East Side of the Square
Tour Stop 21
East Side of the Square
The area around the Fayetteville Square has been subjected to two periods of great destruction. The First Destruction was in the 1860's – in 1862 Confederate General Benjamin McCulloch ordered all commercial and vacant buildings to be burned, and in 1864 the Confederate bombardment of downtown wreaked additional havoc.
(East Square Plaza Building)
The Second Destruction was in the 1970's, due to a popular program at the time called" Urban Renewal". As you can see from here, nothing historic survived in this immediate vicinity.
But to be fair, in the 1970's the Square was dying. Many retail businesses had moved out to Highway 71 (College Avenue), and new suburban developments like the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center made the old Square seem antiquated and useless. At one point the occupancy rate on the Square was said to be only 20%. Many buildings were empty, windows were boarded up, some had already been demolished creating giant gaps.
Thinking that old long skinny spaces would be hard to fill with modern retail, the Federal Urban Renewal program decided to tear down buildings and clear lots in hopes that they could be sold and redeveloped by private interests. But that didn't happen. The vacant lots only made the area less desirable, especially for the few remaining businesses.
So the city business leaders decided to take drastic action, starting with the McIlroy Bank at this corner. Their decision to stay on the square was seen as a major watershed moment, and the University and the First National Bank also committed to building new on the Square. Working with the City of Fayetteville and the US Housing Authority, buildings were purchased and torn down to make way for what they hoped would be a new and modern revival of the Square.
So today we have in this area the McIlroy Bank Building (1977), the UA Continuing Education Building (1981), and the block-long First National Bank/Bank of America Building (1981).
John Lewis, who we mentioned before with the Bank of Fayetteville, was the president of the First National Bank at the time and was one of the major proponents of the urban renewal program. Years later, he said very apologetically that they thought they were doing the right thing at the time, but now realized just how wrong it was to tear out so many historic buildings.
To the credit of Little Rock architects Polk, Shannon, Stanley, they tried to make the new First National Bank building reflect the historic rhythm and style of the buildings it replaced. The building was completed in 1981. Two additional stories were added in 2006 to create luxury downtown living spaces.
So, what did we lose when all this was built? We already mentioned the 5 buildings where the Arvest Bank now sits. Let's move to the middle of block and see if we can do a little mental reconstruction and bring the 7 lost buildings back to life for a moment.
CROSS STREET AND GO TO MIDDLE OF BLOCK
One of the first brick buildings in Fayetteville was at the corner on the left. It was built by Stephen K. Stone before the Civil War, and partially survived the burning of the square in 1862. At the time he had the largest and most successful business in Fayetteville, and the spot was known as "Stone's Corner". Later businesses there were Stone & Albright, Yarrington & Smith, JC Penney, T.E. Robertson and Hunt's Clothing.
Next to that was Blairs Stationery, and next to Blairs was the long-time home of the Fayetteville Drug Store who were here 54 years until they were forced to relocate. Beside that was the E.B. Harrison Hardware store, a tall three story brick building completed in 1886 with a large ornamental pediment.
In the middle of the block was the first large dry goods and clothing store in Fayetteville, opened by three Jewish brothers, Moses, Joseph & Leopold Baum. They came here in 1865 from St. Louis and built a 2-story brick building in 1868, adding a second adjacent building in 1875.
However, on the evening of April 18, 1880, a tor- nado, in their own words "razed our two brick stores to the ground and made a free distribution of our merchandise over the contiguous landscape". Their buildings were completely demolished except for the south wall where china stacked on the shelves was untouched. Part of the building's tin roof was found in Goshen, approximately 10 miles away. The cyclone, as it was called then, damaged over 68 buildings in Fayetteville and killed at least two people.
This was followed in 1881 by a hailstorm that had "hailstones as big as cannonballs" battering in roofs and demolishing windows.
Baums built a new 2-story "double store" in 1886, but unfortunately it was burned to the ground in 1894 due to a nearby stable fire. They rebuilt again and remained a major presence on the Square into the 1920's when their building was torn down yet again for Scott's Department Store and the Palace Theater.
The Palace Theater was a fixture on the Square for 50 years, and featured a large arched window over the marquee which was the inspiration for the arched entryway you see today. To the right of that was the 2-story I.G. Combs Building which once had an elaborate metal front similar to the Mrs. S.J. Young Building.
And on the end was the Paddock Building. Samuel F. Paddock purchased the corner lot from LaRue Harrison, the former Union commander and first Mayor of Fayetteville after the Civil War, and built a large 2-story brick building in 1869. The Campbell-Bell Dry Goods company got their start in this building in 1900, and it later housed a grocery, a shoe store, a paint store and a Singer Sewing Machine store. The building was owned by the Paddock family for over 100 years.
CROSS W. MOUNTAIN STREET STOP AT CORNER, LOOK TO THE EAST
Photo Courtesy of: Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville
History provided by: Gary Coover, Coover Consultants