LITTLE ROCK – Today I’d like to share some thoughts about Winthrop Rockefeller, one of Arkansas’s great governors, and about the building we have named in his honor.
Governor Rockefeller and the building share a bit of history, so naming the building for him is an excellent idea. Senator Mark Johnson sponsored the bill that called for the renaming. The 92nd General Assembly passed the legislation. I signed Act 1086 into law.
On Wednesday, I had the honor of participating in the renaming ceremony. The building stands at 501 Woodlane Street, directly across from the State Capitol. I can see it from the east window of my office.
Until this week, the building has been known as the 501 Building. But when it was dedicated in 1956, it was the Old Line Insurance Company Building. Old Line Insurance was an Arkansas company that was chartered in March 1926. Little Rock architect Yandell Johnson designed the building. The dedication of the building was part of the company’s 30th anniversary celebration.
The exterior of the six-story building includes alternating windows and panels of Alabama limestone. In May, the National Register of Historic Places added the National Old Line Insurance Company Building to its register.
The sixth floor of the building included a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath penthouse apartment. That is where Governor Rockefeller’s history intersects with the building. The governor and his family lived in that apartment in 1967 and 1968 during renovations to the Governor’s Mansion.
Governor Rockefeller changed Arkansas for the better. Through his support of the Freedom of Information Act, he created transparency in government. As governor, and even before, he brought industry and jobs to Arkansas in numbers the state had never seen. He overhauled the state’s prison system and cleaned out illegal gambling in Hot Springs. Three days after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Governor Rockefeller improved race relations in Arkansas when he bravely stood on the steps of the state capitol and held hands with African-American leaders of Arkansas’s civil-rights movement.
I admire Governor Rockefeller, and I know that he loved Arkansas deeply. Although I never met him, his life and public service are examples to follow. As I was moving into the Governor’s Office, I asked his daughter-in-law, Lisenne Rockefeller, if I could have a picture of him. Thankfully, she came through for me. On the wall to the left of the door into my office, there is a 4-foot-by-nearly-5-foot black-and-white photograph of Governor Rockefeller. The picture is large enough that you can see his wristwatch reads 6:45.
W.F. Ault, the first president of the company, said that Old Line Insurance was conservative enough to survive and progressive enough to succeed. That seems like a fitting description of Winthrop Rockefeller’s style as well.
It’s official: The Old Line Insurance Company Building is now the Winthrop Rockefeller Building. His name will live on on the building where he once lived.