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Newport Congregational Church now open for events

By Sean Flynn

Daily News staff writer

NEWPORT - The good news about the ongoing restoration of Newport Congregational Church is that the church is now open as an event space.

That was the message delivered by Andrew Long, the church's outreach coordinator and property manager, to more than two dozen guests of Arts Around the Fire at Salvation Cafe Wednesday night. The Newport Arts and Cultural Alliance sponsors the arts event monthly with different speakers.

The church built in 1857 at the corner of Spring and Pelham streets is no longer used for worship services. The interior murals and opalescent stainedglass windows of its sanctuary constitute the only surviving, comprehensive interior designed and executed by artist John La Farge.

The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. Now the nonprofit La Farge Restoration Fund is coordinating the restoration of the church and raising funds to restore the stained-glass windows and interior murals and the decorations that were painted over during past decades.

The space is now empty and ready for events that can be staged around ongoing restoration work. But there are some stipulations, Long said.

Any organization looking to stage an event would have to bring in its own chairs or rent them. Another problem is the limited lighting, which an event-holding group would have to augment.

When it was built, there was no flooring put under the pews, so when they were removed there were holes underneath, Long said. That made new flooring a necessity since patchwork would have left an uneven floor.

“We put in a new white oak floor,” Long said. “We removed the pews. Newport has enough venues where people sit in straight lines looking forward.”

The large kitchen that the church had in the past has been removed, and the church is planning to install a smaller galley kitchen that would be suitable for a caterer to use for warming, Long said.

Long declined to say what events have been scheduled, as they are being worked out.

The total capacity of the church is 480 people, and the two balconies on either side of the nave can be used. Each balcony can sit 50 people.

One of the guests at the Wednesday night gathering, James Burress, director of finance for the Preservation Society of Newport County, pointed out that there is very See CHURCH, A6

The pews have been removed and new oak flooring installed to prepare the interior of Newport Congregational Church to be used as an event space. [SEAN FLYNN/DAILY NEWS PHOTO]

Newport Congregational Church, at Spring and Pelham streets in Newport, has been undergoing renovations and is available as an events and cultural space. [DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO]

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limited parking in the area, which is a problem for an event space.

“Newporters are used to that and work things out on their own,” Long said. “They know we don't live in cities and towns in the South and Midwest, with lots of wide-open streets and parking areas.”

Technicians and artists of John Canning & Co. of Cheshire, Connecticut, are now restoring the murals and painting, Long said.

“The restoration of the stained-glass windows will come later,” he said.

About five years of restoration work is still left to do, but how long it will actually take depends on the success of obtaining the necessary funding, Long said. The project is being overseen by architects Mohamad Farzan and Dorienne West Farzan of NewPort Architecture, LLC.

Years ago, the total cost of the project was estimated to be $6 million, but new needs have come up since then, Long said.

La Farge, who lived from 1835 to 1910, received a patent in 1880 for a new “colored-glass window” that softened direct light and produced both opalescent and iridescent effects. At the time he received the contract for Newport Congregational Church, the church leadership prohibited figurative imagery in decoration, so La Farge drew from geometric patterns of Byzantine, Moorish and Persian tiles in his window designs and for the painting on the walls.

Some of La Farge's designs were painted over in the past 130 years, and some stained-glass windows were removed and put back in other window openings or stored in boxes.

Anyone interested in visiting the church at 73 Pelham St. or possibly renting it for an event is encouraged to send email to contact@lafargerestorationfund.org or call (401) 619-5109. Also visit lafargerestorationfund. org.

sflynn@newportri.com

Newport Arts and Cultural Alliance held their monthly networking meeting at Salvation Cafe Wednesday evening. Speaker Andrew Long, outreach coordinator and property manager of Newport Congregational Church, talked about the ongoing revitalization of the church into a cultural venue. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]

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