The Best Laid Plans

A collection of the state's most architecturally significant homes


Courtesy of Arkansas Parks & Tourism/A.C. Haralsan

Pillow-Thompson House
Helena, 1896
George F. Barber, Architect

Before the days of and Pinterest, building inspiration came in a much slower fashion. In the 1880s, mail-order blueprints and architectural digests were the quickest way for building trends to spread, and Tennessee-based architect George Franklin Barber was no stranger to the method. Barber’s widely published house plans—varying from palatial Queen Annes to more reserved colonial styles—allowed him to expand his influence from Tennessee to states that included South Carolina, Michigan, Virginia and Arkansas, explains Goodstein-Murphree.

Helena’s Pillow-Thompson house, an imposing and richly detailed Queen Anne-style home, was designed by Barber at the height of his catalog design business when Barber’s designs were being replicated and personalized across the country and even internationally. The house, with its asymmetrical design, intricate millwork, windows and gables, was eventually published in his book Modern Dwellings: A Book of Practical Designs and Plans for Those Who Wish to Build or Beautify Their Homes under the title “Residence at Normandy Heights, MD.” But don’t think that just because the Pillow-Thompson house (now owned by the Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas) is one of many constructions of this particular plan means this house should be overlooked.

“This a very uniquely Southern house with its use of wood and its over-exuberant, decorative spirit,” Goodstein-Murphree says. “It’s a house that really shows the eclecticism of Victorian-era architecture.”

And it shows the expanse of Barber’s reach. Barber eventually had his name on around 15 homes built in Arkansas, and the look of the Pillow-Thompson house went on to be replicated dozens of times nationally, including in the Tacon-Barfield Mansion in Mobile, Alabama. —evz


Courtesy of the Old State House Museum Collection

Hotze House
Little Rock, 1901
Charles L. Thompson, architect

Courtesy of The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

To truly appreciate the palatial grandeur of the Hotze House on Louisianan Street in Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter, one need only compare it to the small white cottage that occupies the lot behind it. The comparison reveals more that just the difference in size.

That small cottage is the original Hotze House, built in 1869 by Peter Hotze, an Austrian immigrant, before he moved north to make his fortune selling cotton in New York City. After his retirement around the turn of the century, he returned to Arkansas, where he used that fortune to hire Charles L. Thompson, one of the city’s—and the South’s—most prominent architects, to design what would become the premier home of its time in Little Rock and one of the supreme examples of neoclassical style in the region.

“There are still a number [of homes] that fit this style, but there are very few, if any, that equal the Hotze House in terms of architectural sophistication,” says Charles Witsell, an award-winning architect and historic preservationist who also happens to live across the street from the mansion.

Although the Hotze House may not have pushed any architectural boundaries, with an exterior dominated by a semicircular portico supported by four massive fluted columns, elegantly carved pediments above the windows and doors, and an interior likely designed by New York’s famous Tiffany Studios , it’s easy to see why out of the more than 2,000 buildings Thompson designed, the second Hotze House remains the crown jewel of the architect’s prolific career. —nh


The Justin Matthews House
North Little Rock, 1929
Frank Carmean, architect

The International Style of architecture was born in the wake of World War I from a noble aspiration: to create a form that transcended national borders. Its signature unadorned exterior walls were usually made of neutral white stucco; its boxy form followed function, so walls and windows and doors were placed according to need rather than symmetry. Steel frames—a new technology at the time—freed walls from the duty of load-bearing, so windows could be wrapped around corners and roof sections, balconies could be cantilevered out into space, and interiors could be partitioned in any way the inhabitants desired.

It was a marked departure from more common styles of the time, such as Craftsman bungalows. And while later styles of 20th-century architecture share the International style’s focus on function and efficiency over symmetry and ornamentation, the International style never really caught on in residential architecture and was primarily used in commercial and institutional construction. Many of the International homes built in the northeast United States—where the style was most popular—were built for architects, professors or their family members.

So it could not have come as much of a surprise to real estate magnate Justin Matthews that no one actually wanted to buy the International style residence he built in 1929 at 406 Goshen Ave. as a show house in his new Park Hill development. The home was designed by Frank Carmean, whose trademark “Carmean Did It” stamp marks the concrete in front of a number of Park Hill’s more stately residences. To the modern eye, the home is a lovely curiosity in a neighborhood with several of them, including the stunning 1949 Art Moderne Elias house just down the block. But to the more than 28,000 people who toured the Matthews house shortly after it was constructed, its squared-off shape, austere white walls, asymmetrical corner-wrapping windows and rooftop terrace—to say nothing of its full-on Art Deco interior, with trapezoidal doorways and a central cylindrical staircase built into a curved wall—must have seemed downright bizarre.

“The whole thing was just completely out of this world for Park Hill—and Little Rock, for that matter—at that time,” said Rachel Silva, preservation outreach coordinator for the Department of Arkansas Heritage. “That was avant-garde, on the edge. Like many modern-style buildings, people either loved it or hated it. The majority were just interested because it was different.” —jbr


Courtesy of the Arkansas Architectural Archives, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries

The Smart-Dunklin House
Pine Bluff, 1951
Edward Durell Stone, architect

“One of the many occupations of my childhood years was to nurse wounded birds back to health,” begins a paper written by a young Dabney Pelton, née Dunklin, for History of American Art in 1975. Evidently, her childhood home’s wide band of brick and glass, trimmed with cypress and stretched horizontally along a swathe of flat terrain in Pine Bluff—a single-story modern design with a flowing floor plan among the first of its kind in the then-burgeoning Arkansas town—was no friend to avian travelers. But yet, as she writes, she wouldn’t have traded anything for living in the home designed by the great modernist Edward Durell Stone for her grandfather, Felix Smart, and finished in 1951.

For Stone, a Fayetteville native, the homes designed during this time, many of which were built in Arkansas, marked a departure from his earlier European influences, which had been evidenced in his design for New York’s Museum of Modern Art. They reflect the architectural diversity he had encountered during a cross-country excursion that included stops at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin studios in Wisconsin and Arizona. Although Stone would soon shift from what he famously dubbed the “transient enthusiasms” of modernism, the homes from this period reflect their surroundings and the prevailing modernist philosophy.

“I believe that if an architect conscientiously takes into account the circumstances which are unique to each building,” Stone writes in his autobiography, “the program of the client and his objectives; the climate; the setting, whether it be natural or man-made … should result in an original architectural solution.” —jphSmart_EastElevation

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