New Book Recalls Little Rock's Architectural History

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 12:00 am  

“In 1975, that was an emerging opportunity,” Evans said. “It was driven a lot by tax credits. People were getting tax credits for restoring old commercial buildings and lesser tax credits for residential buildings. So we decided to jump out and try to get into that market, and for quite a while that’s what we did — we restored old homes. We worked with people to restore homes downtown and in the Quapaw Quarter.”

By that point, Evans said, Witsell had bought and was restoring a home on Scott Street that had been scheduled for demolition by the Little Rock Housing Authority.

“His original intention was to renovate it and put sort of a contemporary touch on it,” Evans said. “But once he got into it, he decided to do a really authentic restoration. He learned a lot about styles, colors and materials that set him off on track.”

The firm’s analysis of paint to determine the original color of buildings often shocked clients, Evans said, when they learned how vibrant some buildings once were.

“You peel all that stuff off, 50 or 60 years of bland, institutional government colors, you find spectacular colors,” Evans said.

The firm worked on dozens of houses downtown and helped restore a sizable portion of the Quapaw Quarter. It started transitioning into commercial and institutional work as the residential jobs started to dry up.

In the 1980s, the firm restored the Old State House, but Evans said the “first big break” was the restoration of the early 20th century Pulaski County Circuit Court at 401 W. Markham St. and the former post office, now the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, at 300 W. Second St.

“I remember finding out that we had gotten the opportunity to restore two courthouses,” he said. “It was a big deal. That was our first big nonresidential project.”

Also in the 1980s, Terry Rasco joined the firm as a principal and its name changed to Witsell Evans & Rasco.

WER continued to restore historic spaces and worked on projects like the Little Rock Visitors Center at Curran Hall, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and the old Washington County Courthouse.

Eventually, the firm changed its focus from strictly historic restoration to design as well. Some of the projects it’s contributed to since then include the Clinton Presidential Center, the main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System and the Richard Sheppard Arnold U.S. Courthouse at Capitol Avenue and Broadway in downtown Little Rock.

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