2014-07-03 / Front Page

Newport Casino: Architectural and Tennis Monument

By Ross Cann, AIA

One of the most widely-recognized buildings in Newport is the Newport Casino. This complex of buildings located on Bellevue Avenue was commissioned in 1879 by James Gordon Bennett, who owned an estate across the street on the site where the Bellevue Garden complex now stands. He reportedly founded the club after being ejected from the Newport Reading Room (an exclusive Newport Club) by fellow members after encouraging his polo instructor to ride into the clubhouse on a bet. The entire complex was built in an extraordinarily short sixmonth.

Bennett chose the firm of Mc- Kim, Mead and White to do the design. This firm would become the most prolific and famous of its era. The casino building is a masterpiece of the period’s popular Shingle Style. Its features include intricately cut cedar shingles, rounded towers, encircling covered porches and a loose asymmetric arrangement of masses made to suit each site. The Newport Casino complex was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the highest designation that a building can receive in terms of importance.

John Isner, the number one tennis player in America and two-time past champion, will take his place in Newport among the world's most exciting competitors, July 5 – 13. John Isner, the number one tennis player in America and two-time past champion, will take his place in Newport among the world's most exciting competitors, July 5 – 13. The casino (meaning “little house” and not “place of gambling” in those days) represented a new sort of leisure facility with dining, sporting and other facilities under one roof—what would later become known as the “country club.” This magnificent facility is more or less intact thanks to the vision (and generosity) of summer Newporters James and Candace Van Alen, who saved the complex from becoming a strip shopping center in 1954 by inventing a new use for the facility—the Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1975, induction into the facility was widened to include international players and in 1976 it was renamed the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It currently honors 240 persons representing 21 countries. This grand building is also home to a major collection of tennis history, art and memorabilia.

The Newport Casino hosted the first men’s United States National Lawn Tennis Championships in 1881, where it remained for 44 years. In 1915 that tournament was moved to Forest Hills, N.Y., and then to Flushing Meadows, N.Y. in 1978, where it remains today, now called the U.S. Open.

The six-acre complex is home to 13 grass courts, one clay court, and a court tennis court (which was the medieval game that gave rise to the modern sport). There is also an original theater, the last by Stanford White theater remaining in the world.

In May, the Hall of Fame broke ground on a $15.7 million expansion and renovation project. A 16,000-square-foot building on Memorial Boulevard designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects in a style that is complementary to Newport's historic architecture is the centerpiece of the expansion project. The building will house tennis facilities, retail space, and offices is adjacent to a similarly designed 21,000 square foot indoor tennis court building.

Each year for one week in July, the casino is at the center of the tennis world’s attention during the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship, which draws top players from around the world (including all six of the top-ranked American men). This year the tournament will be held from July 5-13, with the Hall of Fame enshrinement scheduled for Saturday, July 12.

Whether you are coming for the architecture or for the high quality tennis, you will not find a better destination than the Newport Casino this coming week.

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