Casino Theatre Honored with Rhody Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation

Casino Theatre Honored with Rhody Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation

After more than a year of restoration work, and through the generous support of many dedicated donors, the curtain has risen once again at the historic Casino Theatre in Newport, R.I. On the heels of the first live performance in the venue in nearly 30 years, on Thursday, October 21 the remarkable space hosted the annual Preservation Celebration, during which Preserve Rhode Island (PRI) and Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) presented the Rhody Awards to recognize the people and projects that contribute to the preservation of Rhode Island’s historic places. The 1880 theatre played the role of more than just a venue though, as the facility was also an honoree, having been named a 2010 Rhody Award recipient.

“The Casino Theatre was the last remaining piece of the historic Newport Casino complex in need of restoration, and it was made possible thanks to many dedicated supporters, determined community leaders, and talented architects and craftsman. The result is truly extraordinary and we are honored to be recognized with a Rhody Award for the project,” said Mark L. Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. “The theatre was constructed 130 years ago for the purpose of bringing the community together and we are proud to have worked cooperatively with our partner, Salve Regina University, to preserve the rich history of the facility and to invite the community in to enjoy it once again.”

The Casino Theatre was designed by renowned architect Stanford White in 1880 as part of the Newport Casino complex, which was originally intended as a social club for Newport’s rich and famous summer residents and is now home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. Restoration on the Casino Theatre began in September 2009, as the result of a creative partnership between the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, which owns the facility, and Salve Regina University, which will manage the theatre and utilize it as a living classroom for the Department of Performing Arts. The partnership was supported by a dedicated committee whose vision and fundraising efforts generated the $5.2 million necessary to complete the restoration.

The Rhody Awards, which are chosen by PRI and RIHPHC from nominations submitted by the public, honor individuals, organizations, and projects for their contributions to the preservation of Rhode Island’s historic resources. This year awards will be presented in the categories of Preservation is Green, Preservation Projects, Homeowner Projects, and Historic Rehab Tax Credit Projects. In addition, special honors will be awarded in Professional Leadership and Artisan. 

The extensive project at the Casino Theatre included replacing the facility’s signature Shingle Style exterior, installing a full fire suppression system and a new heating and cooling system, and improving the electrical system – including raising a new 1880’s inspired chandelier. In addition, new bathrooms were installed, the dressing rooms were completely overhauled, and a green room and costume shop were developed in the area beneath the stage.The theatre’s historic value and stunning detail was taken into account with every step of the project, ensuring that people viewing the final product would feel as if it was exactly as it had been intended in 1880. For example, while the theatre features state-of-the-art technology, all of the new audio/visual and heating/cooling equipment has been artfully blended into the structure. In addition, American Seating, the Michigan-based company that crafted chairs for the theatre in the 1920s, has meticulously restored those chairs, including unique detail such as the holders for gentlemen’s top hats beneath the seats.

Martha Werenfels, a principal at Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects, a 30-person firm in Providence, RI, oversaw the restoration, along with James Farrar, owner and president of Farrar & Associates, Inc., a Newport-based construction and project management company.

When it opened in 1880, the Casino Theatre was intended as a social gathering place for Newport’s rich and famous summer residents to see live theatre and to enjoy activities such as ballroom dancing. Over the years the grand stage has hosted some of the biggest performers of screen and stage, including legends like Orson Welles, Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price, but it has been inactive since the 1980s, closed due to structural concerns. Through the new partnership, the Salve Regina University Department of Performing Arts will manage and maintain the facility day-to-day, with the Hall of Fame retaining the venue for special events on select days, and the facility being made available to the community for rentals as well. The partnership provides Salve Regina University students with a living classroom where they can study all aspects of theatre from acting and directing to set design, lighting and facility management; while restoring a historically significant facility that has brought much joy to the community in the past and will be able to do so once again.

The additional award recipients were:

• Homeowner Award to the Hartson family of Providence for the dramatic restoration of their Messer Street home (c. 1890) in the Broadway-Armory Historic District, from clapboards to trim to porch—and oh what a porch!

• Preservation is Green Award to Moran Shipping Agencies, Inc. for preserving the historic character of the Rhode Island Medical Society Building (1911) in Providence in a sustainable design that incorporates a geothermal heating and cooling system and recycled materials.

• Two Historic Rehab Tax Credit Project Awards to Lila Delman Real Estate for the rehabilitation of the Travers House (1879) in Newport and the Narragansett Reading Room (1875) in Narragansett; both buildings now serve as offices for the real estate firm.

• Historic Rehab Tax Credit Project Award to Capital Properties for the historically sensitive restoration of the Steeple Street Block (1827-1847), one of Providence’s most significant historic commercial buildings.

• Project Award to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association of Jamestown for their recent projects to preserve Beavertail Light Station, including the granite lighthouse (1856) and the keepers’ quarters (1856, 1896).

• Project Award to the Johnston Historical Society for their effort to restore and interpret the Belknap School (1893), one of Rhode Island’s last one-room schoolhouses.

• Project Award to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Salve Regina University for restoring the Casino Theatre (1880) as a state-of-the-art facility for special events and performances.

• Project Award to the Preservation Society of Newport County for the restoration of the Gates at The Breakers (1895-96) and their commitment to preserving the historic character of the Bellevue Avenue streetscape.

The individual honorees were:

• Frederick C. Williamson Professional Leadership Award to Thomas E. Wright of Westerly, project manager for Rhode Island’s Department of Administration, who is preservation advocate and steward of state-owned historic properties, from the State House in Providence to the Colony House in Newport.

• Stephen J. Tyson Sr. Artisan Award to preservation contractor Keith Lescarbeau of Narragansett for more than thirty years of professional dedication to his craft, as seen in the restoration of historic houses in his native Providence, landmarks like The Towers and Kinney Bungalow in his adopted community of Narragansett, and lighthouses all along Rhode Island’s coastline.

About the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum
Established in 1954, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum 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 & Museum was recognized as the sport’s official Hall of Fame in 1986 by the International Tennis Federation, the governing body of tennis. The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is supported by Official Partners, such as BNP Paribas. For information on the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and its programs, call 401-849-3990 or visit us online at