Everybody needs their version of the Great Divide, the point where one way of life stopped, and another started. Historians have B.C. and A.D. Radio folks have the AM Era and the FM Era. Even Republicans have Clinton and Shrub.
When talking about the early days of the Arkansas Times, however, the dividing line between eons is broken by B.F. and A.F. - Before the Fire and After the Fire.
On the night of Thursday, June 21, 1979, a little over a year after the Times had moved from offices in the old Union Station to more spacious digs in a grand old house at 1111 W. Second St., the new home of the Arkansas Times caught fire and nearly burned flat to the ground. The paper had seen many of its newspaper racks stolen by vandals in the weeks before, and publisher Alan Leveritt had just come home from a long evening of staking out a few of the remaining boxes when he heard the news.
"I was laying there asleep and there was a banging on my door," Leveritt said. "It was the ad director, and he just pointed up in the sky, and said 'They burned our offices down.'"
Besides good spirits that were undoubtedly hard to hold on to, the only things salvaged from the charred heap were the company computer, the subscriber list, one charred coffee table and a chair. Fire insurance? What's that? Still, it shows the pluck of staffers that by Friday afternoon, they were well on their way to working again, having taken offices at 500 E. Markham (just a hop, skip and jump from our current home at 201 E. Markham).
In a full-page article called "The house that was, the magazine that is" editors described picking up the pieces, and how they were soon flush with office equipment and new advertising - both, no doubt, given in some measure out of pity. "By 6 p.m. Friday," the unsigned author wrote, "we had chairs for everyone, five desks and a table, three typewriters (saved from the fire, but bearing scars), two file cabinets, and there were pictures on the walls: oils, prints and photos, framed and colorful."
The most amazing thing of all, though, is that they got the next issue out on time. And the next. And the next.
Eventually, the Little Rock Fire Department ruled the blaze to be the result of arson, though the culprit was never found. And while it might have been somebody's cigarette butt or a hapless tyke playing with matches, Old Timesers have their suspicions (most notably a few of the figures from organized crime the fledgling paper had made a point of exposing since it hit the street in 1974).
We're in the business of printing facts, so we won't repeat those rumors here. But given that most or all of those old nogoodniks have since gone on to the great craps game in the sky, stop by the Arkansas Times some day and corner one of the old grayhairs. They'll be more than happy to fill your ear with conspiracy.