Old's Cool, Newport.
The vision is simple: to restore the heart and soul of the City of Newport by transforming it back into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community, an invaluable investment in the quality of life for both its residents and the tourists who come to visit too.
And the easiest way to start is to turn the eastern half of America’s Cup Avenue, from Long Wharf to Thames Street into America’s Cup Park, with a bicycle path and grass running the whole length. Benches and bikes will invite everyone to slow down, and enjoy the beauty that is our unique and special city. The eastern half of America’s Cup Avenue will become a two-way street, not the unappealing 4-lane “stroad” that it is now, dividing and dangerous.
Queen Anne Square can be very easily extended across Thames Street to become a pedestrian walkway, and for a gazebo to be built, much like the one in King Park, which will become the center of the city’s activities, a “common,” the literal grandstand for our collective and important voices. Parades can finish here; Memorial Day speeches given, band concerts enjoyed, art exhibits and dance and theatrical performances welcomed.
The rest of the transformation of Newport from touristy and traffic to citizens and community will follow along naturally. The farmer’s market will enliven America’s Cup Park every weekend. Scheduled music at the gazebo will entertain and enrich. Visitors walking and biking around town will be not only accommodated, but encouraged. Residents will be inspired to shop locally, gathering together in the evening to people and sunset watch in the park(s), and everyone happily connecting instead of complaining about cars and always hopping in their own to come or go anywhere.
Phase two: extend the bike path north all the way to the roundabout along the railway, with a “Park and Cycle” for out of towners coming to visit. Free shuttle-bus (or let's bring back the old-school tram!) service. And then south along Memorial Boulevard to First Beach, with special bike parking areas located throughout the city.
In short, exactly the family-oriented and green environment, with the hometown convenience, ease, and pride Newport used to have a hundred years ago.
We're planting our flag here.
Cities have a fantastic opportunity to encourage civic pride by turning their citizens into literal flag wavers, but the sad truth is most municipal banners are known as SOBs (Seals on a Bedsheet). Even though Newport’s flag is historically significant, it probably won’t delight any of the residents or tourists who don’t know its importance:
With that in mind, we thought we’d re-design the Newport flag to capture the inspired and inspiring spirit of the City by the Sea.
According to the Vexillological Society, there are a few rules for designing an authentic and memorable flag, and we thought we’d lay them out here as guidelines for everyone to understand, and judge by. First, a flag’s design must be simple–a six year old should be able to draw it from memory. Second, it should have meaning and appropriateness. Third, two or three colors, max. Fourth, no text or writing. Fifth, it should be original, and/or related to other flags or symbols associated with the city.
We thought a modified swallowtail burgee would be exactly right even though most flags are rectangular–since this distinguishing shape is associated with boating in general and yacht clubs in particular – perfect for Newport given its maritime heritage and exciting sailing culture. We chose navy blue for trust and truth (and the ocean) and white for light and purity–the same color scheme as the Rhode Island state flag.
The 5-pointed star is a nod to the Navy, a welcome long-time resident and partner in Newport’s growth and reputation, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
The smaller, superscript star multiplies the first star’s power exponentially, and visualizes perfectly the multitude of wonders and events that can be found in Newport. It's also a hat tip to the North Star, used by explorers for centuries to navigate, and the mariner at sea’s best friend.
We suggest a contest for a Newport flag redesign, and let the people decide.
I He(art)... Newport
Art has the power to transcend the everyday, and to universalize the fun and the happiness that we might be feeling, as well as help all of us to overcome together the pain and suffering that’s in our lives. Unfortunately, most public art is decorative and static–which is a shame, because we think art, especially dynamic installations, are the perfect way to engage and empower people–and there’s almost no place to do that anymore in the real world.
Our idea is for a public art installation that replicates this tactile and personal focus on family, community and sharing, but on a larger scale. This time, we’d like to call it “I HE(ART)...” and in this case it would be “NEWPORT.” This simple slab of “chalkboard” concrete would be approximately 6’ high and 24’ long, and about 6” thick. We think Queen Anne Square would be the perfect place for it, since this beautiful public space is the spiritual center of Newport, visible and welcoming to everyone. We would have a chalk dispenser on site, and for $1 anyone can get a piece of chalk and leave their mark, literally, on the world.
The best part about this art piece is that it’s self-renewing, and evergreen: every time it rains the wall’ll be washed clean and the people, tourists and residents alike, can bring out the collective, inspired art in themselves once again.
The Zip Bicycle Rack.
We'e already talked about our plan to turn Newport into a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city, and we can see these bike racks sprinkled around town, promoting Newport's commitment to easy (and cheap!) transportation, healthy living, and an overall cleaner environment as a great first step. Newport has the potential to be such a bike-friendly city, and since almost everybody already has one, it's a win-win all around.
