Working towards better Public Spaces

Working towards better Public Spaces

When most people think about the idea of “Public Space” they will often immediately think of parks and public squares. While parks like Touro Park, Queen Anne Square and Washington Square serve an important role as visual punctuation to the buildings, the vast majority of open public spaces are the streets, medians and sidewalks, which are often neglected from design consideration. More

A Mysterious Monument

A Mysterious Monument

Newport is home to an extraordinary number of architectural treasures. For the most part the architects, owners and dates of construction for these buildings are well documented. In one case, however, the dates and history of the structure are very much in contention and the alternatives stretch the imagination to its limits. The Newport Tower in Touro Park, is a structure that dates from the earliest days of Newport’s settlement but was perhaps built even earlier. More

Newport Spring

Newport Spring

In 1639, looking for a new place to form a new community, a small group of colonial settlers found what they were looking for: a deep water harbor with a fresh water spring nearby. The colonial charter readers:  “It is agreed and ordered that the Plantation now begun at this South west end of the island, shall be called Newport… and that the Towne shall be built upon both sides of the spring, and by the seaside Southward”  And so it is clear that the spring and its location was central to the formation of the new settlement. Where is the location of this precious spring, the thing that made the founding of Newport 375 years ago possible and desirable? Amazingly, for most of the last century or so the spring has been buried under the site of a gas station. That the gas station was on Spring Street, from whence the name of this early road came, is much less surprising. More

Rhode Island Lighthouses

Rhode Island Lighthouses

A building type particular and special to the coastal areas, both around the United States and around the world, is the lighthouse. Built to aid in marine navigation and warn boats away from hazardous rock outcroppings, lighthouses have existed from the early days of mankind first discovering fire and going to sea. One of the lost ancient wonders of the world was the fabled lighthouse at Alexandria, which supposedly stood as tall of a forty story building for more than a thousand years. Here in Rhode Island, this great tradition of these nautical buildings constructed to protect boats and ship from navigational dangers is both celebrated and challenged at the same time. More

Progress and Continuity

Progress and Continuity

Now that the election season is over for this year, politicians and citizens are left to sort through the results and figure out how to move forward. While some want change, others want continuity and preservation of existing conditions. These two forces have always been opposed to one another and perhaps they always will be as each side has legitimate interests and principles. More

World Heritage Site Status

World Heritage Site Status

This column has often argued that Newport is blessed with a broad and deep cultural and architectural heritage. From the city’s rich concentration of colonial houses along Spring Street and in the Point District, to the extraordinary collection of Greek revival, Queen Ann and other styles from the Victorian era on Historic Hill and in the Catherin-Kay neighborhood, to the unsurpassed examples of Gilded Age architecture along Bellevue Avenue, few places can boast of a greater concentration of important American architecture in such a small area than Newport. More

A New Addition to the National Register

A New Addition to the National Register

This column has often lovingly called Newport the “Metropolitan Museum of Architecture” for the breadth and depth of its collection of important buildings from the colonial times through the early part of the nineteenth century. This audacious claim is based upon the extraordinarily high concentration of buildings individually listed on the National Register of Historic places and is supported by University of Virginia architectural history professor Richard Guy Wilson’s declaration in Ron Onorato’s AIA Guide to Newport (2007) that “Per square foot, Newport possesses more great architecture than any other American City.” More

The JNA Griswold House

The JNA Griswold House

Newport is the repository of many treasures of American architectural history. It is noted for the many surviving colonial era buildings but the true building boom began around 1850 as Newport became a summer escape for southern plantation owners and New Yorkers, Philadelphians and Bostonians escaping the summer heat in a time before air conditioning. This time was the start of what became known as “The Gilded Age”—a term coined by Mark Twain to describe the period of industrialization and new found wealth (albeit for a very small segment of the entire American populace) that was reflected in a flowering of architectural design. More

Newport Casino: Architectural and Tennis Monument

Newport Casino: Architectural and Tennis Monument

One of the most widely recognizable buildings in Newport is the Newport Casino. This complex of buildings located on Bellevue Avenue was commissioned in 1879 by James Gordon Bennett, who owned an estate across the street on the site where the Bellevue Garden complex now stands. He reportedly founded the club after being ejected from the Newport Reading Room (an exclusive Newport Club) by fellow members of after encouraging his polo instructor to ride into the clubhouse on a bet. When the fellow members took exception he set out to create a different sort of club where he could “have a bit of fun.” The entire complex was built in an extraordinary short six-month period and in 1880, just three days after the opening, the Newport Daily News trumpeted, “It is doubtful if a more lively place can be found!” More

Washington Square: Birthplace of Newport

Washington Square: Birthplace of Newport

Newport has been many things over its lifetime: a Gilded Age resort, a post World War II Navy town, and today, an important destination for historic tourism. But at one time Newport was an early colonial settlement that was made prosperous by its excellent harbor and access to shipping and trade. At the heart of this colonial community were Long Wharf, which represented the mercantile spine of the city, and Washington Square, which was the community’s civic hub.  Some of America’s most important Colonial-era buildings still exist around Washington Square. These include Richard Munday’s Colony House (1739), which served as the part-time home of the Rhode Island legislature until the beginning of the 20th century, and Peter Harrison’s Brick Market (1772), which was the place that traders and seamen brought their goods to be sold and traded. More