When I was president of the El Dorado Art League we were faced with having to find another place to meet. Jess Merkle came to the Art League meeting saying that he would help us find another place to meet, even to approaching several businessmen to help us finance the purchase of an older home or building to meet in.
In the meantime Charles Murphy called asking how we would like to have a new home for the Art League. Of course, we were overjoyed! He asked me to have Jess to come see him at this office as he and his family were prepared to give 50% of the cost of purchase (up to $50,000 or $60,000) (of) the old Armory to take it out of the civic and cultural area and convert that property into an art center.
When Jess visited him and discussed the possibility of developing the armory into a center, Jess said he would find it hard to assume the total responsibility because at that time the needs of his own business were pressing. Charles told him if he would head the association he would lend Kavanaugh Dodson from his firm to do the leg work. He then called Kavanaugh in and they discussed plans for forming the El Dorado Fine Arts Association.
With that agreement Jess visited the symphony organization (and) the theatre organization asking them to join the Art League with their moral and financial support and with their combined support the El Dorado Fine Arts Association was formed. Each group appointed three representatives and three representatives were chosen from the business community. With a group of twelve and a steering committee the association started moving forward.
First the group made an offer to the state to buy the armory and after the first offer was rejected because they (the state) felt it was too low, they (the Art League) made the second one for $45,000 and completed the purchase. Because of this transaction the National Guard was able to build a new modern building in the industrial area.
John Abbott, a local architect, was retained to draw up plans to remodel the building. It was found to be a stable and well-built structure on a firm foundation and the existing outside walls were adequate to be the nucleus of the building. Engineers gave advice on drainage under and around the building (which) because of its location was a real problem to cope with.
A fund raising drive was started and over a period of time enough was raised to start the project. Because of rising costs additional funding had to be asked for but in the end $200,000 was raised for the opening of the center in a relatively debt free status. The architect donated part of his fee to expedite the financing and completion of the center. The center was opened and formally dedicated on December (unknown), 1965.
Ground was broken on March 19, 1974 for a $165,000 addition to the center which was to be known as the East Wing. It was completed and dedicated on (unknown).