2018-06-21 / Front Page

Fort Getty buildings pass the eye test

Council: Blueprints capture rustic feel for gatehouse, lower restroom
BY TIM RIEL


Architect Don Powers created this design to preserve the integrity of the historic building. This lower restroom originally housed gas-powered generators during World War I. Architect Don Powers created this design to preserve the integrity of the historic building. This lower restroom originally housed gas-powered generators during World War I. After sending the architect back to the drawing board, the town councilors unanimously approved a preliminary design for the Fort Getty gatehouse and lower restrooms.

“I like these two very much,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said. “It captures the vocabulary of the pavilion. I think they’re handsome.”

Jamestown architect Don Powers, founding principal of Union Studio in Providence, was hired in February for $18,000 to design these buildings. During his previous presentation in May, the councilors told him to change direction from the shingle-style scheme to a rustic look, which Meagher said better reflects Fort Getty’s military history.

“It’s a rugged place that takes a beating,” she said. “The pavilion is the better reference.”

Powers unveiled his new designs Monday night. Along with being “considerably less expensive,” the updated plan for the restroom preserves the original structure to make it identifiable. He consulted with the Jamestown Historical Society during this process. During research, it was determined the restroom originally was a generator building from the turn of the 20th century. The gas-powered system provided the power to lift 12-inch shells from the lower level to the top of the battery, according to American Legionnaire Dennis Webster.

While the plans ultimately were forwarded to the next stage, historians did identify a handful of issues with the design. Webster recommended Powers maintain

“a more faithful restoration of the generator building,” including using original door sites and installing asphalt shingles. Also, if the town wanted to bypass the natural brick color for the white paint, he suggested shades that were common during World War I.

“Try to use paint colors that were used at that time,” he said.

Jim Buttrick, vice president of the historical society, also made recommendations. Among them, he suggested minimal accessories.

“One of the virtues, and one of the challenges, of this building is that it is so simple,” he said. “Being so simple, it is hard to preserve its character and do anything to it. It’s basically a shape with some materials.”

Buttrick recommended natural unpainted bricks, black or gray trim and no porch. Like Webster, he also preferred shingles that replicate slate opposed to contemporary shingles.

“This building has an interesting story to tell,” he said. “Leave the building as close to what it was originally, add what you need to add, but don’t add anything else.”

In response to the historians, Powers said there was a balance between “an archaeological reconstruction and absolute sacredness.”

“History is history, but there’s also history since that history,” he said. “We want to respect the original structure without it being historically frozen in time.”

Unlike the historic generator building, there was less discussion about the gatehouse. The main goal, Powers said, is efficiency for workers.

Andy Wade, who oversees the parks department, said it is not a functional workspace. He also said it “sets a negative tone” for visitors entering the waterfront park. The most contentious proposal for the gatehouse would be relocating it farther east down Fort Getty Road.

Powers now will apply some of the recommendations to further design the buildings and get a preliminary cost estimate.

“I’m glad we were sent back to the drawing board,” Powers said.

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