Restoration underway on historic Stanford White Casino Theatre
NEWPORT, R.I. -
When the curtains were first raised at Newport Casino Theatre in 1881, the complex, owned today by the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, was heralded as America’s first complete resort facility.
Throughout the years, the city’s summer colony flocked to see stage legends like Oscar Wilde and Will Rogers perform here. When the Stanford White-designed theatre wasn’t being used for performances, its 500 seats were removed to open the ballroom floor to dancing.
In the roaring ’20s, the theatre ushered in a new era, becoming one of America’s leading summer stock playhouses. Orsen Wells, Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price all performed here over the next several decades; but since the 1960s, its original vision struggled to survive.
The theatre has been vacant now for more than 25 years, but the original dream will be rekindled later this month when the curtain will be raised on a $4.5 million restoration effort, the result of a cooperative venture involving the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, Salve Regina University and a committee of supporters.
This partnership, incorporated in 2004 as the Stanford White Casino Theatre, has already raised more than $3.6 million toward the project, including its most recent gift, a $500,000 pledge by the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum that will serve as the final gift to conclude the campaign.
When complete, the theatre will be managed and maintained by Salve Regina University for the benefit of the community. The theatre will be used by the university’s Department of Theatre Arts, giving students an up-to-date, historic facility to learn all aspects of the theatre from set design and lighting to facility management. The site will also serve as a venue for events hosted by the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.
“The restoration of the Stanford White Casino theatre project offers a rare and important opportunity to teach and learn, first-hand, both the planning of a major restoration project as well as the daily issues that arise when restoration begins,” said Sister M. Therese Antone, Salve Regina University’s chancellor and president of the Stanford White Casino Theatre Restoration Committee. “The return of this building to its original purpose will greatly benefit the community at large and the students of Salve Regina University.”
During the academic year, other institutions will also be invited to utilize the historic playhouse and in summer, the theatre will be available for productions from here and abroad. The facility will be available for a variety of programs for both the Aquidneck Island community and its visitors.
Major grants supporting the restoration include $1 million from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Inc. and the van Beuren family, $1 million from the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust, $500,000 from the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, $137,000 from the Prince Charitable Trusts. Additional funds have been donated by more than a dozen foundations and individuals.
“We are very pleased to contribute the last remaining piece of funding required to enable the restoration,” said Christopher E. Clouser, chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “The theatre will be an outstanding enhancement to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, and will benefit the entire region. We would like to extend our appreciation to all the contributors and to the Stanford White Casino Theatre Restoration Committee for all of their work to make this restoration possible.”
The Casino Theatre was the first theatre to be designed by Stanford White and now is one of the only remaining examples of his theatre architecture. The current project will restore the theatre, update its facilities to modern safety standards and enable the building to operate in its original function as a performing arts space.
The exterior and its original wrap-around porch will be restored and as much of the building's existing original architectural features as possible will be retained. The project will include the installation of an appropriate heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, updated electrical systems, fire suppression, theatrical equipment and handicap facilities, as well as the installation of new restrooms.
The six acres of the Newport Casino Complex, where the theatre resides, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, recognizing its importance as one of the most influential shingle-style buildings in America. Also noteworthy is its rich history that includes theatrical and musical performances, readings and lectures.
Martha Werenfels, a principal at Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects, a 30-person firm in Providence, RI, has been retained for the project. The restoration will be overseen by James Farrar, owner and president of Farrar & Associates, Inc., a Newport-based construction and project management company.
Contributions to the restoration project may be sent to the Stanford White Casino Theatre, International Tennis Hall of Fame, 194 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI 02840.
About the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Established in 1954, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving the history of tennis, inspiring and encouraging junior tennis development, enshrining tennis heroes and heroines, and providing a landmark for tennis enthusiasts worldwide. The International Tennis Hall of Fame was recognized as the sport’s official Hall of Fame in 1986 by the International Tennis Federation, the governing body of tennis. For information on the International Tennis Hall of Fame and its programs, call 401-849-3990 or visit us online at www.tennisfame.com.
Anne Marie McLaughlin