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Broadway and the City Center

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Broadway, which still substantially retains a nineteenth-century residential character along most of its length, is not the introduction to Newport but is the most direct route to its heart. The termination of Broadway in one corner of Washington Square is the civic center of the old city, which is really a long, narrow triangle with the Colony House at the base and the Brick Market at the apex, once (before land filling) on the water's edge among the wharfs, with a triangular park between the two public buildings. Government slightly elevated, commerce subordinated but proudly housed: no preconceived plan ordained this civic focus of funneled space with monuments at either end, but rather community intuition as to what the center should mean.

And what can be said of the heart of the old seaport? Not much architecturally. Newport's wharfs, from Long Wharf to Perry Mill, evolved, from the late 1960s through the 1980s, into a hectic carnival of boutiques, eateries, and hotels. A deliberately nondescript wharflike vernacular has been cultivated even for outsized hotels, with carved signboards everywhere. Fragments of old stores and commercial buildings of some interest exist along Thames Street, but mostly so gutted, altered, and faked that their integrity is gone. The necessity of routing traffic through a four-lane artery and of providing parking spaces has inevitably destroyed the old scale of things. The new center is all development, needless development, with neither imagination or regard for public amenity to stamp it as something unique—to make it Newport. If Newport means a crowd of people in a festive, spending mood, then here it is; but for Newport as a place with character and history, one must look elsewhere.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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