Lanphear Livery featured in Providence Journal and New London Day

The New London Day and Providence Journal recently featured NPA's latest project, the Lanphear Livery. You can read the full article below:

Preservation project mends blue-collar bones of century-old Lanphear Livery at Watch Hill 'gateway'

At the end of the 19th century, it's where the help stayed, but today the former Lanphear Livery is the first place visitors see when they enter the tony Watch Hill area.

The 21,000-square-foot building at One Bay St. was a community gateway battered by time and then by Superstorm Sandy four years ago. It was, in the words of one person who knew the building, "a mess."

But now, after a five-year effort costing some $6 million, the Lanphear building is once again hosting tenants and is a couple of weeks away from completing a historic preservation. One Bay Street Center LLC, the nonprofit that took on the restoration with foundation and community support, received $1 million in historic-preservation tax credits from the state to help push the project over the finish line.

"If we didn't do what we did, the building probably would have been taken down," said Grant Simmons, president of One Bay Street Center.

And if the building, owned by Watch Hill Limited Partnership, had been demolished, he added, it's unclear what could have been built there, since it is in a flood plain.

"It was preserve it or lose it," he said.

But preservation proved a challenge. According to Jack Evans of Newport Architecture, the old livery was a warren, an amalgamation of a few buildings erected or moved to the site during different eras that had been cobbled together and then, over the years, had sunk. The building needed to be stabilized and brought up to code.

"The building was in distress and needed some help," Evans said. "You could run your hand under the column posts."

So Pariseault Builders Inc., of Warwick, jacked up the building 8 feet to pour a new concrete foundation below. Many of the supports had to be shored up as well, and the building as a whole needed to be opened up inside, Evans said.

Rich Youngken, historic preservation planner for the building, said old photos from the Lanphear and Holdredge families — the Holdredges ran a garage at the site for many years — helped shape decisions about how to restore the building. But the basic idea, he said, was to bring the place into the modern age while reusing as many of the original elements as possible.

"Preservation doesn’t mean freezing in time," Youngken said in a video promoting the project. "It means allowing for adaptation and evolution."

The building dates to 1887, according to historians, and the livery tended to horses used by Watch Hill visitors who made their summer arrivals by carriage. Upstairs areas of the three-story structure were quarters for grooms and, when cars became popular, for chauffeurs.

Above the ceiling in a new atrium area, a huge gear mechanism has been left intact to show how workers in the early years would lift automobiles to the upper floors of the building with a hand-cranked elevator.

Among other interesting items workers found as they rebuilt the Lanphear were old bottles, a newspaper from World War I, an old wagon, a dartboard area and graffiti left by construction workers from a century ago. Workers from Pariseault are leaving their own names etched into the building now, buried behind walls, their own mark on the history of the place.

"She's a good girl," construction supervisor Gary Jennings said of the building. "She's weathered a lot of storms."

Youngken said the Lanphear is one of the last properties remaining in Watch Hill that reflects the service aspect of life in the seaside village at the turn of the century. In its bones resides the village's evolution as wealthy enclave where dwellers discovered the restorative qualities of living beachside during the summer, along with all the pleasantries associated with historic hotels such as the now-rebuild Ocean House overlooking Block Island Sound.

Charles "Chuck" Royce, who basically resurrected the Ocean House in 2010 with component parts salvaged from that storied hotel's demolition, is "a very influential supporter of the project," said Simmons, one of the principals in the Lanphear restoration. The building, when finished next month, will have four apartments as well as office space and a meeting area and courtyard for community gatherings and presentations.

The courtyard faces a large parking area that could make the Lanphear building a natural pass-through for beachgoers, Simmons said.

"It's an important gateway, a signature building ...." Royce said in an interview. "But I also think it can return to having a true community practical function for open space that will benefit everyone."

The Alfred M. Roberts Jr. Charitable Foundation is also a major sponsor, Simmons said, and the Watch Hill Conservancy has been supportive and is considering moving its office into a second-floor space.

In turn, patrons of the Ocean House have become supporters of the two businesses that just opened on the first floor of the Lanphear building. The Lily Pad art gallery and Angela Moore women's boutique both cater to the upscale clientele who frequent Watch Hill.

Vivi-Anne Weber, owner of the Lily Pad, has been in Watch Hill seasonally for more than three decades, including 11 years in the Lanphear building. She said she is happy with the way the restoration has worked out. In keeping with the project, she has left the historic look of her entryway floor rather than have it match the composite flooring she has throughout her gallery.

"It's a piece of art now," she said. "You paint it and it becomes just a floor."