Central High Historic District expansion: Talk is cheap | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Central High Historic District expansion: Talk is cheap

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 7:41 AM

click to enlarge HISTORIC TERRITORY: Alex Wilson of the Tri-State Defender was beaten by a mob while covering the Central desegregation crisis. Homes in the neighborhood re to be added to the historic district's boundaries under new legislation so the apppearance will remain as they looked then.
  • HISTORIC TERRITORY: Alex Wilson of the Tri-State Defender was beaten by a mob while covering the Central desegregation crisis. Homes in the neighborhood re to be added to the historic district's boundaries under new legislation so the apppearance will remain as they looked then.

Legislation was introduced this week to expand the boundaries of the National Historic District around Central High School to include seven houses along Park Street that face the high school.

This subject has been discussed for 20 years, since first a Central High Museum and then the Historic Site were created to commemorate the desegregation crisis. The idea met some resistance from some property owners in the beginning because it provides for protection of the appearance of the exteriors of the houses as they looked in 1957.

The tradeoff of inclusion in the district is that government money might be available — as it was made available for the high school itself — for preservation of the facades of the houses so they will appear as they did when momentous events occurred outside with TV cameras rolling. This is good and the federal money can be spent only if the property is part of the district.

The bill, apart from expanding  boundaries, does nothing immediately. It purchases no houses. It provides no money for improvements, as Sen. Tom Cotton himself noted in a speech in the Senate wrapping himself in the reflected glory of the Little Rock Nine. It does open the door.

Which brings me to the larger point as Senator Cotton and U.S. Rep. French Hill speak glowingly of the addition of a block of homes to the historic district's boundaries.

The National Park Service doesn't fall high on the list of priorities of the Republican Congress. Some of them want to sell off pieces of this national treasure. The Park Service has an estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog. Proposed cuts in the Trump budget for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency hold grave peril for the National Park Service — and, on down the line, including such small matters as grants to preserve facades of homes on Park Street in Little Rock, Arkansas.

So when Tom Cotton and French Hill issue flowery press releases about preserving history remember this: The rubber meets the road on spending bills for the National Park Service. Note their votes and words then.

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