The historic grandstand in Newport’s Gardner Park, which has overlooked its baseball diamond for decades, is set to be demolished.
City councilors voted Jan. 4 to budget $25,000 to tear down the building behind Babe Ruth Field.
“It’s been needing major maintenance for a few years,” Mayor Paul Monette said.
He said City Manager Laura Dolgin and Parks and Recreation Director Jessica Booth proposed demolition to the city council after concluding that repairing the building would be too costly.
The grandstand was built in the 1930s or 1940s, Monette said, and for years the city had looked at upgrading the structure.
When a local economic development group, Newport City Renaissance Corp., brought in a team of consultants to evaluate the city in 2009, the team suggested retaining “historically significant elements” of Gardner Park, including the grandstand — which it deemed an important piece of the city’s architectural heritage.
“It has historical significance — like every community, they had a grandstand,” Monette said, recalling New England youth baseball tournaments that have been held at the field in front of the grandstand. “And I personally am saddened to see it have to be torn down.”
Roger Cartee, a Newport resident, laments that the grandstand has been talked about for years, but nothing’s been done to save it.
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“It’s a beautiful location, and I just think if something had been done a long time ago to take care of that, it wouldn’t have fallen apart,” said Cartee, former president of the Rotary Club of Newport.
Cartee, now 77, recalled crawling under the grandstand in his youth to fetch stray baseballs. In more recent years, he said, he has talked to city officials about preserving the old structure, which can seat several hundred spectators.
“I think there hasn’t been an awful lot of effort to save the building,” Cartee said. “It’s just been sitting there, left to rot.”
About two hours into the city council’s meeting Dec. 21, Dolgin, the city manager, and Monette discussed the plan to demolish the grandstand.
“We understand that the grandstand has some historical value to some people in the community, but we also understand that the grandstand is now a hazard,” Dolgin said.
She said the city’s insurance company recommended the building come down. The $25,000 being budgeted would pay contractors and public works employees to tear down the building, and cover landfill fees for the debris.
Monette asked Dolgin if officials had considered erecting a replica of the old building in its place.
“I have to admit, to many in the community, it’s going to be sad to come down,” the mayor said. “I would hope that, in the future, we could have a replica built like they’ve done in other communities.”
Dolgin said that fundraising for such an effort would be a possibility. And she suggested saving pieces of the grandstand that could become part of the new structure as a way to honor its history.
What history is that? As Cartee put it: “My entire youth was spent on Gardner Park playing ball, as well as hundreds and hundreds of other kids.”
Many of those people might have moved away or died, he said. But for those who remain, the memories remain vivid and strong.