Longtime real estate broker Tony Curtis always believed the soul of a place lies in its history. For decades, the Sheridan native was an outspoken advocate for revitalizing Little Rock’s seminal neighborhoods and a valued resource for those he’d lead back into the city’s core.
Curtis died Jan. 14 after a monthslong battle with brain cancer, surrounded by friends who remembered his kindness, his unique personality and his unwavering love for people.
“Tony had the most loving and generous and thoughtful, kind spirit,” said Donna Kirkwood of Little Rock, a downtown resident who’d known Curtis for a decade. “Everybody has a Tony story. It’s interesting to get together and people would say, ‘How do you know Tony? What’s your story?’”
Curtis, owner of Tony Curtis Realtors, did more than just deal in historic properties during his career. He’ll forever be remembered for his love affair with the Samuel B. Kirby House, his personal residence at 1221 S. Louisiana St. in downtown Little Rock.
Curtis’ connection to the property came via his grandmother who lived there from 1958 to 1965 after it was apportioned into apartments. His parents also lived there for a short time right after they were married. When Curtis moved to Little Rock in 1987, he was dismayed to see the condition of the house had deteriorated into a hovel for drug addicts and prostitutes.
According to a 2021 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, Curtis spent five years taking it upon himself to secure and clean up the property, ultimately purchasing it in 1992. He’d sell it in 1995 only to buy it back in 1999 and meticulously restore it to its former 1890s glory.
“Tony came to us years ago and had ideas of what he wanted on the roof of his home,” said Mary Bray, a longtime friend and owner of Bray Sheet Metal Company in Little Rock. “He had a vision and he really had a way of getting things across about the way he wanted things done. He turned that house into the most magnificent home in downtown Little Rock, as far as I’m concerned.”
The project took 20 years and untold sums of his own money to complete, but as longtime friend Kris Faul Romàn of Kansas City said, the personal connection Curtis had to the property would never let him walk away from it.
“There are pictures of him in that house as a baby with his grandmother,” she said. “When he came upon it years later and he saw it, he was just distraught. He knew that it needed to be redone. He’ll be remembered as being responsible for restoring downtown Little Rock. He gave everything to that.”
Tony Randall Curtis was born May 24, 1965, to Jessie and Linda (Outlaw) Curtis. He graduated from Sheridan High School in 1983 and, after a string of jobs in retail, left for Texas in 1995 for a career in real estate. There, he met Jim Leveritt, who helped him launch his firm, Tony Curtis and Associates, and who was his life partner for 12 years. The couple moved back to Little Rock in the early 2000s.
Curtis’ business, from then on known as Tony Curtis Realtors, specialized in historic properties, and his love for history led him to promote various residential districts in the name of revitalization. He was a vocal proponent of expanding the Hanger Hill Historic District, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and he helped countless buyers relocate back into the city’s core.
His untiring advocacy and a lifetime dedicated to protecting Little Rock’s historical neighborhoods led the city of Little Rock last year to proclaim Dec. 21 Tony Curtis Day.
“He had such an interest in history,” said Kay Tatum of Little Rock, who knew Curtis for two decades. “To him it wasn’t just the nuts and bolts and things that put a house together, it was the history. You never really own a house downtown, you are the current caretakers, because that original family, that history, was such a part of the house.”
Curtis frequently opened his beloved home to host various events and parties, the last being the Winter Solstice Celebration in December for neighbors and friends. And in the dawning minutes of Jan. 14, Curtis was yet again at one with the home he loved so much.
“His house number is 1221 and he passed at 12:21 a.m., I kid you not,” said Leveritt. “I mean, when they called the time of death, we were standing all around him going, ‘That can’t be right. Could it?’ It was.”
Leveritt smiled, then added, “He was quite the character. A very memorable guy.”
Print Headline: Tony Randall CurtisRealtor advocated for historic districts
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