Preserve Rhode Island Awards – “Casino Theatre Receives Restoration Award”

On October 21st the second annual “Rhody” Awards were presented jointly by Preserve Rhode Island and The RI Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission and Newport County was featured prominently—both in what projects were awarded and where the awards were presented!

A sellout audience of nearly 300 guests and honorees gathered on the horseshoe piazza of the Newport Casino for a cocktail reception and silent auction before the ceremony and then, on cue, wandered down to the newly restored Casino Theatre to take their seats. This fabulous building, which had been empty and unused for more than twenty-five  years, had just gotten a $5 million makeover and code compliance update and looked as sharp and new as it did in 1880 when Stanford White (of the firm McKim Mead and White) first designed it. This building is now the last existing theater of this architect who was perhaps the most prominent designer working at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries before his scandalous murder—known at the time as the “Crime of the Century!”

Of the nine awards given to architectural projects nearly half of them were located in Newport County: the restoration of the Casino Theater; the restoration of the great entry gates at the Breakers; the restoration of the Travers House at 3 Memorial Boulevard and the restoration of the Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown.  For most of the awards, images were projected onto a large screen hung at the back of the stage, but for the award to the casino, the lights were turned up in the otherwise darkened theatre so the entire audience could enjoy and marvel at the rich detail of the room that had so recently been restored.

The Breakers Gates award presentation showed photographs of the original wrought iron detail that had been eaten away like so much sugar left out in the rain. Last fall the gates were demounted, loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken to the workshops of Lodi Welding in New Jersey where new exact replicas were fabricated and galvanized before being painted so that the gates will last long into the foreseeable future. This spring those new gates were shipped back to Newport and with the help of a heavy crane, lifted back into the proper position.

Lila Delman was honored for two projects: the restoration of the Travers House but also the renovation of the Narragansett Reading Room into their West Bay headquarters. These awards honored projects where RI Preservation Tax Credits had been used to make an important difference in the restoration of wonderful historic buildings which otherwise could not have been preserved. Longtime Newporters will well remember the extraordinary transformation of “The Tavern” (a rugged, rundown biker bar) into the sleek Victorian cottage that is now the Newport home of Lila Delman Real Estate.

The honorees were seated on the stage so that they could come to gather their prizes from the presenter almost like architectural “Academy Awards” and scarcely could a more glamorous setting in Rhode Island be found than the stage than many years ago had hosted the likes of Orson Wells, Vincent Price, Will Rogers and Lillian Gish—the great stars of bygone ages. Now the Casino Theatre will be home to the Salve Regina theater program during the academic year but hopefully welcome the theatrical stars of the future during the many summer seasons yet to come for this elegant and gracious theater!

Ross Cann is a teacher, historian and practicing architect in Newport and holds architectural degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Columbia Universities. Please send your suggestions for articles on architecture and planning to Newport This Week. This article was initially published in ARCHI-TEXT, in Newport This Week, November11, 2010.


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