Ocean House

Before it was demolished and rebuilt, the Ocean House was one of the few surviving 1800s seaside resort hotels in RI

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

In 2004, an out-of-state developer, Girouard Associates, purchased the aging and failing Ocean House property with the intent of erecting five luxury homes on its 11 oceanfront acres. Part time summer residents of Watch Hill, Charles and Deborah Royce, optioned the property after much local pressure to save the elegant and iconic hotel.

A ground-up reconstruction of the hotel was needed, as the craftsmanship of the mid-1800s did not hold up well after years and years of neglect or substandard repairs. Many of the iconic features were built again almost exactly the same as the older structure, namely the entrance flanked by columns and a deep porch. The massing and mansard roof details also remained. Thousands of furniture pieces were saved including the reception desk, phone booth, and stone fireplace, which was dismantled and resembled stone by stone.

The rear of the property facing the ocean, however, was rethought and redesigned to provide the maximum amount of sun exposure and ocean views. A below-ground parking structure was added to reduce the visual pollution that a parking lot would have created.

While the old hotel had 150 rooms, the newly configured hotel boasts 49 guest rooms, 18 condo-style suites, and 5 off-site cottages, ranging from two-bedroom bungalows to sprawling 6,000-square-foot estates. With fewer rooms, though, the hotel is also larger — 50,000 square feet larger than the original at 156,000 square feet total.

This renovation and redevelopment was the first such endeavor by the couple. It must have been rewarding and lucrative, because the couple formed a hospitality firm and renovated other historic properties in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Sources:

  • “A Grande Dame Hotel Is Reborn in Rhode Island,” Pilar Guzmán for Conde Nast, June 23 2014. Captured April 6, 2021 from https://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-06-24/the-renovated-ocean-house-watch-hill-rhode-island
  • Ocean House on Wikipedia, captured April 6, 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_House,_Rhode_Island

#Current Events

Modern photos and details of the amenities available at the Ocean House RI website. The redeveloped hotel achieved the first and only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star ranking in the state.

#History

From the Watch Hill Historic District nomination form, prepared by Robert 0. Jones, Jr., 1985

59 Bluff Avenue Ocean House (1867-68, altered and enlarged 1903): A huge, complexly massed clapboard structure set on a hillside site overlooking Block Island Sound. The original portion, near Bluff Avenue, comprises two perpendicular 3 1/2-story, mansard-roof wings with modillion cornices. At the intersection of these wings there is a 5 1/2-story tower with a modillion cornice and a tall hip roof pierced by hipped dormers. Two 4-story, parallel wings with low-pitch hip roofs run back to the southeast from the L-shaped portion of the building, rising above the hillside on high basements.

The outer end of each wing contains a recessed, glazed porch at first-floor level. A columned Colonial Revival veranda, partly enclosed, runs along the southwesterly side and north westerly end of the building. The west end is also fronted by a 2-story, bow-front entrance portico with colossal Corinthian columns. The parallel, southeasterly wings were added in 1903, probably together with the veranda and portico.

The Ocean House was built for George M. Nash, whose father, lighthouse keeper Jonathan Nash, was the first person to take seasonal boarders at Watch Hill. The Ocean House is notable as one of the very few extant and functioning 19th-century resort hotels remaining in Rhode Island.

#In the News

Ocean House Under Attack

by Chelsea Phua
Providence Journal | (undated, likely from 2004)

The grand Victorian facade of Ocean House, with its columned porches, multipaned windows and architectural trimmings, has served as an icon for Watch Hill for more than a century. Now, a proposed zoning amendment aims to preserve the 136-year old hotel’s significant features and to give it a new lease on life by making it economically viable.

“It’s not just a building,” said Charles M. Royce, a New York investment adviser and Watch Hill summer resident who in May acquired an option to buy the hotel from Connecticut developer Richard Girouard. “It represents who we are as a society and a community,” Royce said at a joint Planning Board and Town Council work session Tuesday night, where the proposed zoning amendment was presented. Royce’s plans to save the Ocean House depend on the town’s approval of the proposed ordinance. A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7.

Girouard, of Girouard Associates Inc., from New Canaan, Conn., had planned to build five luxury homes on the site of the hotel. He bought the property on Bluff Avenue in March for nearly $13.2 million from heirs of the Louis D. Miller family – Michael Brankert, Stephen Brankert and the late Carol Brankert April, which had owned the hotel since 1938. The plan to demolish it sparked a “Save the Ocean House” effort by residents, tourists, elected officials and preservationists.

The draft ordinance seeks to rezone the property from low-density residential to shorefront commercial — Watch Hill. The zone change would allow the new owners to make renovations to preserve, restore or replicate the hotel’s historically defining features. Any changes made to the hotel would have to follow guidelines set by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. In addition, the owner could not build any structure that would limit the views of neighboring houses.

If passed, the ordinance would apply to other historic hotels such as the Watch Hill Inn and the Savoy Hotel downtown. As a “limited suite hotel,” according to the National Register of Historic Places, the Ocean House could convert up to 60 percent of its hotel rooms to 2-bedroom suites, which would generate more revenue than traditional single rooms. Thomas Liguori, Royce’s attorney, said that having spent “in the vicinity of $13 million,” it would make sense for the new owners to ensure that the hotel remains a viable economic source.

In recent years, the hotel’s crumbling foundation and general deterioration has affected its financial feasibility. Of the 154 guest rooms, only 59 could be rented. The hotel’s failure to meet the state’s new fire codes prevented it from opening this summer.