Architects of Little Rock, 1833–1950, Collection Now Available to Researchers

Most Little Rock residents are aware of the historic homes that characterize the center of the city. What many do not know is that a group of architects dedicated their lives to expanding Little Rock, eventually ushering the city into the twentieth century and beyond. These homes and buildings are not only functional, but they show the city of Little Rock as one with a rich history and a dedication to historic preservation. The Architects of Little Rock, 1833–1950, Collection documents the lives and work of these architects, giving the public access to the work and research for the book The Architects of Little Rock, 1833–1950 by Gordon Wittenberg Jr. and Charles Witsell Jr.

George Hyde Wittenberg at his desk, undated

Gordon Wittenberg Jr. was born in 1922 in Little Rock and attended local schools. He graduated from the University of Illinois School of Architecture in 1943. During World War II, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was the son of George H. Wittenberg, who opened the Wittenberg and Delony Architectural Firm in 1919, and after his discharge, Gordon Wittenberg Jr. was made a partner in the firm in 1953. In 1959, he was elected president of the firm, and he served in that role until his retirement in 1983. During those years, the firm received thirty outstanding-design awards. Among the award-winning buildings was the Arkansas State Hospital, whose design received recognition from both architectural and mental health associations. Gordon Wittenberg Jr. was named a fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and was honored with the Gold Medal from the AIA.

Charles Witsell Jr. was born on June 10, 1944, in Little Rock. He attended the Sewanee Military Academy for his undergraduate degree and received a master’s in architecture in 1969 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1978, Witsell and his partners founded the Witsell, Evans and Rasco Architectural Firm, now known as WER Architects/Planners. By 1988, the firm had restored over thirty historic structures, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. He has been involved in preserving many prominent central Arkansas structures, including the Pulaski County Courthouse, the Old State House, and Trapnall Hall. Witsell retired as principal architect of Witsell, Evans and Rasco in 2007, and he lives in Little Rock with his wife, Becky. He received the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement from Arkansas Historic Preservation Alliance, now Preserve Arkansas, and is the FAIA Advisor Emeritus to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

These two men used their expertise in architecture to help catalog Little Rock’s historic fabric and highlight the state’s prominent architects. Their collection includes information about the architects and the histories of well-known buildings in the city, such as St. Andrews Cathedral, Little Rock Central High School, and the Arkansas State Capitol, as well as countless residences. In 2014, Witsell donated the research and the original book manuscripts to the CALS Butler Center. The finding aid is available here.

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