George Wittenberg: downtown visionary 

click to enlarge GEORGE WITTENBERG

When George Wittenberg sent me his address I didn’t look at it closely. It wasn’t until the morning of our interview that I read it and thought, “Huh? This isn’t near the River Market.” I was so certain that was where he lived. I plugged the address into Mapquest and, again, nowhere near the River Market district. I e-mailed Wittenberg for confirmation. “Between 15th and 16th,” he replied. In the Abeles complex.

Where did I get the idea that his home, which is legendary for its sophisticated and gorgeous aesthetic, was near the River Market? It dawned on me: It’s because that’s where I’ve heard people talk about him and his home. It’s a testament to the crucial role Wittenberg plays in the continued development of downtown Little Rock; you can’t talk about it without his name coming up.

About his home: You have to see it. You won’t believe it. It’s the most interesting home in Little Rock. You’ve never seen anything like it. Unless you’ve been to New York.

It also has a clean, functional aesthetic with a hint of playfulness and a hint of edginess. It is signature Wittenberg. You have to see it.

But even more interesting is the home’s location. South of I-630, past Juanita’s, west of Main. Surrounded by buildings of all sorts — hopelessly rundown, livable but sad, well-tended, immaculately restored.

Let’s back up and talk a bit about who George Wittenberg is. If the name sounds familiar, there are at least two good reasons. Wittenberg is a third-generation architect; his grandfather was, in 1919, the first registered architect in the state of Arkansas. The firm he established and where his grandson was once a partner, Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson, has been a force in Arkansas architecture for almost 90 years. George Wittenberg’s name has also been in the news regularly since he left the family firm in 1992 to help found the Urban Studies and Design program at UALR. The program teaches urban planning and design through a combination of classroom and real-world experience. That real-world experience largely comes through working with Wittenberg on community-driven planning projects.

Wittenberg’s heart may have always been in community projects. He said that he was always interested in studying “architecture’s relationship to the community rather than architecture’s relationship to itself. It is not isolated.” After completing his master’s degree in architecture and design at Harvard University, Wittenberg went to work for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. There, he worked largely on the redevelopment of downtown Boston. When he returned home to work at the Wittenberg firm, he had more public clients, like the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

As part of the Urban Studies and Design program at UALR, Wittenberg and his students have completed more than 200 studies on community design for public and private investors. Wittenberg’s goal for the UALR program is to make the city, especially downtown, what cities should be: a place for people. Several of these studies have resulted in large projects, such as the Junction Bridge, that are now in various stages of completion. Here are two:

Block 97

Block 97 is the block southeast of the Pulaski County Courthouse (between Second and Third and Spring and Center streets). County Judge Buddy Villines wanted an affordable, community-friendly, attractive way to add parking near the courthouse. He was joined by the city of Little Rock, the Downtown Partnership and Metrocentre Improvement District in commissioning the study.

Block 97 is largely vacant, with the exception of a handful of historic buildings along Second Street, most notably the Center Place building. Initially the plan called for underground parking and a park “dedicated to Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation.” It would have been a green spot in the middle of the city with benches, trees, sidewalks and shade.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Joy Ritchey

  • 'Yesterday' holds up

    The classic at the Rep asks: “Are the people gonna run the country or is the country gonna run the people?”
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Near perfect 'King'; 'Daughter' hard to raise

    Lush and lavish, the Rep’s “The King and I” is a fantastic holiday play. "American Daughter," however, has aged a bit and the Weekend Theater crew may not have been completely prepared to take it on just yet.
    • Dec 7, 2006
  • Out of the park

    I enjoyed the Weekend Theater’s production of “Take Me Out” even more than the one I saw on Broadway.
    • Nov 10, 2006
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

  • An Arkie remembered in Washington, D.C.

    History note: Washington Post backgrounds readers on the statue of a once-famous Arkansan, Albert Pike, memorialized in a statue in Washington, D.C.
    • Oct 24, 2016
  • The effort to provide on-campus voting

    A talk is scheduled at the Clinton School tonight about the success of providing election centers on the Hendrix College campus, a movement that has so far failed at the University of Arkansas.
    • Oct 24, 2016
  • Sunday's open line

    Here's the Sunday open line.
    • Oct 23, 2016
  • More »

Most Shared

Latest in Top Stories

  • Good for the soul

    The return of Say McIntosh, restaurateur
    • Jun 1, 2010
  • Robocalls are illegal

    Robocalls -- recorded messages sent to thousands of phone numbers -- are a fact of life in political campaigns. The public doesn't like them much, judging by the gripes about them, but campaign managers and politicians still believe in their utility.
    • May 31, 2010
  • Riverfest winds down

    With Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, Steve Miller Band, Robert Cray, Ludacris and more performing.
    • May 30, 2010
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Five Fun Fall Activities

Five Fun Fall Activities

Autumn temps are perfect for outdoor activities

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Faith of our felons

    • He's a monster with monsters who aid his unholy lust

    • on October 22, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation