Newport's Casino Theatre To Be Restored
By Tricia McCarter-Joseph | Online Only | Oct. 16, 2009
It was a classic case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." When two wealthy businessmen were dismissed from an exclusive Newport, R.I., country club after a bet gone bad, one of the men, New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, decided to build his own club. The result was the Newport Casino, which became the area's social hotspot, a complex of restaurants, sporting facilities, and a playhouse theater.
Constructed in 1880 by McKim, Mead and White, the buildings were considered one of the first examples of recreational architecture, hosting Orson Wells and Vincent Price.
The facility is now owned by the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which will launch the restoration of the Newport Casino Theatre this month. Closed for more than 25 years, the 400-seat theater, a National Historic Landmark since 1987, is the last of the buildings in the complex to be restored. Architect Martha Werenfelds of Providence, R.I., has been commissioned for the $4.5 million project.
"The original plaster finishes are mostly intact and the decorative finishes are still in its original state which is amazing since it hasn't been used in almost thirty years," says Werenfelds. "There has been some water and moisture infiltration from lack of use but the plaster finishes are amazingly intact and we plan to fully restore the decorative finishes on the stage wall."
New heating and cooling systems will be installed, and new theatrical lightning systems and dressing rooms will be upgraded.
Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, says that after the restoration is completed next summer, the theater will be managed and maintained by Salve Regina University's theater department to produce plays, but it will also be open to the public.
"When it opened in 1880, it was an integral part of the social stature of Newport," Stenning says. "When it opens in 2010, we hope its stature will be restored and open theater will have a home in Newport."
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