“Lost Newport” author talk to benefit Opera House Theater

(The Newport Daily News, By Joe Baker)

Paul Miller will share tales from his 2005 book “Lost Newport” on Wednesday with the hopes the Opera House Theater & Performing Arts Center need never be included in the pages of subsequent printings.

Miller is giving his presentation as part of a fundraiser to benefit the ongoing restoration of the theater, which is located on Touro Street in Washington Square. The event will be held at the Jane Pickens Theater & Event Center, just a few doors up the street. The doors open at 5 p.m., and Miller is expected to deliver his remarks at 5:45 p.m. Tickets cost $25, and a cash bar and concessions will be available.

Miller, curator for the Preservation Society of Newport County, released his book as part of its 60th anniversary celebration in 2005. The festivities included an exhibit on “Lost Cottages” prompted by postcards of Newport summer cottages that were built in the 19th century and no longer exist. People wanted to know what happened to them, Miller said.

“There had never been a comprehensive overview (of long-gone summer homes),” Miller said. “It shows the changes in context of the surroundings. There is a growing appreciation in our ever-increasing world of homogeneity what makes a place unique.”

He did a lot of his research at the Newport Historical Society and also paid a visit to the New York Public Library, which had the most comprehensive collection of photographs by Joshua Appleby Williams, a prominent Newport photographer of the mid-to-late 19th century.

One of the most interesting items he uncovered during his research concerned Armsea, Miller said. Built in 1901 for Gen. Francis Vinton Greene, the estate was located south of Hammersmith Farm. Months before his assassination in November 1963, President John F. Kennedy had leased the estate for the 1964 summer season. It was demolished in 1969.

Another of Miller’s favorite stories is of the Shaw House, the twin home to Castle Hill that was located near the existing lighthouse. Quincy Shaw, who owned the estate, had a brother, Robert Gould Shaw, who led the Black Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and was killed in action.

Miller said he is more than happy to headline the fundraising event because of the nature of the ongoing restoration project.

“It’s a fabulous project. It’s a crucial anchor for the downtown square,” he said. “I really hope it reinvigorates that whole sector of the city.”

The renovation of the 150-year-old theater is in full swing, said board member Liz Drayton. The contractor is getting ready to install major steel beams that will support the roof atrium and terrace on the fourth floor, she said. Although “there are all sorts of unknowns” when undergoing such a comprehensive restoration project, organizers hope to have some kind of event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the theater’s 1867 opening in December 2017, she said.

“Our goal is to be fully open in the first half of 2018,” Drayton said. “We have our eyes on that prize.”

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