Newport Restoration Foundation

Newport, Rhode Island

Award Type: Trustee Emeritus Award for Excellence in the Stewardship of Historic Sites

Recognized for its opulent mansions once owned by Astors and Vanderbilts, Newport, R.I.’s long and colorful history dates back nearly two centuries – before it became known as America’s Gilded Age summer playground. By the 1960s, the one-time colonial maritime center and its historic buildings were falling on hard times until summer resident Doris Duke embarked on an ambitious plan to save the city’s heritage.

Duke, an heiress and philanthropist who owned her own Gilded Age estate, founded the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968.  The group’s first restoration project was completed in 1970 and by 1978, an average of eight houses a year were being restored.  By the time Doris Duke acquired her last endangered house in 1984, 83 buildings had been revitalized, most for residential rental.  The decision to acquire, renovate and then hold properties for private rental was both an innovative approach to large-scale community preservation and a tactic that supported the local community by keeping the properties on city tax rolls. 

In addition to managing its rental houses, the Foundation operates three museum properties:  the Samuel Whitehorne House, a Federal-style mansion that houses a valuable collection of Newport furniture; the 40-acre Prescott Farm; and Rough Point, Doris Duke’s own estate.  The Foundation’s collection of period architecture is one of the largest owned by a single organization anywhere in the country. More importantly, the majority of these structures are being lived in and used as they have for more than three centuries, making them a vibrant part of the community.

“Thanks to the vision of Doris Duke and the work of the Newport Restoration Foundation, the City by the Sea is today a world-class preservation showplace,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  “With the Newport Restoration Foundation’s careful stewardship, Ms. Duke’s legacy and the city’s heritage are both in excellent hands.”