The Towers, the Bungalow, and us -- 10/02/08

In the comments area for yesterday's entry, Kate asked about how Nancy and I got involved in working as wedding attendants at The Narragansett Towers and the Kinney Bungalow. As I thought about it I realized that although I mention both places here from time-to-time, I never really described how it came about.

Both historic sites belong to the Town of Narragansett and both can be rented by the public for special occasions (usually weddings and parties, but also for anything from reunions to business conferences). This keeps them as living buildings that are part of a usable public heritage rather than as merely stuffy old museum pieces; it also generates funds toward the considerable cost of on-going preservation and restoration. Whenever either building is rented for some purpose, there are two people there as building attendants, representatives of the town to watch over and protect the buildings, take care of problems, and also to serve as museum docents, answering any questions about the buildings and their history.

Usually a shift begins when the catering company arrives to begin setting up (usually a couple of hours before the event itself starts) and continues until the caterer has cleaned up afterwards (and we have checked that they were sufficiently thorough). During the course of the event we greet arriving guests, explain where things are (such as where to find the restrooms), make sure nobody smokes inside, keep wedding crashers out (not much of a problem at the Bungalow, which is out in the countryside, but a real headache at The Towers on a summer Saturday night in the middle of a summer resort town near one of the most popular beaches in the area with hundreds of people in a party mood wandering about the streets -- I should write an entry some time about some of the more inventive attempts), be there to handle emergencies, solve problems, make sure that the bar closes at exactly the time it is supposed to, see to it that the party ends and people leave at the appointed times, supervise the catering crew's clean up efforts, and write up a report on the event. It is interesting to observe different caterers (I've picked up a few ideas about both hors d'oeuvres and main course dishes) and DJs and musicians and photographers, etc. at work, and Nancy and I enjoy each other's company and the chance to be together -- but most of all we enjoy the opportunity to talk with people about these buildings and their place in local history and stories about some of the fascinating characters who have been involved in this area.

How did we get into this? Well, Nancy loves to play tennis, and her friend Shirley, someone she met in a local tennis league, is the coordinator for Kinney Bungalow. About four years ago Shirley asked Nancy if we would be interested in being attendants -- we went to an orientation meeting at The Towers and met Kate, the coordinator for that site, and then toured Kinney Bungalow -- and it seemed as if it might be interesting to give it a try. We are both fascinated by local history, etc. and have always been interested in both buildings. We tried it. We liked it. And, four years later, we're still doing it.

For those of you who have not been hanging out around here for the past four years or so, here's a quick info dump about the two sites under discussion:
This is Kinney Bungalow at Sunset Farms. Francis Kinney was a late 19th-century millionaire who came to Narragansett to play polo. He owned the farm to raise his polo ponies and built his "bungalow" (apparently after a dispute with the Point Judith Country Club -- stories vary) to hold parties and banquets after the polo matches. In more recent times it was the summer rehearsal site of the American Ballet Theatre.

The Narragansett Casino (designed by the noted firm of McKim, Meade, and White) was built 1883-1886 -- and (with tennis courts, restaurants, and grand ballroom) served as a focal point for social activities among the wealthy patrons of the resort hotels in this Victorean era resort town. In 1900 fire swept across the center of town and all that remained of the casino was its twin towers and their stone archway over the road.

Both buildings are gorgeous and are just dripping with history. Sometimes it is so easy to persuade yourself that you can almost feel some of the vibrations of upscale life partying on some lovely summer night in 1899.

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