Last night, after my boffo lecture at Rosecliff (1902, McKim, Mead & White), I strolled down Bellevue Avenue, in the company of the Preservation Society of Newport County’s Lise Dube-Scherr, by another gem of that thoroughfare, the Audrain Building. Its glorious restoration by Northeast Collaborative Architects is featured in the latest Traditional Building. Emily O’Brien’s “Renovation of the Audrain Building,” explains the excellent work on the Audrain, designed by Bruce Price in 1903. It is joined on its block by, among others, the famous Newport Casino, also by McKim, Mead & White.
Most extraordinary was the architects’ refabrication of the lost element of the Audrain’s cornice, a balustrade crowned by a dozen upstanding lions, fallen or removed after the hurricane of 1938. John Grosvener, a founding principal of the firm, told O’Brien that “the terra-cotta elements, including the balustrade and lions, were,” as she put it, “created by Boston Valley Terra Cotta of Orchard Park, N.Y. The new lions were sculpted by Allison Newsome of Warren, R.I. Using historic photos, she first rendered the lion in clay in a ¼-scale model before sculpting it full size. Plaster molds were then created so that the 12 lions could be reproduced. Each lion weighs 350 pounds and is made of 16 pieces.”
The first floor of the building, originally headquarters of the antiques empire of Adolphe L. Audrain, is now an automobile museum, with exhibits that rotate every three months. The museum has wood flooring and a ceiling braced by massive steel trusses to uphold, on the second floor, a luxurious set of office suites, paneled and with custom millwork and coffered ceilings.
The photographs accompanying O’Brien’s article, by Ben Jacobsen, and prose imagery by O’Brien such as that of loaded Newporters racing hellbent down Bellevue Avenue in their fancy horseless carriages before the turn of the century, make this TB article a delicious read.