A New Chapter for Homes of the Brave

Reports of Demolition are Greatly Exaggerated

downing

Perhaps Mark Twain would have appreciated Restmere’s mistaken fate. When Antoinette Downing and Vincent Scully wrote “The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island” in 1952 they listed Restmere as being demolished.  Just like Twain, reports of a demise were an exaggeration.

exaggeration2

Architect John Grosvenor and I recently purchased Restmere and have embarked on our next rejuvenation project. Each day we uncover clues about the Italianate and Stick Style house built along Beachview Avenue (now named Miantonomi Ave.) in Middletown, Rhode Island in 1857. The many notable figures and events associated with Restmere are truly fascinating and we look forward to sharing details with you in the coming months.

restmere

In the Beginning

Historic

Architects Richard Upjohn and Richard Morris Hunt collaborated on the design. The house was originally built for Hunt’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Howland Van Rensselaer.  The neighboring estate designed by Upjohn was built the previous year for Hunt’s other sister-in-law, Mrs. Howland Hoppin.  The twin estates shared ten acres of park-like grounds. J. Weidenmann showcased the estates in his book “Beautifying Country Homes” published in 1870.

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The Audrain Years

Audrain Building Ben Jacobsen Photo.jpg(Ben Jacobsen Photo)

In the early 1900s Restmere was sold to Adolphe L. Audrain. Audrain was an art and antiques dealer who commissioned Bruce Price to design the Audrain Building in 1903.  The commercial building represents one of four Gilded Age buildings that form an architecturally significant block on Bellevue Avenue. The adjoining buildings include Travers Block designed by Richard Morris Hunt; Newport Casino designed by McKim, Mead, and White; and King Block designed by Perkins and Betton.

Price drew inspiration from the Renaissance to create an iconic two-story edifice defined by broad arched windows that rise through both stories and a roofline distinguished by a terra-cotta balustrade with lion sculptures. The building is faced in red brick with jewel toned terra cotta trim. Street-level terra-cotta ornamentation is relatively restrained but increases at the arched second floor windows and cornice. The first floor was originally designed to feature six retail shops and the second floor accommodated 11 offices.

Coincidences Mean You are on the Right Path

John Grosvenor led the design team at Northeast Collaborative Architects that restored the Audrain Building in 2014.

Oddly enough, John and I recently learned that Audrain lived at Restmere for about 18 years. Audrain expanded the home by adding bay windows in the library and a second story bedroom.  He also introduced central heat, indoor plumbing and electricity.  Many of his chandeliers and sconces remain in the home.  Audrain added stained glass windows to the stair landing and bathrooms and an exceptional hand-carved limestone mantel to the library.

overall stained glass(Andrea Hansen Photo)

living room(Andrea Hansen Photo)

limestone mantel(Andrea Hansen Photo)

During Prohibition, Audrain sold Restmere and moved to France. He was quoted in numerous newspapers in September, 1920 as saying, “I am driven out of this country. When the American people regain common sense, which will be in about six years, I will come again to reside.”

United States Navy Connection

Audrain sold Restmere to Rear Admiral William H. Howard. Howard sold Restmere to Admiral Kalbfus.  In the early 1950s, a real estate developer bought Restmere and subdivided the remains of the five-acre estate into small lots where modest ranch houses would be built.  Restmere was slated for demolition until the Myer family persuaded the developer to sell the house to them. Fortunately, he did.

Did Bob Dylan Sleep Here?

 record

Another interesting chapter of Restmere’s history took place in 1964 when George Wein rented the house to accommodate Folk Festival musicians. According to urban legend, Bob Dylan, Joan Biaz, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and other folk artists jammed on the porch and recorded an album. The album cover features a photograph of the musicians gathered on Restmere’s front porch.

In 2005, The Myer family sold the house to Howard and Shirley Schiff. The Schiffs were tremendous stewards and managed to keep many of Restmere’s original architectural elements intact, while upgrading mechanical systems, restoring the porch, and painting the exterior.

An Architectural Gem

 main entry(Andrea Hansen Photo)

We certainly inherited a treasure. Our rejuvenation plan includes restoring the flooring, painting the interior spaces, re-wiring the historic light fixtures, and renovating the kitchen and bathrooms.  We also plan to reimage the landscaping to feature a private enclosed garden with walking paths.

knocker(Andrea Hansen Photo)

foyer doors(Andrea Hansen Photo)

Foyer(Andrea Hansen Photo)

bath stained glass

bath tile

fireplace grate

newel post

mirror detail

outdoor light

An adventure is unfolding. Stay tuned as we post pictures of this rejuvenation project.

 

 

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