LITTLE ROCK, AR - Riverbanks are rich with stories, and the bridges that span them as well. And if you head to the south bank of the Arkansas River in central Arkansas, you`ll find yourself in Little Rock at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park.
“Welcome to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. This center was built in 2004 and we`re coming up on 14 years of being an integral part of the community,” said Jordan Johnson/Spokesman Clinton Foundation.
It`s here you can find the story of our nation`s 42nd, president, William Jefferson Clinton who served in office from January 20, 1993, until January 20, 2001.
Preceded by George H.W. Bush and succeeded by his son, George W. Bush.
“Tourism is a big industry in Arkansas and this gave Arkansas its first international hook to tourism when the president chose to locate this center here on the banks of the Arkansas River,” said Jordan Johnson.
While the design of the building is meant to resemble a bridge, you can take a walk across the presidential park bridge nearby.
“The museum itself appears to be somewhat of a bridge and that`s a theme to the bridge to the 21st century going back to his second term as president. In front of that is an old railroad bridge built in 1899 and transformed into a pedestrian pathway that anchors the Eastern part of the Arkansas River trail system. Which consists of 20 miles in an urban setting.”
“Our building was designed by James Polchek and it`s meant to be a bridge to the 21st century in keeping with the six other bridges that cross the river here in Little Rock, the Arkansas River,” said Ann Kamps/Manager Volunteer & Visitor Services.
Here, some 36,000 students come through the doors every year.
“Since we`ve opened in 2004 we`ve welcomed 24.6 million people from around the world. Last year more than 300,000 came to the Clinton center,” said Ben Thielemier/Communications Manager Clinton Foundation.
“It`s such an icon. It was a huge change for the city of Little Rock in 2004 when it came in. Really sparked a lot of redevelopment downtown,” said Ben Thielemier.
“The outside exterior is so futuristic. And the museum itself where the timeline and alcoves are is inspired by a library that`s over 300 years old,” said Kamps.
That`s the long room, at Trinity College in Dublin Ireland. But this long room in Little Rock contains boxes of history.
A team of 250 active volunteers greet and help give tours.
This flash of gold is a Congressional Gold Medal from a member of the Little Rock 9, given to the president.
“A presidential library is here for everyone regardless of how long it`s been since he was president,” said Kamps.
From saxophones to a Mickey Mantle baseball card, you can see how the 42nd president was shaped by his time in Arkansas and after.
“They come to remember the wonderful things that happened during his administration. They want to talk about the economy, how well things were going in the 1990`s,” said Kamps.
From formal dinner wear to gifts from heads of state, or letters from admirers,
Look up at the exterior to see a modern approach to a presidential library.
“They designed panels that are suspended from the west side of the building and they`re made of glass and look to be decorative. But where those panels are 100% of the UV rays are filtered out. So that protects the artifacts. And we were able to build our bridge. It was an experiment but it worked,” said Kamps.
“In each of those boxes, and there over 4500 boxes. They go from the second floor to the third floor. Each of those boxes contains actual presidential papers that have been archived and digitized.”
“These boxes are about two percent of our presidential collection. Which means we have over 80 million pages of documentation. This is the largest presidential collection to date.”
Visitors are often surprised at the size of this room, an exact replica of the Oval Office.
“The president was in here before the building was completed. He looked around and thought something was wrong and asked them to re-measure and it turned out the ceiling was too low."
So they ripped it out, fixed it and its perfect now,” said Kamps.
Arkansans all might agree, a visit to this collection of the 1990`s will take you down memory lane, even if you sit on the right or left side of the vehicle that gets you there.
“It`s the only place in the world you can go to see the last eight years of the 20th century from a presidential perspective.”