The Dunes Club // 1939

This elite, members-only beach club in Narragansett, Rhode Island was originally founded in 1928. The property featured a gate house, club house, bars and cabanas for members who did not want to mingle with the typical tourists or residents. The New England Hurricane of 1938, which destroyed many buildings in Narragansett and the greater region, flooded and battered the first Dunes Club and required it to be demolished. The next year, the members pooled together resources (along with help from insurance) to hired the firm of Purves, Cope & Stewart Architects from Philadelphia, to design the Colonial Revival-Art Deco style clubhouse.

Constructed almost entirely of wood, the elongated building had two main entrances, one facing the drive approach, and one facing the beach. The street-facing entrance has a more residential quality with modestly sized windows and an entrance portico, while the beachfront facade showcases the views with large multi-pane casement windows and decks running the length of the building. To one side, cabanas were built surrounding central sandy courtyards, all with views to the beach.

Street facade, courtesy of Gottscho-Schleisner

Sea Lawn // 1875

Located next to the former Narragansett Pier Casino, Sea Lawn (aka the Reading Room) is an excellent example of a Second Empire structure with Stick style detailing. Built in 1875, The Reading Room was originally constructed as a summer cottage, Sea Lawn and was located on a nearby street and moved shortly after the completion of the Narragansett Pier Casino owners as an amenity of the new resort. The building was a men’s club where the elite residents and guests of Narragansett Pier could meet, drink and discuss books over cigars. The building was restored by Lila Delman Real Estate office, who now occupies the site with some private apartments.

Louis Sherry Cottages // 1888

Louis Sherry, a well-known New York restauranteur, was contracted to be the first Superintendent for the newly opened Narragansett Pier Casino. He soon realized the need for the wealthy to stay in private summer cottages instead of hotels. In 1887, Sherry purchased five acres of land in Narragansett Pier and hired the firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the same firm who designed the main casino to design a small complex of cottages surrounding a central green and restaurant.

A total of six cottages were constructed with a casino/restaurant at the center and all were similar in style and features amenities including porches and electric lights. The enterprise was successful until 1912, when a fire started in the casino’s kitchen, destroying that structure and three cottages, and three cottages across the street on Earl’s Court, another luxury development. One of the Sherry Cottages was rebuilt, but the fire disrupted the original design intent and siting of the cottages.

Yellow Patch // 1916

One of the later summer cottages in Narragansett Pier is “Yellow Patch” a 2 1/2-story home which looks like it was transported from England. The stuccoed cottage features a unique “thatch roof” with eyebrow dormers and large board shutters, evoking the rural cottages of the Cotswolds. Designed by Providence architect George F. Hall, the home was built for a Kate Lane Richardson as her summer cottage.

Shadowlawn // 1886

Located at 85 Center Street in Narragansett, Rhode Island, this Stick style and Queen Anne home exudes charm. Named Shadowlawn, the home was built in 1887 for Clarke and Annie Pullen who already lived in town. The two got married in late 1885, so this home was likely a wedding present from a parent or just purchased by Mr. Pullen for his new wife. The home features intricate stick-work at the front porch and decorative shingle siding. While there is no known reason for the naming of the house, it is likely due to the large garden at the rear of the home under the shadow of the tall Victorian home.

Shingle-nook // 1887

Appropriately named “Shingle-nook” this home at the corner of Central and Boon Streets in Narragansett Pier was built in 1887 and is an example of a Shingle style home with a blocky massing. The home was designed by architect George Albree Freeman (1859–1934), who was born and raised in New York City and graduated in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He practiced in Stamford, Connecticut, mostly in the late 19th century, before moving to Sarasota, Florida, where he continued to practice until his death. Freeman was just 28 years old when he designed Shingle-nook.

The summer cottage was originally owned by James Brander Matthews (1852-1929), who was regarded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as America’s leading authority on drama during his time as professor at Columbia University in New York. Interestingly, Matthews wrote an article on Narragansett Pier in Harper’s Weekly, August 1887, towards the end of the summer season at his new home. In the article he stated, “This year the Pier has been unusually crowded during the present month, when the season is always at its height, and the hotels have hardly been able to accommodate the rush of visitors” which coincided with the newly opened Narragansett Pier Casino by McKim, Mead & White. The home was restored by the current owners and is now available for rent for the summer months.

Narragansett Life Saving Station // 1888

Located just a stones throw from the former Narragansett Pier Casino, this modest stone structure was built by the same architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Completed in 1888, the Romanesque Revival building replaced an earlier (1873) wood station. The original life saving station was established in the early 1870’s as part of a U.S. Life Saving Service expansion program, which originally began in New Jersey and Long Island and was taken over by Congress to expand up the New England coast and be staffed by full-time crews to observe swimmers and boaters in the waters. This station, along with many other Gilded Age buildings relating to the commercial quality of Narragansett Pier sadly were demolished due to fires, hurricanes and urban renewal over the years, leaving a fraction of what once stood.

The Narragansett Life Saving Station was in use from 1888 until 1946. The stone structure has had some very un-sympathetic additions over the years and at the time of me photographing it, more work was going on.

Sunnymead // 1887

This shingle style summer cottage was built in 1887 for the Gwynne sisters, the two sisters of Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt was the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and she clearly wanted her sisters to be close, but not too close to her summer cottage The Breakers in nearby Newport, RI. The home, at 106 Central Street, was designed in the Shingle style with a hipped roof and large veranda.

Narragansett Pier Casino (The Towers) // 1886

Designed by the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White, with landscaping designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the Narragansett Pier Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island was one of the finest Gilded Age resorts in New England upon its opening in 1886. Considered to be the center of social life for summer residents in Narragansett Pier, a close second to the glamour of Newport, the Casino structure stood complete for just under 15 years. Guests of the resort enjoyed beach-going, billiards, tennis, cards, bowling, shooting, boating, and beautiful reading rooms, shops, restaurants and a theater within in the Casino. In 1900, most of the Shingle style building burned down during what is known on September 12, ending the Summer season. That day, a fire broke out in the neighboring Rockingham Hotel. The flames spread quickly to the Casino and many other significant wood-frame buildings, and leaving only the stone porte-cochere and towers standing of the original casino.

The stone structure was damaged multiple more times from hurricanes and fires, but stood proudly as a lasting reminder to Narragansett Pier’s Gilded Age past. The Towers is now the premier event space in town and a symbol for the town. Sadly, much of the area of Narragansett Pier today is dotted with surface parking and (in my opinion) uninspiring condominium/hotel developments, though there are collections of significant structures nearby that survived the fire.

Circa 1899 image of Narragansett Casino, before a fire destroyed most of the structure. Detroit Publishing Company image.