, Jim and Susan McDougal renovated the Imperial Laundry Building (PU3521) as the headquarters for the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.  They saw it as an opportunity to provide loans and financial services to the area.  However, Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan also made loans to then Governor Bill Clinton for the failed Whitewater deals that would be prominent during the late 1990s Clinton impeachment.[12]



[1] Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, “Little Rock Apartment Buildings, 1900-1945,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form.7 April 1995:E-1.

[2] Arkansas Gazette, 7 November 1931.

[3] Ralph Megana and Julie Wiedower. “Little Rock Main Street Multiple Resource Area.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.1987.

[4] Arkansas Gazette, 25 June 1928.

[5] Ralph Megna and Julie Wiedower. “Little Rock Main Street Multiple Resource Area.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.1987.

[6] A. Ruger, Bird's eye view of the city of Little Rock, the capitol of Arkansas 1871.Library of Congress. Ruger Map Collection, no. 2.

[7] Beck & Pauli Lith. Co.Perspective map of the city of Little Rock, Ark., State capital of Arkansas, county seat of Pulaski County. 1887.

[8] Little Rock Board of Trade, Eighteenth Annual Report, April 1, 1907 (Little Rock: Democrat Printing and Lithographing Co., 1907), 104.

[9] Arkansas Gazette, 25 June 1928.

[10] Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, “First Hotze House,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  2006.

[11] “Baker Reminisces About Main Street,” Quapaw Quarterly Chronicle.  On file at the South Main Street Office, Little Rock.  No date.

[12] Louis Guida, “South Main Gets Infusion of $900,000 for New S & L,” Chronicle, February 1984.

SIGNIFICANCE

The South Main Street Commercial Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with the development of Little Rock and Criterion C for its assortment and quality of twentieth-century commercial structures.  The district is being nominated with local significance.  South Main Street Commercial Historic District represents the development of the city through the 1940s.  Its period of significance spans the years from 1905 to 1945.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arkansas Gazette, 25 June 1928. 

Arkansas Gazette, 7 November 1931.

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, “Lincoln Building,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  5 August 1994. 

_________.  “First Hotze House,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  2006.

_________. “Little Rock Apartment Buildings, 1900-1945,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form.  7 April 1995. 

“Baker Reminisces About Main Street,” Quapaw Quarterly Chronicle.  On file at the South Main Street Office, Little Rock.  No date.

Beck & Pauli Lith. Co.  Perspective map of the city of Little Rock, Ark., State capital of Arkansas, county seat of Pulaski County. 1887.

Guida, Louis. “South Main Gets Infusion of $900,000 for New S & L,” Chronicle, February 1984.

Little Rock Board of Trade. Eighteenth Annual Report, April 1, 1907. Little Rock: Democrat Printing and Lithographing Co., 1907.

Megna, Ralph, and Julie Wiedower. “Little Rock Main Street Multiple Resource Area.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  1987.

Ruger, A.  Bird's eye view of the city of Little Rock, the capitol of Arkansas 1871.  Library of Congress. Ruger Map Collection, no. 2.  Available at www.loc.gov