QQA, museum supporters want original Templars office bought | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

QQA, museum supporters want original Templars office bought

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 3:42 PM

click to enlarge The Mosaic State Temple, the only original building owned by the Mosaic Templars fraternity on Broadway.
  • The Mosaic State Temple, the only original building owned by the Mosaic Templars fraternity on Broadway.
The Quapaw Quarter Association and the Mosaic Templars Building Preservation Society have asked Gov. Hutchinson to preserve a building at 906 S. Broadway, the original Mosaic Templars of America office,  which is now up for auction by its owner.

Act 212 of 2015 appropriated $1 million for the purchase of the building with general improvement funds, but the state has apparently decided not to fund the appropriation.

The building, constructed in 1921 as the Mosaic State Temple, was most recently occupied by Premier MRI and is owned by Leonal W. Kilgore Revocable Trust in Wichita, Kan. It is being auctioned online; the bid deadline is Thursday, March 24. An opening bid of $650,000 is required.

The QQA letter to the governor, dated March 1, notes the history of the Mosaic Templars, a black business fraternity founded in 1882 that at its peak had more than 100,000 members and chapters in 26 states, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The building at 906 S. Broadway “is the only original structure of the Mosaic Templars complex still standing, and arguably the most historically significant African American-built structure remaining in Arkansas,” the letter, signed by QQA Executive Director Rhea Roberts, said. “Its rehabilitation by the State for any use would contribute to ongoing revitalization efforts of the important Ninth Street corridor. … the demolition of and/or unsympathetic development of the building would be detrimental to the long term success of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.”

Jon Gilmore, a spokesperson for the governor, issued the following statement this afternoon:
"The building has not been designated to purchase because the state budget did not include the estimated $1 million required for the purchase price and there [sic] any costs of operation of the new facility is not included in the budget as well. Even though the purchase price and operating costs have not been funded in the budget, the proposed acquisition is still under review. The review includes the costs of renovation, possible tenants, parking issues and budget constraints."
The Mosaic Templars Building Preservation Society, which worked for years to restore the original Mosaic Templars of America building at the corner of Ninth and Broadway, eventually persuading the state to buy the property in 2001, sent an earlier plea to the governor to buy the property at 906 S. Broadway. “Of the three original Mosaic Templars buildings that once occupied the west side of Broadway Street between West Ninth and Tenth streets, only the Mosaic State Temple remains,” corresponding secretary John Graves wrote. "It is also important to note that at present the former Mosaic State Temple at 906 Broadway Street is not protected by an historic conservation easement. The building is scheduled to be auctioned and sold on March 26 of this year, in only a matter of weeks. At any time it could be subsequently demolished and replaced with a new facility that might be inappropriate and incompatible with the immediately neighboring MTCC facility." That letter was sent Feb. 18.

The historic Templars' three-story building on the corner of Ninth and Broadway was destroyed by fire in March 2005; the state Department of Arkansas Heritage decided to rebuild as the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The museum's façade is a replica of the original Templars building; the restoration included the third-floor auditorium that once drew top African-American entertainers to Little Rock. Exhibits about African American history and Ninth Street’s black businesses are on the first floor.

The heritage department also issued a statement:

“DAH is working with [the Arkansas Building Authority] to determine the estimated cost of acquisition and the estimated cost to renovate the building into a usable condition. Possible temporary uses for the building and related operating costs are being analyzed, as well. This is information we need to have to even know if state ownership is practicable. DAH is fully aware of the rich history of the State Temple building. There are many important historic buildings and sites across the state that need attention.

“It’s important to note that there was an amount appropriated for this purpose going back to the 2013 budget, but it has never been funded.”

The fact that the state apparently has little interest in acquiring the building at 906 S. Broadway has rubbed salt in wounds caused by what museum supporters see as indifference to the museum on the part of the state. The museum has been without an official director since Jan. 8, when Sericia Cole stepped down, and the state advertisement for a new director has a closing date of Dec. 31, 2016, which some fear indicates the director position could be open for months. (Quantia Fletcher is acting director.) A new hire at the museum, Kendall Marr, is a Republican political operative who worked on the successful constitutional amendment in Tennessee to prohibit the legislature from taxing personal income and on various Republic political campaigns; he is to work on “business enterprise and education,” replacing the earlier education position.

Garbo Hearne, a gallery owner who hosted a group of museum supporters for a conversation on the situation at the museum last Saturday, said she did not believe the community is aware of problems at the museum. “It doesn’t have the support it needs,” she said. It’s as if the museum were being set up to fail, those gathered said. They plan to continue to put pressure on the governor’s office to fund the $1 million appropriation and buy the building.

The group also found it particularly ironic DAH's move last week to take its Black Lives Matter T-shirts off the shelves; a deputy director said they weren’t pertinent to the mission of the museum. “This is about more than a T-shirt,” Hearne said. After a post on the Arkansas Blog and criticism from the community, including a high-profile statement from Pulaski Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, DAH returned the T-shirts to the shelves. They quickly sold out.

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