Sponsored by local businesses and private citizens who want to make a positive contribution to our seaside haven, these "Zip Racks" are the perfect fundraising opportunity, with all proceeds going to support our various community needs.
Can you go home again?
I first moved to Newport on May 19th, 1980 – the day after I resigned my commission in the U.S. Army – a fatuous, and ironically undisciplined twerp with magnificent ignorance. I'm moving back on September 4th, 2019 and I'm wondering if there's going to be a noticeable difference either in Newport or in myself all these years and miles later. Doubtful.
I'm not going to reminisce about the good old days, and they were good, and plenty, but I'll share two memories that have both kind of come full circle. I lived on Connection Street and sometimes when I'd walk home late at night there'd be a commotion at the Wellington Cafe, a lower Thames Street dive that had green corrugated fiberglass siding and a hangdog look. Usually during Fleet Week there'd be at least one bar fight that would spill out onto the sidewalk, between either two drunken sailors or a sailor and a townie. I'd just sidestep the crunch and blood and continue on my merry drunk way.
As a sidebar note, there was also a little bakery on Thames Street and if I was going home late enough they would have already started baking bread – the smell was heavenly and maddening at the same time – it reeked of warm, spermy dreams.
Anyway, fast forward forty years and I'm at a party in Salisbury, NC and one of my brother's friends comes in packing a piece. I ask him what's going on with that. He says he's always carried since he got into the habit when he was in the navy. I asked him where he was stationed and he said he was stationed in Newport most of the time. I asked him when and he said '74 - '82 or something like that.
I told him I was there at the same time and none of the snowflakes or Vineyard Vines bros who summer in Newport now believe me when I tell them that there were bar fights on Thames Street on a regular basis, and nobody flinched or called the cops. He started laughing. He told me that at formation on Sunday mornings at the base there'd be guys with black eyes and missing teeth and nobody could remember anything that happened. No, sir, I can't remember anything. True story.
I was the dockmaster at Williams & Manchester shipyard, and Dennis Connor and his crew had their America's Cup headquarters set up there. One of the cast of characters I got to know, and know well, thanks to his and his wife Jean's friendliness and kindness was Jack Sutphen. He had a steel sailboat called the Scorpion, and they became like surrogate parents to me. Jack was a mean sailor, and became, deservingly, Dennis's trusted right-hand man. They lost the cup for the first time ever when I was there in Newport in 1983, but went on to win it several times in the following years. Jack retired to San Diego about 15 years later.
I looked Jack up about 10 years ago, found his address, and sent him a note saying how much he and Jean meant to me, and hoped he was well. He sent me a hand-written letter back saying, yes, those were the days. Jean had died a few years earlier, and he was enjoying his retirement, sailing the small sailboats of his youth once again, with other old-timers trying to recapture the thrill of their sophomoric indiscretions and elations.
And we're all still trying to recapture them, aren't we?
The perfect mix of blue-collar, white-collar, and popped-collar.
Our celebrated on-going portrait series showcasing Old's Cool, Newport:
Curtis Speer, Cusp Gallery
I asked my brand-new buddy Curtis if I could come by to take some shots of our hot-off-the-press tackle-twill NEWPORT rugby, in classic navy, and he couldn't have said yes fast enough.
Don't just talk, talk, talk, about supporting local–do something about it. And you don't have to spend any money:
1. Stop in a new neighborhood business and just say hi.
2. Follow/like them on social media.
3. Join their mailing list.
4. Tell your friends about them.
Curtis is going to be hosting a "Cusp until Dusk" cocktail hour every Friday starting June 10th–his gallery's on the corner of Spring and Broadway.
Door's always open, figuratively speaking.
Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night...
Dena's such an integral part of the Old's Cool team and family, I have to make a conscious effort every time she stops by the studio not to take her and her smile for granted.
Especially with the upcoming craziness of the holidays, let's not forget to be generous with and grateful for the personal gifts of loyalty and cheer that literally knock on our front door every day.
And that business isn't business, it's people.
Thanks, mailman girl, yuda bess!
A boy and his dog.
Life without art is a mistake.
Hanging out with my buddies Andre and Kiko at Mariner Gallery in Newport.
Corner of Spring and Gidley.
I've known Boz for almost thirty years and he's one of the best (and fastest) men I've ever met. We used to ride motorcycles together back in the day, up, over and through the Taconic Hills. And then came the racing cars.
Fun, fun times. A class act all the way.
Classic cars are wicked cool
Popped by Audrain Concours this morning and it was a stunning day of gorgeous machinery, beautiful people and seaside sunshine–hat's off to the whole crew for putting on an inspiring and classy first-water spectacular.
But our biggest thrill was bumping into David de Muzio, Audrain's Executive Director, who, underneath it all, seems to be a big fan of ours.
Thanks for representing, man!