The Arkansas Art Museum has dismissed the blame for the deterioration of the Pike-Fletcher-Terry mansion donated to Little Rock 57 years ago for the museum’s use, saying Wednesday it “is not owner of the building and has no contractual responsibility to operate or maintain it. “
The museum’s unsigned statement marked its first public comment since the historic home’s original heirs filed a lawsuit last week asking for it to be returned to their family amid signs that it has been abandoned.
The heirs who filed the lawsuit are the grandchildren of sisters Aldophine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan, who donated the property to the city in 1964. According to a copy of the deed filed in court, the purpose was “to the use and benefit of the Arkansas Arts Center, “which was the name of the museum at the time.
Terry and Drennan’s heirs are also asking for money or property donated in what their lawsuit describes as a $ 1.5 million endowment held by the museum foundation to maintain the two-story Greek Revival-style mansion. , which, with a well-shaded lawn, covers a block from Seventh to Eighth Streets along Rock Street.
The lawsuit alleges breach of contract because the National Gallery no longer uses the house to promote cultural, artistic or educational interests, as stipulated as a condition of the deed. The museum, the museum’s non-profit foundation and the town of Little Rock are on the list of defendants.
Estimates attached to the original heirs’ lawsuit show it would cost more than $ 1.1 million to restore the property.
The museum’s statement, which says the criticism that it “neglected” the property is bogus, emphasizes the city.
âAs an organization, the [museum] remains committed to working with the City to achieve a positive outcome for the preservation of Terry House, âthe statement read.
Stephanie Jackson, communications director for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., said in an emailed statement that the town âprovides regular upkeep and maintenance to The Terry House grounds.
âWhen the house was transferred to the city, it was on condition that the house was only used for art center purposes,â Jackson said. âThe City has always operated under this arrangement.
Like the Terry House, the main building of the Museum of Fine Arts belongs to Little Rock. The city pays the museum an annual allowance for the maintenance of the Ninth Street facility, which is undergoing an expansion and renovation of $ 142 million.
Capi Peck, a director with the town of Little Rock, said town officials have had discussions about operating the mansion but cannot afford to do so unless the town receives the money. to pay for repairs. Peck said the heirs wanted “affordable” and “very inclusive” public use to return to the historic home.
âIt tells such a rich story of our city, of our state,â said Peck.
A key issue emerging from the lawsuit is the whereabouts of any agreement outlining how the mansion would be maintained over the decades – and any restrictions on intent and spending imposed on some $ 1.5 million raised in the 1980s to support a ” decorative arts museum âat the Manor.
No such agreement has been filed in connection with the lawsuit.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the city, museum and museum foundation for such agreements. No document was provided Wednesday evening.
Richard Mays, the lawyer representing the heirs, said he made no comment when asked if he had a copy of such an agreement he could share.
In October 1984, the museum’s foundation launched a public fundraising campaign in coordination with the domain of Winthrop Rockefeller, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette records. Their goal was to raise at least $ 1.5 million to fund a decorative arts museum in the house, according to an Arkansas Democrats article published on October 14, 1984.
The Rockefeller Estate has pledged up to $ 1 million in a scheme where it matches every $ 1 raised with $ 2, according to this article and others. But the newspaper’s report, which called the donation from the estate a “foundation,” did not report any spending restrictions or downstream maintenance obligations.
The Museum of Fine Arts statement said Wednesday that its foundation raised nearly $ 2 million in the 1980s “to establish” the Museum of Decorative Arts, with most of that money coming from the Rockefeller estate.
“All funds have been spent in accordance with the original intention of the donors,” the statement said.
Mays, the attorney for the heirs, said after reading the statement that “the manner in which [the nearly $2 million] was spent will be resolved by forensic accounting of museum records.
The Museum of Fine Arts “spent millions” on the property, its statement said, specifically noting $ 675,000 in capital improvements as well as additional funds for a curator, exhibits and other staff. The museum’s budget also includes more than $ 30,000 per year for basic property maintenance, according to the release.
“This investment is made in good faith because of our long-standing relationship with the City and our history and concern for Maison Terry, but it is not enough to properly preserve this historic property,” reads.
Besides its architectural importance, the pre-war mansion is widely known for the notoriety of its first occupants.
Albert Pike, a Confederate general, nationally recognized lawyer and co-founder of the National Masonic Fraternal Organization, had the house built, according to the lawsuit.
The family of Captain John Gould Fletcher later occupied the house. Fletcher was a member of the Capitol Guards during the Civil War and went on to serve as mayor of Little Rock and sheriff of Pulaski County, according to the file.
Gould’s son, John Gould Fletcher Jr., won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1939.
Elder Gould’s daughter, Aldophine Fletcher Terry, later lived in the house with her husband, Congressman John Terry, according to an entry in the Arkansas Encyclopedia at the Central Arkansas Library System.
Fletcher Terry was instrumental in forming the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, which opposed the government of the day. Orval Faubus’s resistance to the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, Mays wrote in a press release.
The work led to the recall of three members of the segregationist school board and the reopening of schools in Little Rock, according to the lawsuit.
The Women’s Emergency Committee met at the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House, and the names of the members are engraved on the windows of the room where the meetings were held.
Today passers-by often lie on the lawn in good weather, walk their dogs or sit on benches.
The building, according to photos filed with the court, is collapsing.
Information for this article was provided by Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.