- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

This is the tale of a library, and it's a gothic tale indeed.

There is discord and intrigue, drama and angst. In the past three years, the 27.7-acre site for the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in downtown Little Rock has given both both the city and the president bouts of heartburn.

All is still not well in the land of presidential papers and papers about presidential policies (and capers).

"We've got a local government which is secret, and a series of catastrophes that go back to the library," says Eugene Pfeifer III, the son of an early and prominent Arkansas family who has stubbornly refused to part with a vacant warehouse and a bit of land the library wants. "The city is practically broke."

Both warehouse and adjoining land are in the middle of the library site locally referred to as "Murky Bottoms" and the last of the land the city needs to complete its acquisition and start building what city fathers insist will be a major tourist and academic destination.

The 62-year-old developer is irked and offended by city directors who labeled the library a "presidential park," and used revenues from a park bond fund intended for the zoo to cover the $16 million price of the land itself.

Mr. Pfeifer has sued the city of Little Rock, and Little Rock in turn has filed a condemnation lawsuit to get his property.

The riverfront site run-down, but rife with potential may yet become a glorious thing, though it's already been parodied by Clinton critics who propose such things as a "Lewinsky Wing." One Little Rock newspaper columnist, perhaps not entirely serious, has already collected for inclusion a thong bikini "said to be identical to the one that attracted the president's eye."

There will be archives and a museum, a partnership with the University of Arkansas and a policy center. The president may have an apartment there.

If a library in Little Rock were not enough, lately there has been talk of the library acquiring Knollwood Lodge, a peaceful retreat on bucolic Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, 56 miles west of Little Rock, now owned by the estate of Raymond Clinton, a relative of the president's.

It would serve, dryly noted the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, as the "ex-president's Camp David."

Some speculate that this expansion could ease annoyance among the 30 towns that also hoped to win the library Fayetteville, Hope and Hot Springs among them.

In the meantime, Mr. Pfeifer and the also-rans are not the only angry parties. Little Rock housewife Nora Harris sued the city, too, claiming the fund raising was illegal. She lost in court, and vows to appeal until her money runs out. In what Mr. Pfeifer describes as "the first skirmish," his case had an initial hearing in April.

The battle with his city has given him some heartache.

"My great-grandfather Philip Pfeifer owned a general store right there on Markham Street before the Civil War," he sighs. "I love this beautiful town."

But he believes city fathers have erred. They are "arrogant," he says, and he thinks the residents would have voted to finance the library under more forthright terms.

"I think these officials served their friend, the president, poorly," Mr. Pfeifer says. "They didn't have the confidence to assume that they could sell the idea to the people in the proper way."

There are other complications.

"The president is miffed at Arkansas and the Supreme Court's recommendation he be disbarred, and with our lawsuits," notes Mr. Pfeifer. "Some say he's looking elsewhere, which would be such a waste."

Skip Rutherford, a friend of the president's who has been leading the campaign to get the library for Little Rock, warned several weeks ago that Georgetown University might be back in the running for the library. That came in the wake of the suggestion that the president be disbarred for lying to the courts. Mr. Rutherford has since said maybe he had overstated the risk of the library going elsewhere, but Little Rock friends of the president said he was "pretty steamed" about the prospect of disbarment, and felt embarrassed that the home folks were being mean to him.

However, the National Archives, which would operate the library, has signed a $3.5 million lease on an old Oldsmobile agency warehouse for storage of Mr. Clinton's papers until the library is completed.

"I am not a Clinton hater," Mr. Pfeifer says, and asks with no trace of irony: "How could he move his library and go against his word? It would be a mark against his integrity."

Such rumors aside, everything is grand with the library on the other side of the fence.

"Better than expected," says Mr. Rutherford, who first met the president when their young daughters played softball together years ago.

"We're moving forward. We're excited. Fund raising is great we expect to have $150 million-plus. The library will be a jewel for our city."

Donors include such Hollywood glitteries as Universal Studios Chairman Lew Wasserman; Dreamworks' David Geffen, Jeff Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg; and designer Vera Wang.

Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey is elated, too.

"All is well with the library," he says in an interview from his car phone, midway between downtown Little Rock and Adams Field, the municipal airport named for a World War I flying ace that Clinton friends once tried to rename for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Enthusiasm for the library has bubbled through City Hall for the project, which boosters say will draw 300,000 yearly visitors and generate millions in revenue. Last summer, City Hall voted to rename Markham Street, the city's oldest thoroughfare (and once an avenue of bordellos), "President Clinton Avenue."

The natives rebelled, much as they had over the attempt to immortalize Mrs. Clinton at the expense of the war hero, and within a week the proposal had been scaled back to cover only a short section of Markham near the library site.

For his part, Mr. Clinton has promised that his library will be a fine one, designed by James Polshek, the New York architect who retooled the old Hayden Planetarium into a nine-story crystal sphere.

It's his way, he says, to give back to his home state and "make some dreams come true here in Little Rock." The library would be "a museum, not a mausoleum."

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