Newport’s Point neighborhood is a treasure trove of architectural delights, widely noted for having the largest intact collection of buildings – more than 300 – that predate the Revolutionary War. But one is decidedly more modern, with a history all its own, and serves as one of the best examples of adaptive reuse in a city tasked with merging rich history with contemporary demands.
Tucked away on a quiet residential street surrounded by homes built during the early- to mid-1700s (and currently commanding sales prices near the $2 million mark), the Walker Building is a bit of an anomaly. The two-story concrete block building occupying 9 and 11 Bridge Street was built in 1947 – contemporary, by Newport standards – and was home to City Taxi Garage. The business was one of many owned by Black entrepreneur and native Newporter Louis Walker (1892 -1959), whose son continued City Taxi until 1973 and operated City Auto Body until he sold the business.
After some years, the building fell into disrepair, becoming a derelict eyesore. Purchased by a neighbor in 1996, the new owners commissioned architect Michele Foster of Jamestown-based Foster Associates to salvage the building that Foster says the city, and many nearby residents, wanted torn down. “It was a real battle,” recalls Foster, who led the project through the gauntlet of approvals with Newport’s Zoning Board and Historic District Commission. The result was well worth the effort as the building’s architectural integrity was restored, punctuated by the addition of awnings and copper trellises to provide a residential scale. The first-floor auto bays were repurposed into a pair of commercial retail spaces while the second floor was outfitted for offices.
Today, the retail spaces, which have been artist-driven since the completed renovation, are home to Cottage & Garden and Jessica Hagan Fine Art & Design.
“With an old space comes parameters…you just work with it. It’s part of what gives it its charm,” says Hagan. Before moving her gallery from Bellevue Avenue to the Walker Building in 2014, Hagan had already built an enviable client base, and the move proved even more serendipitous when the pandemic struck. The building affords ample outdoor space on Bridge Street, which she continues to take advantage of for show openings and events. “It’s terrific,” she says, adding that a silver lining of the pandemic was a boost in art sales and interest. “It's a really charming space and people love it.”
Hagan adds that her gallery is an idyllic neighbor with Cottage & Garden, which was founded nearly two decades ago by the late Eleanor Gobis and is now owned by Jill Buckley. It feels a disservice to call Cottage & Garden a shop, as it’s more of a curated collection of aesthetically pleasing, hand-chosen pieces peppered amongst manicured potted plants and greenery. Antiques, furnishings, tableware, fixtures, topiaries, coffee table books, and simple curiosities make this an experience – a place you’ll want to linger (and ‘gram).
“[We] are the best match because we have the same kind of client, if not the same clients,” explains Hagan.
The opening reception for Land Sea Sky 2022 at Jessica Hagan Fine Art & Design will be October 15, 5-7pm featuring paintings, ceramics, and sculpture by gallery artists. The exhibit will remain on display until Nov. 13.
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