Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue an Architectural Achievement

Touro Synagogue from the Loeb Visitors Center

Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. had worked with NCA since 1998 to design a Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue. The concept makes the oldest synagogue in the U.S. more accessible to the public and celebrates the diverse society that lived in Newport during the 18th century.

 

Loeb Visitors Center consists of a newly constructed limestone clad two-story building on the site of a former storage building and a historic residence that will be restored to its original state. Both structures frame a public plaza and will house classrooms, exhibits, gift shop, reception area and restrooms. In addition, Patriot’s Park has been completely redesigned to form a public pathway between the visitors center and the historic site.

 

The historic Touro Synagogue's interior

Peter Harrison, Newport’s first architect, designed Touro Synagogue in 1763 in the Palladian style.  Today, Touro Synagogue remains the oldest synagogue in continuous operation in the New World. More importantly, its classic proportions based on the buildings of the 14th century Italian architect, Andreas Palladio, became the hallmark for America’s future civic and government buildings. 

 

Built across from Newport’s town spring that bordered the eastern edge of bustling Washington Square, Touro Synagogue was truly a centerpiece of early Colonial life. When George Washington penned a letter in 1790 to the Touro congregation describing America’s support and tolerance of all religions, Touro Synagogue became the physical manifestation of religious freedom.   

 

Creatively arranged stairwell

The new Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. Visitors Center is bold in both its translation of the synagogue’s Palladian forms to a larger scale and of its orchestrated use of limestone in an otherwise wood and brick Colonial context.  The style of the new building uniquely combines both classical and local history. The arched windows and patterned upper story nod to the styling of colonial architect Peter Harrison, whose work includes the synagogue and numerous other 18th century Newport structures. Built with traditional Indiana limestone, the building echoes the majesty of the monuments in our nation’s capital, and at the same time respects the colonial context with both modest scale and placement along the street edge. The 3,000 gsf building, designed by Holly Grosvenor, AIA, of Newport Collaborative Architects, Inc., harkens back to Beaux Arts classicism. “We have designed an edifice that completes the urban Spring Street edge while at the same time creates a public gathering space for visitors and scholars to view Touro Synagogue from the site of the ancient town spring,” says Grosvenor.  Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the new building is its adroit ability to both stand out in its innovative use of traditional materials while at the same time blend in both its simple massing and juxtaposition to the original town square.  The large archway at entrance embraces the visitor, a simple and timeless gesture to heralding entry and a new beginning. The new visitors center is a true welcome to an amazing aspect of Colonial history.

 

Loeb Visitors Center

At a recent private event arranged by the Newport Architectural Forum's Ross Cann, guests toured both the distinguished newLoeb Visitors Center, and the historic Touro Synagogue, where they viewed a seat once occupied by both Presidents George Washington and John F. Kennedy.  Bea Ross was the knowledgeable commentator, and Ambassador Loeb and  Douglas Stark spoke at the Center which will reopen in June to visitors.

 

 

Ambassador John L. Loeb onscreen

Director of Economic Development for Newport Jonathan Stevens

Speaking to reception guests

Ambassador Loeb

Holly Grosvenor describes the architectural process

Douglas Stark, Museum Director, Alex Allardt, and Ross Cann

 

Loeb Visitors Center

 

Loeb Visitors Center

 

Reading an installation

 

An historical vignette with sound narrative

Ambassador John L. Loeb with Ruth Orthwein

 

 

Curator David Kleiman

 

Touro Synagogue Interior

 

The newly landscaped Patriots Park

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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