When Anita Davis saw an empty lot at 1401 South Main Street, she envisioned a gathering place to celebrate community, sustainability and local artists. In a feminine approach to downtown revitalization, Davis worked with a talented team to create a garden to support these goals.
The lot was originally part of the Augustus Garland-Mitchell House property at 1404 Scott Street and most likely contained the outdoor kitchen and gardens. Built in 1873 by Augustus Garland, who later became governor, senator and the first Arkansan to serve on a Presidential Cabinet, the house was later rented to the Fletcher family, during which time it became the birthplace of Arkansas’ Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, John Gould Fletcher. A third prominent family connected with the Garland-Mitchell House was that of Dr. Charles H. Brough, who became the 25th governor of Arkansas during World War I. The association with several prominent Arkansas families has made the Garland-Mitchell House one of the most important historic landmarks in the State.
During the 1940s, the back portion of the lot on South Main Street was purchased to build the Little Rock Inn, one of many American Graffiti-style drive-in restaurants that dotted Little Rock’s foodscape in the 1950s. Though the Little Rock Inn had a small seating area inside, the main source of business was curb service, with standard food and a steady stream of beer.
After the Inn closed, the corner became home to a Captain D’s seafood restaurant. The Captain D’s burned in 1992 and was demolished soon thereafter, leaving nothing but a concrete pad and a few crepe myrtles for years.
Fast forward more than a decade to 2005, when Davis bought the Bernice Building at 1417 South Main Street.
Built in 1923 by Bernice Wynne, a 20-year-old independently wealthy woman from an El Dorado paper and oil family, the Bernice Building is still in use as originally designed, housing businesses in the bottom floor and renters on the top.
Davis bought the property at 1401 South Main Street in 2006 and founded The Bernice Garden the next year. The garden, named after the Bernice Building (and for Anita Davis’ grandmother, who was also a Bernice), is a gem of South Main and downtown Little Rock.