Duke Preservation Awards Honor Newport’s History
It can be said that Newport is the “Metropolitan Museum of Architecture,” because it contains some of the most important works of the most influential American architects of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. But because Newport was graced with so many beautiful old buildings, the care and maintenance of these structures has fallen heavily upon a community that is tiny in comparison to the magnitude of cultural treasures that have been entrusted to it.
First as a thriving colonial seaport, then as a Gilded Age resort, and finally as a destination for wealthy visitors and boat owners, Newport has seen successive waves of financial support and energy flow in to preserve and restore the wonderful historic structures that make up the fabric of the city.
Eleven years ago, the Doris Duke Preservation Awards were established under the auspices of the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) and the city of Newport to review, evaluate and honor those projects in the community that best represent the preservation movement.
The awards are named for Duke, a summer resident of Newport and once the wealthiest woman in America, who set about saving Newport’s colonial structures from neglect and demolition during the 1960s and 70s. Of the 80 houses that she and the NRF have saved, 71 are still owned and operated by the NRF, helping ensure that Duke’s vision of preserving colonial architectural structures is forever honored.
After a short introduction by Wendy Nicholas and Roger Mandle of the NRF, and Mayor Harry Winthrop, and recognition of the volunteers and organizers who helped put on the awards ceremony on Sept. 8, Pieter Roos was recognized for his 18 years of service to the Newport Restoration Foundation, where he served as the executive director.
The first project honored was the Newport Historical Society Resource
Center, located at 82 Touro St. This project involved the interior and exterior renovation of three co-joined structures that had been built over time, as well as the addition of a new entry and elevator to make the building more accessible and code compliant. Completed in 2015, the project has put this venerable institution on firm footing for many decades to come.
The second project was the historic restoration of the Mailand & Westcliff Carriage House, located at 37 Ledge Road. Dr. Holly Bannister and Douglas Newhouse undertook this challenging house that abuts their home, Seaweed, a winner of the Doris Duke Preservation Award in 2014. The carriage house had fallen into a dilapidated state. Originally designed by noteworthy architect Richard Morris Hunt for the Mailand estate in 1875, it was relocated in 1893 to the Westcliff Estate, which Hunt also designed.
Bannister and Newhouse undertook significant research to determine how the structure appeared at different periods of history, and then restored it to the appropriate exterior design, while updating the interior to current codes and levels of comfort expected for a guest house.
The last of the three projects honored was not an architectural project at all, but a collaborative effort to remove electric and telephone poles adjacent to Sachuest Point. This vista, which includes the famous “Hanging Rock,” has inspired generations of painters, including John La Farge, John Frederick Kensett and George Bellows among others.
Burying electrical line is costly, even though it reduces repair expenses over the longterm by protecting the service from wind and storm damage. Working in cooperation, National Grid, the town of Middletown, the Prince Charitable Trust, the van Beuren Charitable Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed 22 poles that had been marring the view for decades, returning the vista to how it looked during the Gilded Age when it had such an enormous impact on the great painters of that period.
The evening celebration took place on the grounds of Rough Point, Duke’s grand home when she was residing in Rhode Island. It brought together not only the architectural and preservation communities of Newport, but those from the broader county and state as well. The award proved that preservation is alive and thriving in the very place where Duke first planted the seed during her lifetime, with the establishment of the Newport Restoration Foundation nearly 50 years ago.