NEWPORT — A five-year project to breath new life into a century-old building is pretty much complete.
This week, a crew from Fitzpatrick Painting of Albany is putting the finishing touches on the Sylvia Beach Hotel, located at 267 NW Cliff St. in Newport. The general contractor on the project was Luckini Construction of Newport.
This 108-year-old building was constructed in 1912-13 and was originally a small rooming house called the Cliff House, with some tent sites in front of it. It was later sold and became known as the Gilmore Hotel. Over the years, the hotel was traded several more times. It was in use as a rooming house shortly before being purchased in the mid-1980s by the current owners, Goody Cable and Sally Ford, with the idea of opening a literary-themed hotel. It became a 21-room, literary-themed bed and breakfast with a homey and eclectic charm that attracts readers, writers and travelers from all over the world. It has been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Each room includes details and books to reflect the life and writings of 21 different authors.
What some people may not know is that the hotel was named after Sylvia Beach (March 14, 1887–Oct. 5, 1962), an American-born bookseller and publisher who lived most of her life in Paris, where she was one of the leading expatriate figures between World War I and II.
“My partner (Goody Cable) and I bought it, and in 1984, gutted it, renovated it and then opened it March 14, 1987, which would have been Sylvia Beach’s 100th birthday,” said Ford, who spoke last week about the completion of the recent renovation project. The fresh paint is the same color used to paint the building when Ford and Cable initially opened the hotel — forest green with a trim color called coddled crème.
“When we put it on the historical register, we only had black and white photos of the old hotel,” recalled Ford. “Because of the period, we had two choices of color. It would have either been dark brown or dark green. When we started doing all of the construction work and they took off some of the shingles, underneath was dark green.”
This recent project involved mostly exterior work. “We have replaced all of the windows and the doors on the west,” said Ford. Pointing to the south side of the building, she added, “This is Oscar Wilde and on the other side is Mark Twain deck. That was done in two stages.” All three of the patios on the west side were rebuilt, “and then we replaced a lot of (siding) shingles that had been blown away by storms.”
The Sylvia Beach Hotel closed on March 22 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and when it reopened July 1, it was on a limited basis.
“I know some places opened in Newport June 1, and I said, ‘Nope, we’re going to sit back and watch other people make mistakes,’” Ford said. The reopening process has been slow and gradual. “We could book every room every night, but we’re not allowing that,” she said. “We’re capping it at 30 maximum per night. We could sleep 55. We’re not allowing that.”
Meal service at the hotel’s Tables of Content restaurant is restricted, as well. “We only allow like 10 people down at a time, so instead of 30 people going down at once like they used to do, now we’re staggering people,” Ford said. “And dinner, we are limiting that to five tables. Now with phase two, I’m not sure how that’s going to work yet since it just started.”
Cyd Cannizzaro, hotel manager, described the procedures under COVID restrictions. “It’s just heightened housekeeping. We always did a really good job of housekeeping, but COVID has made us more hype-vigilant on sanitizing high-touch areas in a more thorough way than we had in the past,” she said. “We have to remove everything from the room, whether it was used or not, like towels, so our laundry has probably quadrupled.
“And we lock the doors now. We used to leave our doors open and people would be able to look into the rooms,” Cannizzaro added. “Some of the guests are kind of bummed that they can’t walk around and look at the other rooms and decide which room they want to stay in.”
Cannizzaro said it is nice to have the renovation project behind them. “I always see it as a beautiful building, even when we were under construction,” she said, “but to see it restored to that original color that Sally and Goody picked when they opened in 1987, it feels so good, and it also feels very special because of how happy they are, the two of them, to see it back in its old glory. It feels so wonderful to show the building off in this way.”