Friday, June 21, 2024

Was there ever gambling at The Casino at Roger Williams Park? We found out

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Roger Williams Park is one of those sprawling places that seemingly has it all.  

There’s the zoo, obviously, that brings people in from all over to see the red pandas, elephants, snow leopards and so much more. There’s the Botanical Center with the largest indoor public garden in New England. There’s the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, the rose garden, the Japanese garden, the Temple of Music, the carousel, the swan boats and the list goes on.  

And then, there’s The Casino, which sparked the interest of one What and Why RI reader.  

“Was there ever a casino at Roger Williams Park? If not, why is it called the Casino?” a What and Why RI reader wrote in asking. “How about Newport, the one that’s near the tennis museum, why is that called casino? 

The Casino at Rogers Williams Park  

The Casino is one of the stateliest buildings at the park.  

Built in 1896, architect Edwin T Banning designed it in the Colonial Revival style with classic Ionic columns, a prick façade and verandas that look out over the lake.  

The building was built for the park. At the time, the urban-park movement was in full swing, pushing communities to create public spaces. Betsey Williams, the great-great granddaughter of Roger Williams, donate the 102-acre space to the Providence in 1871, and seven years later, Chicago-based Horace W.S. Cleveland presented his plans to for the park, according to the Providence Preservation Society. 

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The Casino was designed as a public space for socializing, not for gambling.  

“The Roger Williams Park Casino was named after the Italian term ‘casino,’ meaning ‘little house,’ rather than for gambling,” said Josh Estrella, a spokesman for the city of Providence. “This term originates from Venetian culture, where some families had small, separate houses called ‘casinos’ for social events and short getaways near their primary residences.” 

The building is still used for social events today and is available for rent.  

What about the Newport Casino? 

As you’ve probably guessed, the former Newport Casino, located on Bellevue Avenue and currently home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, was named using the same definition of casino.  

Opened in 1880, it was primarily a social club for Newport’s elite. In one of the episodes of The Gilded Age, the characters paid a visit to the Newport Casino for their scheming. And yes, they did film those scenes on location at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  

What and Why RI is a weekly feature by The Providence Journal to explore our readers’ curiosity. If you have a question about Rhode Island, big or small, email it to klandeck@gannett.comShe loves a good question.

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