‘HISTORIC IMITATION’? A model of Lin’s design.
Newport's Queen Anne Square, which measures just over an acre, is a rectangle of grass and trees on the doorstep of historic Trinity Episcopal Church, overlooking the city's yacht-filled harbor. Crisscrossed by brick pathways, it reminds many of a college or village green.
Once covered by homes and commercial buildings, some of them historic and some not, the park was created in 1976 under the personal supervision of Doris Duke, the late tobacco heiress and preservationist.
Queen Anne Square, then, embodies the forces that have shaped Newport for centuries: wealth, fame, history, and the search for the proper aesthetic.
So it's understandable that when the custodians of Duke's Newport Restoration Foundation concluded that the city-owned park needed an upgrade, they did so in high style: pledging to raise $3.5 million for the renovation, all from private sources, and commissioning an architect with rock star status, Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Likewise, the opposition has been equally outsized.
Critics have flooded newspapers with letters and set up a Web site, citizensforqueenannesquarepark.org. The opposition says Lin's design will disrupt the functionality of the tiny park, introduce historical fakery to a city known for historic authenticity, and dishonor Duke's legacy.
One letter writer to the Newport Daily News, Ed Paul, linked the battle over Queen Anne Square to the Wall Street protests, contrasting the Restoration Foundation ("that's them, the 1 percent") with the public ("that's us, the 99 percent").
Sidney Long, a Newport writer and photographer, complains there is a "top-down" character to the project, with those in power forcing a remake of a public park that she and others like mainly the way it is.
Laurence S. Cutler, founder of the National Museum of American Illustration on Newport's famed Bellevue Avenue, predicts that if the redo happens, it "will be torn down within three years . . . for lack of use, unattractive appearance, cost of maintenance, and other reasons."
One feature that infuriates Cutler and some critics is Lin's proposal to install three stonework "foundations" meant to recall buildings formerly on the site. The shallow foundations also would create places for visitors to congregate and provide seating, since the park now lacks benches.
But the opponents counter that children and drunks are likely to tumble over the stonework, and that the installations lack historical basis, since the actual foundations are long gone.
Among those scorning the concept is Paul D. Spreiregen, a Washington-based architect and city planner, who headed the design competition in the 1980s that selected Lin's Vietnam memorial design, and whom Cutler invited to Newport to assess her new plans.
"The sitting pits (faux foundations) that Lin proposes will preclude other normal uses of the park," Spreiregen wrote later, adding that "Newport has no need for historic imitations."
That view isn't shared by some of the state's top preservationists.
Trudy Coxe, executive director of the Preservation Society of Newport County, supports the design. And Edward Sanderson, of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, told the Phoenix that only "an overly-literal observer" would confuse Lin's "abstract representations" with actual foundations.
Pieter N. Roos, Restoration Foundation director, told the Phoenix that the proposed stonework is "not fake. It's a work of art, and a work of art has its own authenticity."