The Gus Blass Department Store building was home to one of Little Rock’s first department stores. Standing tall at seven stories it is considered to be Little Rock’s first skyscraper. The department store would close in the 1970s and the building would be turned into apartments and office space.
Gus Blass and
Max Heiman opened the Gus Blass Department store in 1871 near the riverboat
landing in Little Rock, AR. Over the next thirty years it would grow into
several store fronts along the riverfront. A fire would rip through the area
and damage the building where the store was located. The store would then move
to its new location in 1913.
The seven stories “skyscraper”
was designed by George R. Mann who was the most distinguished architects of the
early 20th Century. It would become the first department store in
the state with air conditioning and escalators. It was also the largest
department store in the state and was essential in the growth and development
of the retail industry in downtown Little Rock. In 1960 two Philander Smith
College students, Thomas B. Robinson and Frank James Lupper staged a sit in to
protest the segregation of the lunch counter.
The store’s main rival Pfeiffer’s
department store was located just blocks away. In the 1970s the company was
bought by William T. Dillard who would go on to create a chain of department
stores, that spot the southern part of the country, known as Dillard’s. Dillard
would also buy out Pfeiffer’s Department Store in 1963. The closing of the
store signaled an end to an era of
“downtown” shopping experiences in Little Rock, as shopping malls would
take over in the early 1980s. The building itself would be sold to a company
called FABCO and turned into offices and apartments. The building became a
National Historic Landmark in 1986.