The distaff side of Main
Anita Davis nurtures new life, with garden and more.
Anita Davis, 67, has built a sculpture garden in SoMa, like Dean Kumpuris in Riverfront Park. She has brought restaurants to SoMa, like Moses Tucker in the River Market. Davis has brought the first Green Business Network-certified store to SoMa, like no one else. She is remodeling a building for an iconoclastic purse museum that will use the handbag to tell a story of women’s lives through time.
“I saw this could be viewed as the feminine part of Little Rock,” Davis said. By that she doesn’t mean feminine to the exclusivity of men, but a nurturing community, open to many ideas.
Before she got busy with South Main, Davis was an assemblage artist and on the shy side. She’s still on the shy side. But Davis feels she’s bloomed along with the Southside Main Street neighborhood. Until she bought the Bernice Building at 1417 S. Main in 2004 and the empty lot at 1401 S. Main in 2005, she had “never been civic minded.” But with the purchase of the lot, and her involvement in the the Main Street organization there in 2005, that changed. Now, she says, “I love this stint in my life. It makes me happy.”
It was in 2005 that Davis, at a meeting of the National Main Street group in Seattle, learned about “placemaking,” the design of public spaces that reflects the character and assets of a community. In SoMa, those assets, she said, are loyalty to place, a bit of rebelliousness, openness to diversity and an interest in art: She looked at South Main and saw “huge opportunity.”
And maybe, there at the corner of Fourteenth and Main Street, the forces that made the Little Rock Inn such a hot spot in the middle of the 20th century endowed the Bernice Sculpture Garden there now with the same gathering-place feel. Davis landscaped the lot in native plants, installed benches, built a sheltering structure of wood beams and has an annual competition for sculptors to compete for a year-long spot in the open-to the-public, but privately-owned, art garden. “I could see,” Davis said, “that if we were going to have a garden we might as well have events.” Now the garden hosts the annual Cornbread Festival (attendance 3,300 last year) and a summer Farmers Market and other special events as well as contemporary sculpture.
In 2006, Davis bought the Lincoln Building at the corner of 15th and Main, where the Green Corner Store is now located, and in 2007 she bought the Sweden Creme property catercornered to the Lincoln, where The Root Cafe now thrives. (“Jack [Sundell] was perfect” for the spot, Davis said.) In 2011, she bought a building next door to the Root for her purse museum. StudioMain and Boulevard Bread occupied the storefronts in the Bernice and Lincoln Buildings. Now, people outside SoMa have a reason to drive south of Thirteenth Street, rather than stopping at Community Bakery, the neighborhood’s Atlas.
Mayor Mark Stodola, a former downtown resident and president of the Quapaw Quarter Association, called Davis “a godsend to South Main.”