Heirs of Little Rock's Pike-Fletcher-Terry House donors can't get endowment money, filing says

1840 structure given to city for arts site is at hub of suit

Built in 1840, the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House on East Seventh Street is one of the oldest buildings in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Heirs of two sisters who gave the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House to the city 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 in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Whether any money is left in the endowment -- which reportedly contained about $1.5 million in the 1980s -- is still a public mystery in this case.

"The Heirs lack standing to seek an accounting of Foundation donations they did not make 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 prominent families.

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

Terry and Drennan gave the two-story, Greek-revival mansion to the city "for the use and benefit of the Arkansas Arts Center," according to the 1964 deed. The Arts Center is now known as the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts.

[DOCUMENT: Read the complaint » arkansasonline.com/114complaint/]

"Grantee shall use said property exclusively for the advancement of the cultural, artistic or educational interests of the community," according to the deed.

"The grantee shall, as nearly as possible, keep and maintain the said lands in their present condition, preserving, so far as possible, the trees thereon, and maintaining the home-place thereon in its present general architectural form," according to the deed.

If the city fails to comply with the conditions of the deed, then the property shall revert to heirs of Terry and Drennan, according to the document.

The museum is no longer interested in the Terry house and won't invest any more money in maintaining the property, according to the lawsuit.

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

Defendants are the city of Little Rock, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation.

The initial $1 million for the endowment came from the estate of former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, according to court filings.

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

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

"Show us what happened to that money, but until then we've got questions," he said. "Well, you had a million and half dollars there, and now you don't have anything."

Carpenter said Little Rock City Manager Bruce T. Moore said the city 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 a statement on Oct. 27, the museum said it has "spent millions" on the property. The statement specifically mentions $675,000 on capital improvements, as well as additional money for a curator, exhibitions and other staffing. The museum's budget also includes more than $30,000 a year for basic maintenance at the property, the statement said.

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

The museum's foundation raised nearly $2 million in the 1980s "to establish" the decorative arts museum, with most of that money raised from the Rockefeller estate, according to the statement.

[DOCUMENT: Read the motion to dismiss » arkansasonline.com/114motion/]

"All monies were spent in accordance with the original intention of the donors," the statement read.

Richard H. Mays, the heirs' attorney, said after reading the statement that "the manner in which [the nearly $2 million] was spent will be resolved through a forensic accounting of" the museum's records.

No agreement concerning use of the endowment money has been provided as an exhibit with the lawsuit or in response to requests under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

In a brief in support of his motion to dismiss, Tull wrote that the museum's foundation isn't a party to the deed that the heirs claim has been breached. That contract was with the city of Little Rock, he wrote.

In its Oct. 27 statement, the museum said it "does not own the building and has no contractual responsibility to operate or maintain it."

"As an organization, the [museum] remains committed to working with the City to seek a positive outcome for the preservation of the Terry House," according to the statement.

"There's all kinds of reasons that lawsuits get filed, and they're not always angry ones," said Carpenter. "Hopefully, we'll see some resolution here. The main thing to remember here is the Terry family, the Arts Center, all the people involved in this litigation, their No. 1 concern is doing things to promote the arts in Little Rock ... and they do a very good job at that."

The museum's 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 an attorney and was one of the founders of the national Masonic fraternal organization, according to the lawsuit.

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

More 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 Gov. Orval Faubus' resistance to the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1958, Mays wrote in a news release. The work led to the recall of three segregationist members of the School Board and the reopening of the Little Rock schools, according to the lawsuit.

The Women's Emergency Committee met in the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House, and members' names are etched on windows of the room where the meetings took place.

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