Pulaski County judge says family trying to reclaim Pike-Terry House has shown sufficient grounds to go to trial

The Pike-Fletcher-Terry House pictured on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 in Little Rock..(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Family members suing to reclaim ownership of Little Rock's historic Pike-Fletcher-Terry House have provided sufficient grounds to go to trial on their breach-of-contract claims against the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and its supporting foundation, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray stated in a ruling Wednesday.

Six grandchildren of the sisters who donated the Quapaw Quarter property to the city almost 58 years ago accuse the city and museum of breaking the terms of the donation arrangement so the family should get the property back.

Sisters Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan pledged ownership of the 182-year-old mansion and grounds on East Seventh Street to the city, with the museum tasked with its upkeep, in 1964 "to be used exclusively for the advancement of the cultural, artistic or educational interests of the community" or it reverts back to the family, the lawsuit states.

The suit, by attorney Richard Mays, claims the museum and city have failed to live up to the agreement by neglecting maintenance of the house and allowing it to deteriorate. Along with the property, the heirs say the museum should also have to give up a $1.5 million endowment set up in 1985 to pay for the property's maintenance and operations.

However, the judge found that the grandchildren have not shown enough evidence to force an accounting of the endowment. Likewise, the heirs also lack proof that the museum foundation could be considered a party to the family's agreement with the city to take over ownership, Gray stated.

The family has until March 10 to show more proof of their claims or those portions of the lawsuit will be dismissed, the judge stated.

The foundation should be dismissed because it was never part of the ownership agreement while family is not entitled to an accounting of the endowment because they didn't provide any of those monies and cannot claim donations made by other people, attorney John Tull argued on behalf of the museum and foundation.

The city took possession of the grounds in June 1977, with the museum, then known as the Arkansas Arts Center, stating it would set up the Terry House within next 15 months as a center for the decorative arts with a gallery for regional artists with weaving and quilt-making studios.

Because of delays in fundraising, the necessary renovations took four years with the decorative arts center opening four years after that in March 1985. The center closed in 2003.

Since filing suit, the grandchildren -- Susan Terry Borne', Elizabeth Terry Foti, Mary Catherine Drennan, Leonard John Drennan III, Margaret Yatsevitch and Michael Yatsevitch -- have formed a non-profit corporation, Terry House, Inc., to receive ownership of the property if their litigation is successful.

They say they're not interested in profiting from the suit but want to put the property to use as their grandmothers intended, as a cultural, artistic and educational resource for the community.

"The heirs do not want to acquire the property individually, but we do want it used in a way that was intended by our grandmothers, Mrs. Terry and Mrs. Drennan, when they donated it to the City for the benefit of the Arts Center," Borné said in a news release earlier this month.

Even if the Terry House remains with the city, the family envisions Terry House, Inc. as a new support system for the property to receive private donations, Leonard Drennan said.