A Chicago Eye Looks Around Downtown Little Rock--and finds some unexpected art.

A Chicago Eye Looks Around Downtown Little Rock--and finds some unexpected art.
The lobby wall in the Fine Arts Building, Chicago, Illinois

Sometimes I take a round about route to my art class and unexpected art pops up.  When I am lucky to have my real camera instead of my antique 3G iphone, I stop and take a few pictures.  Downtown Little Rock gives me a lot a lot of material.

Downtown Little Rock is nothing like downtown Chicago–it is so much smaller, but it is the state capitol of Arkansas, a business and financial center as well state and federal courts.  Urban renewal in the late 1960’s and 1970’s wrecked a lot of it, so there are many ground level parking lots, warehouses and vacant lots on its outskirts.  The biggest difference is that there is only one downtown–Chicago has many within the city limits.  In fact the whole state of Arkansas has the population that is about equal to the City of Chicago ( 3 million).

Three Fold is a Chinese dumpling restaurant on Center Street in downtown Little Rock in what was a bank lobby, its big safe is still there. It is not far from the courthouses and several financial businesses. This place has a very small menu, three kinds of dumpling, a noodle bowl and a few beverages, but the food is authentic and very good.  Across the street is a “stand-alone” skyscraper.” I called it “stand alone” because I suspect that in the past there may have been buildings on either side of it. What caught my eye was it’s terracotta ornamentation. I am not sure what the figures are, so I call them “genies”  holding up  many  stories of decorative terracotta.  There are two more at the top of the building holding up the cornice. Terracotta ornaments were the rage at the beginning of the twentieth century, so I am guessing that the building was built between 1900 and 1925, in a thriving downtown that needed office for space. One link to Chicago, notice the Chicago-style windows made up of one large pane of glass surrounded by two smaller panes.  More information about the building click here

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Bensky Furs was once a business on Main Street, the State Street of Little Rock. Nine years ago, the first time I visited Little Rock, Main Street was dead, with only two  operating businesses, a wig shop and an army surplus store. There was nothing else but blocks of empty retail stores.  The single story Bensky Furs building is empty, next to a multi-story parking lot, the painted sign on the side of the building now a ghost sign.  Today, Main Street is reborn, with several restaurants, The  Rep, a theater company and more businesses in the pipeline.  It is not likely that the department stores and luxury retail, which once populated Main Street will ever return, but investors have bought up the empty buildings and there are a lot of ideas floating around, including homes for the Arkansas Symphony and the ballet companies.  By the way, Three Fold is moving to a larger space on Main Street in the new technology center in August.

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