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The ten-story Southern Trust Building in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County) opened in 1907 as the first skyscraper in Little Rock. Later called Pyramid Place, it began housing retail spaces, restaurants, and offices. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 26, 2013.
In the early twentieth century, Little Rock was transitioning from a river town to a major city, thanks in part to its rapid population growth. According to the U.S. Census, Little Rock’s population more than tripled during this time, from 13,138 in 1880 to 45,941 in 1910. A 1906 Arkansas Gazette editorial complained that despite Little Rock’s growth, the city did not have a single skyscraper.
Plans for a skyscraper had been under way since 1904. F. M. Welch of Alexandria, Louisiana, purchased the property on the southeast corner of Center and 2nd streets for $25,000 to construct a ten-story building. Welch’s plans failed, and he sold the property to Oscar Davis, trustee of Caldwell and Drake.
In 1906, the original vision was fulfilled when Judge William Marmaduke Kavanaugh selected the site to construct a ten-story building for the newly founded Southern Trust Company. He formed the Southern Construction Company to build the structure. The company hired architect George R. Mann, who was well known locally for his design of the Arkansas State Capitol building. On February 8, 1906, a rendering of the Southern Trust Building appeared in the Arkansas Gazette. The building’s construction costs were estimated to be $350,000.
Besides being the first skyscraper, it also exhibited numerous other modern features, including steel skeletal framing, electric elevators, mail chutes, and up-to-date fireproofing technology. The company boasted of the building’s “burglar proof, fireproof, and mobproof vaults.” The building’s construction alarmed pedestrians, however, who worried for the workers’ safety at such great heights.
The building was designed in the Classical Revival style, with vertical columns, a decorative base, and stone cornices. The lobby interior featured mosaic white tiles and white marble baseboards. The building’s U shape was meant to maximize natural lighting and fresh air circulation. The building covers 96,598 square feet.
The Southern Trust building held its grand opening on New Year’s Eve in 1907. The doors opened to the public at 3:00 p.m. Crowds filled the elevators and staircases, and visitors continued to arrive past midnight. The Arkansas Democrat estimated that visitors numbered in the thousands.
The building anchored the city’s financial district, dubbed the Wall Street of Little Rock, and motivated the construction of additional skyscrapers in the area, including the State Bank Building and the Union Life Building.
Over the years, the building’s ownership changed. In 1929, Home Insurance Company purchased the building, renaming it the Home Insurance Building. In 1938, First Pyramid Life Insurance bought the property, dubbing it the First Pyramid Building. In 1977, First Pyramid Life sold the building to Patrick Associates, Ltd., for $1.16 million, but Pyramid remained the manager of the building. William D. Thomas Jr., leading a limited partnership, then purchased the property for $2.58 million.
The building underwent remodeling over the years, with significant alterations in 1937 and 1973. The 1937 remodeling mostly focused on the building’ interior, but in 1973 wooden-framed windows were replaced with aluminum-framed ones. In 1952, Herbert Thomas, founder of First Pyramid Life Insurance, updated the building’s facilities, adding a central air conditioning system. In 1982, the building’s exterior was repainted and the roof was replaced.
During the renovations in 1982, the owners changed the building’s name to Pyramid Place. CWR Farms Inc. purchased the building for $550,000 in 1997. CWR sold the property to Pyramid Place LLC, led by Barbara Yates, for $1 million on March 31, 2005.
For additional information:
“10 Story Building for Little Rock.” Arkansas Gazette, February 8, 1906, p. 1.
“Dangerous Work on Sky-Scrapers.” Arkansas Gazette, March 27, 1907, p. 8.
“Little Rock and Atlanta.” Arkansas Gazette, June 29, 1906, p. 4.
Pyramid Place. http://pyramidbldg.com/ (accessed January 10, 2017).
“Southern Trust Building.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU3547.nr.pdf (accessed January 10, 2017).
“Southern Trust Opening Held.” Arkansas Democrat, January 1, 1908, p. 4.
Waldron, George. “New Life for State’s First Skyscraper (Fifth Monday).” Arkansas Business, May 30, 2005, pp. 1, 16, 17.
Shannon Marie Lausch
UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture
Last Updated 1/20/2017
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