Instituted in 1980, the Jimmy Strawn Award is bestowed upon someone whose efforts on behalf of the preservation of Greater Little Rock’s architectural heritage are an inspiration to the entire community. This year the QQA is pleased to award the Jimmy Strawn Award to Tony Curtis.
Tony Curtis is sentimental, a romantic, and a tireless supporter of historic Little Rock. This is obvious when you ask Tony, how did you get interested in historic properties? As is the case with many of us preservation advocates and lovers of old buildings, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when or how that passion was born.
Tony’s love for historic properties and historic Little Rock is manifested in the completion of the restoration of the Samuel B. Kirby House at 1221 Louisiana earlier this year.
The Samuel B. Kirby House may be where this passion, consciously or sub-consciously began.
In the late 1980s Tony was introduced to many downtown preservationists when he attended a “party” at the Villa Marre. He didn’t realize it was a fundraiser until he got to the door. But the event was pivotal, it was here that Tony met Charles Marratt, who had a real estate company and was undertaking historic rehabilitation projects. Tony’s interest in historic properties was encouraged by many historic district residents. He began working in real estate for Charles Marratt and had the good fortune to work for Charles when Suzanne and Steven Gates purchased the 2nd Hotze House and hired Charles to manage the rehabilitation. Tony found himself introduced to every aspect of restoration, historic tax credits, and contracting and absorbed every bit of it. He also notes participation in a seminar on preservation easements in the early 1990s a crucial experience in his preservation training that would serve him well for decades to come.
While he learned a great deal working on the Hotze House, his real estate sales were not very successful. In the two years he worked as an agent for Charles Marratt, he sold one house. Even though his real estate skills were less than stellar, his interest in the historic houses and the people associated with the houses had him hooked. He would peruse the property files in the QQA offices and sought to understand, where the people went that were associated with the magnificent and humble homes, and also was crestfallen when a file indicated a property was demolished.
Ultimately, Tony’s experience with Marratt and Associates Realty was put to good use, Tony Curtis, Realtors was formed and a quick review of the old Quapaw Chronicles documents the many, many resources that he and his team marketed and sold. Tony left Little Rock to pursue opportunities in Dallas/Fort Worth in 1993, but found himself back after the tornado hit in 1999 and has never left. His interest in the building that his grandmother lived in was unrelenting. He tried many times to acquire the property that at one time was under the control of Madison Financial. When that group was insolvent, he worked with the Resolution Trust Corporation, to secure ownership, which was once again out of his grasp. In 1992, he actually took title to the property. It was not habitable, and there were many threats from the city to demolish what they considered an eyesore, but Tony persevered. He sold the property in 1995 and transferred the earnings from that sale to Kevin Palmer, who had underwritten his original mortgage. The buyers had planned to restore the Kirby House, but those plans fell through.
On February 11, 1999 Tony purchased the Kirby House for the second and final time. All of the experiences that led up to that moment would be put to the test. He had to restore it. The condition of the property was so severe; restoration was a challenge. Tony relied upon his memory of the house as a child, when he visited the Clise Apartments, the plans he uncovered, the photos he compiled, and whatever physical evidence was left to make the house complete. He found old photos with the Kirby House in the background to aid in restoration of the property. Tony also battled to keep the city from tearing the building down.
In addition to restoration of the house, he also has undertaken extensive research to identify the families associated with the property and connect with their descendants. He has located furnishings, photographs, and has commissioned paintings of the previous inhabitants. Most notable was the connection to Renee (104)Dominique and the painting “Kirby Boys Fishing in Fouche Creek”, which was the focus of a recent article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and the highlight of our first 5H Club on July 9. The level of restoration of the house, both the interior and exterior, is remarkable. The unveiling of the decades of work were shared at a Homecoming Party on May 29, 2021. He invited every person associated with the historic residents that he could locate. It was a great celebration.