Arkansas’s capital city shows off its historic Quapaw Quarter district this weekend at the 50th annual Spring Tour of Homes.
Even if you’ve never been to Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter neighborhood, you’ve probably seen it on television. Made famous by the late 1980s-early 1990s show “Designing Women,” the Quarter’s Villa Marre Victorian mansion (pictured below) served as the exterior for the Sugarbaker sisters’ design firm. Volatile sister Suzanne Sugarbaker’s home seen in the series is the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, also located in the district. The mansion, once inhabited by Arkansas native Bill Clinton, who was known to jog through the neighborhood, will be on display this weekend as part of the Quapaw Quarter Association’s Spring Tour.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the tour includes five other historic homes in an effort to draw attention to the district as a place for both young families and those who’ve lived there for decades. “We’re seeing some real progress, and these are the types of places people want to live now,” says QQA Executive Director Rhea Roberts. “President Clinton and ‘Designing Women’ are things people still talk about and are proud of in the neighborhood.”
She explains that the quarter is an arbitrary boundary spanning 9 square miles incorporated in 1968 to fight urban sprawl and promote the preservation of Little Rock’s architectural heritage. The name honors the Quapaw Indians, and the district includes more than 200 homes and buildings on the National Register. As the association’s mission states, the district is an eclectic gathering of homes, cottages and mansions in 15 distinct neighborhoods ranging from Capitol Hill to South End.
Roberts herself lives just south of the Governor’s Mansion and had her house on tour two years ago. The association’s offices used to be located in Villa Marre, but the famous house was sold in 1999 and is now a private residence rented out for events.
Homes on tour this year include The Mayer Cottage, The Pierce House (pictured), The Turner-Back House (pictured at top), The Caruth Cochran House and The Old Methodist Parsonage. The homes are all within walkable distances and span from 1881 to 1938. Roberts says they represent a variety of styles but all show that historic homes can still be relevant in the modern world.
“The Turner house built by a prominent developer and tells interesting story because it was big, grand Queen Anne house that’s been upgraded to look more craftsman, so it shows those changes over time,” she says. The tour is also used to show the success of preservation and the walkability of a neighborhood like the Quarter.
Attendees this year will have the chance to stroll with honorary co-chairs First Lady Ginger Beebee and Arkansas design and gardening guru P. Allen Smith. Opportunities to visit the Governor’s Mansion include a dinner and party there on the evening of May 10 and tours of the mansion’s parterre garden May 11. Smith’s City Garden Home is located in the Quarter and will also be open for tours on Sunday.
“Historic preservation is more than saving old buildings, it’s a means to revitalizing neighborhoods and returning life to Main Street,” Smith says. “The entire area, from the Clinton Library at the River Market all the way to Central High, is full of Little Rock’s gems, cornerstones of our city. I’m encouraged by the vitality and the renewal I continue to see.”
During the weekend, opportunities to see the renewal Allen is referring to will be available in the form of a hard hat tour of Main Street, bike ride through downtown, trolleys running from South Main to the farmers market and a temporary exhibit on hats at the Esse Purse Museum. Named one of the World’s Hottest Museum’s of 2014 by The Huffington Post, Esse grew out of a traveling exhibit of Little Rock native Anita Davis’s collection of handbags and is considered one of the crown jewels in Main Street’s revival.
The Quapaw Quarter’s 50th Spring Tour of Homes starts on Saturday, May 10, with a Candlelight Tour from 5:30-7:30 p.m., followed by dinner at the Governor’s Mansion and an after party at South on Main. On Sunday, May 11, the tour runs from 1-5 p.m. and includes live music, trolley rides, food vendors and brunch at historic Curran Hall from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets for the Candlelight Tour and dinner are $125 per person and include the Sunday afternoon tour. Spring Tour of Homes tickets are $20 per person in advance and $25 the day of tour. Children 10 and under are free. Sunday brunch tickets are $35 each and include the afternoon tour. Tickets can be purchased at www.quapaw.com or at the Little Rock Visitor Information Center at Curran Hall on 615 E. Capitol Ave.
Photo Credits: Turner-Back house and Pierce House courtesy of Quapaw Quarter Association; Villa Marre from The Villa Marre Facebook page; and Esse Purse Museum from Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.