Little Rock House Terry Heirs Cannot Get Endowment Money, File Says

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LITTLE ROCK – The heirs of two sisters who gave the Pike-Fletcher-Terry house to the town of Little Rock in 1964 have no legal right to an endowment established 20 years later to pay for maintenance and operation of the historic mansion, according to a filing Wednesday at Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Whether there is any money left in the endowment – which would have held around $ 1.5 million in the 1980s – is still a public mystery in this case.

“The heirs do not have standing to request an account of donations from the Foundation that they have not made and certainly cannot recover the donations of others”, according to a motion to dismiss filed by John E. Tull III , attorney for the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation.

Built in 1840, the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House at 411 E. Seventh St. is one of the oldest buildings in Little Rock. It was home to three of the city’s most important families.

Six heirs of Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan filed a lawsuit on October 20 saying the house has been abandoned and is deteriorating.

Terry and Drennan donated the two-story Greek Revival-style mansion to the city “for the use and benefit of the Arkansas Arts Center,” according to the 1964 act. The arts center is now known as name of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts.

“The beneficiary must use said property exclusively for the promotion of the cultural, artistic or educational interests of the community”, according to the deed.

“The concessionaire must, as far as possible, keep and maintain the said lands in their current state, preserving, as far as possible, the trees which are there and maintaining the house in its current general architectural form”, according to the act.

If the city does not follow the terms of the deed, the property will revert to Terry and Drennan’s heirs, according to the document.

The museum is no longer interested in the Terry house and will no longer invest money in maintaining the property, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Susan Terry Borne, Elizabeth Terry Foti, Mary Catherine Drennan, Leonard John Drennan III, Margaret Yatsevitch and Michael Yatsevitch.

The defendants are the Town of Little Rock, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation.

The first million dollars in the endowment came from the estate of former Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, according to court documents.

Rockefeller mentioned the Arkansas Arts Center in his 1972 will, apparently giving his trustees some discretion as to how his estate was to be distributed. He died the following year. The Pike-Fletcher-Terry house was not specifically mentioned in his will.

Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter said it would be nice if the museum’s foundation told the city what happened to the $ 1.5 million.

“Show us what happened to this money, but until then we have questions,” he said. “Well, you had a million and a half dollars there, and now you’ve got nothing.”

Carpenter said Little Rock City Manager Bruce T. Moore said the town could take over the Pike-Fletcher-Terry house if it was accompanied by sufficient funds to restore the structure. Estimates to restore the house are over $ 1 million, according to the lawsuit.

In an Oct. 27 statement, the museum said it had “spent millions” on the property. The statement specifically mentions $ 675,000 for capital improvements, as well as additional funds for a curator, exhibits and other staff. The museum’s budget also includes more than $ 30,000 per year for basic property maintenance, according to the release.

“This investment is made in good faith because of our long-standing relationship with the City and our history and concern for the Terry House, but it is not enough to properly preserve this historic property,” according to the museum.

The museum foundation raised nearly $ 2 million in the 1980s “to create” the decorative arts museum, with most of that money coming from the Rockefeller estate, the statement said.

“All funds have been spent in accordance with the original intention of the donors,” the statement said.

Richard H. Mays, counsel for the heirs, said after reading the statement that “the manner in which [the nearly $2 million] was spent will be resolved by forensic accounting of museum records.

No agreement regarding the use of the endowment money was provided as evidence with the trial or in response to requests under Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

In a brief in support of his motion to dismiss, Tull wrote that the museum foundation was not a party to the act that the heirs’ claim was violated. That contract was with the town of Little Rock, he wrote.

In its October 27 statement, the museum said it “does not own the building and has no contractual responsibility for its operation or maintenance.”

“As an organization, the [museum] remains committed to working with the City to achieve a positive outcome for the preservation of the Terry House, ”the statement said.

“There are all kinds of reasons why lawsuits are brought, and they’re not always reasons for anger,” Carpenter said. “Hope we see a solution here. The main thing to remember here is the Terry family, the Arts Center, everyone involved in this litigation, their # 1 concern is doing things to promote the arts at Little Rock … and they do a really good job at that. “

The museum building on Ninth Street is undergoing a $ 142 million expansion and renovation.

The house was built for Albert Pike, who became a general in the Confederate Army, established a national reputation as a lawyer and was one of the founders of the National Masonic Fraternal Organization, according to the lawsuit.

The house was later occupied by the family of Captain John Gould Fletcher, a member of the Capitol Guards during the Civil War who became mayor of Little Rock and sheriff of Pulaski County, according to the court record. His son, John Gould Fletcher Jr., won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1939.

Most recently, Congressman David D. Terry and his family lived in the house.

His wife, Adolphine Fletcher Terry, was instrumental in forming the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, which opposed former Governor Orval Faubus’ resistance to the desegregation of Little Central High School. Rock in 1958, Mays wrote in a press release. The work led to the recall of three segregationist members of the school board and the reopening of Little Rock schools, according to the lawsuit.

The Women’s Emergency Committee met at the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House, and the names of the members are engraved on the windows of the room where the meetings were held.

Information for this article was provided by Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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