Downs Historic District
The Downs Historic District consists of the main Downs House, eleven small cottages and their associated carports, and a community swimming pool, all of which were built during the latter half of the 1960s and early 1970s in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock (Pulaski County). In addition, the district also encompasses some elements that were retained from the previous estate that stood on the property, including the driveway and stone retaining walls. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 21, 2020.
The thirteen lots that make up the Downs Historic District were purchased in 1909 by Fred Allsopp, and the site included one of the best views of the valley and the Arkansas River beyond. The site remained undeveloped until 1913, when a brick-veneered Craftsman-style home with a slate roof was built. Fern and Jack Downs bought the property in the mid-1960s and initially moved into the Allsopp House. However, they soon had other plans for the property, developing it into a small neighborhood with a larger home for themselves and eleven small rental cottages.
The architect for the project was Jack Downs’s brother, Lawrence, an architect in Kansas City, Missouri. The redevelopment of the property was undertaken in stages beginning circa 1965. The first four houses built included the houses at 4214, 4216, and 4218 Fairview Road and 4201 South Lookout, which were built to the north of the Allsopp House. Once the first four houses were built, the Downses demolished the Allsopp House and reused the house’s brick in the construction of the houses at 4208, 4210, and 4212 Fairview circa 1969. Some parts of the house were also used in the construction of the Downs family’s own house at 4206 Fairview, and the basement of the Allsopp House was reused in the construction of the neighborhood’s swimming pool located in between 4210 and 4212 Fairview. The Allsopp House’s driveway was also retained and reused as the central street of the neighborhood.
Once the houses on Fairview were built, the Downses turned to developing the houses on Wait Street. The Downses began the development on Wait Street at the northern end with the construction of the houses at 4211 and 4213 Wait Street in 1969. Unlike the houses on Fairview, which had free-standing carports, the houses on Wait Street had lower-level carports, which could be accommodated with the site’s steep slope to the southwest. The last two houses in the development at 4207 and 4209 Wait Street were built in 1971 and also had lower-level carports.
The houses in the Downs Historic District are Mid-Century Modern homes of frame construction that have brick and board-and-batten walls as well as gable-on-hip roofs covered in asphalt shingles. The designs of the houses are almost identical, with only slight variations in the plans and exterior details. Original fenestration consists of a combination of one-beside-one sliding-glass windows and sliding-glass doors. Although built over a period from circa 1965 until 1971, the district has a cohesive character and design. The district represents an excellent collection of Mid-Century Modern architecture in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock in the twenty-first century.
Overall, the Downs Historic District retains excellent integrity from the time of its construction. The houses in the district, for the most part, retain their original materials and design from the 1960s. Although there has been limited window and door replacement on some of the houses, the windows that have been installed either approximate or copy the original windows. Two properties have had additions constructed. The Downs House at 4206 Fairview has had a small addition constructed on the rear to accommodate a new master bedroom, but it is small in scale and mimics the materials of the original house. The house at 4214 Fairview had a substantial two-story addition constructed that is out of scale with the original house and the rest of the district.
The houses in the Downs Historic District remained rental houses owned by the Downs Family until 2007 when they were sold to the Wilson Company, a local real estate company. The Wilson Company then sold the houses to private individual owners in 2007 and 2008.
For additional information:
Nichols, Cheryl Griffith. “Pulaski Heights: Early Suburban Development in Little Rock, Arkansas.” MA thesis, George Washington University, 1981.
Wilcox, Ralph. “Downs Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at: https://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU11178-PU11190.pdf (accessed February 21, 2020.)
Ralph S. Wilcox
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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