via Newport Daily News

NEWPORT — When people remember dining at the “LaForge restaurant” during the first half of the 20th century, they recall enjoying their meals on a large wrap-around porch at 7 Touro Park West, which is at the corner of Pelham Street, according to people old enough to remember.

Margot Droual, who worked for proprietor Maddalena LaForge until 1955, knew firsthand about that restaurant.

“It was a big porch, lots of room for a fancy dining room,” she said.

The earliest listing for a LaForge Tea Room at 194 Bellevue Ave., in the Casino building, is in the 1930 city directory, which may be viewed in the Newport Historical Society library at 82 Touro St. Later directories have the establishment sometimes listed as the LaForge Tea Room and Candy Shop.

Droual is familiar with the evolution of the tea room and candy shop on Bellevue Avenue into a restaurant serving meals, and the close connection it had to the LaForge Cottages that began offering meals much earlier and also were operated by Maddalena LaForge.

The origins of the La Forge Casino Restaurant on Bellevue Avenue have been a subject of local discussion since co-owner Peter Crowley announced last week that the Crowley family would be selling the landmark. Nicholas Schorsch of New York City, who owns the nearby Audrain Building and the Hopedene mansion on the Cliff Walk, is the buyer, according to an application to transfer the victualing license to two firms of which he is the sole owner.

Brendan O’Donnell of Portsmouth will be the senior managing director of the restaurant, according to the application, and Matthew Jones of Middletown is the other director involved in taking over the restaurant. They have scheduled a press conference at La Forge for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., to discuss their plans for the restaurant.

Michael Crowley, the father of Peter Crowley, took over ownership and operation of the restaurant in 1963, when he purchased the business.

But its history is older than that, as Droual knows from her association with Maddalena LaForge, and she is backed up by records in the city assessor’s office as well as the Newport Historical Society. Some information came from the obituary of LaForge, who died in February 1960.

Her husband was Phillippe LaForge, a native of France, who began LaForge Cottages in 1889 with a single unit in the large home that is at 7 Touro Park West. Maddalena LaForge is soon listed as a co-operator and later owner in city directories. The business later was expanded to include several other homes in the same area that became known as the LaForge Cottages.

Other early cottages included 5 Touro Park West and 123 Pelham St. In 1920, the LaForges purchased 96 Pelham St., as the fourth property of LaForge Cottages. The homes at 5 and 7 Touro Park West and 96 Pelham St. all were included on one big, contiguous lot in those years, according to city assessor’s records.

The lot was subdivided in later decades when sales of the homes took place.

After Phillipe LaForge died in 1929, Maddalena LaForge was assisted in running the business by her brother, Harry Fantini, according to her obituary.

The LaForge Cottages were famous for their meals and always had French chefs and pastry chefs to do the cooking, Droual said. The LaForge Tea Room on Bellevue Avenue in the early years was not serving meals, she said.

The main LaForge cottage at 5 Touro Park West was purchased by attorney Cornelius “Connie” Moore in March 1949, according to records in the city assessor’s office. He removed the large wrap-around porch that served as a dining area for the LaForge restaurant when he converted it to his family home, Droual said.

Moore bought the next-door LaForge Cottage at 7 Touro Park West in July 1957, according to records at the Newport Historical Society and in the assessor’s office.

The 96 Pelham St. cottage would become the main LaForge cottage after 7 Touro Park West was sold, Droual said. The full kitchen in the basement provided hot meals for the LaForge restaurant on Bellevue Avenue beginning in 1949 after the sale, she said.

“We would send up meals daily,” she said. “We provided soups and luncheons. I was up there quite often. The chefs would send up both breakfast and luncheons. There were no dinners at the time. It was the place to meet.”

Maddalena LaForge regularly went to New York City to buy chocolates for the LaForge restaurant, Droual said.

The LaForge Cottages were mentioned in the Thornton Wilder novel “Theophilus North,” which later was made into the movie “Mr. North,” Droual said.

Among the prominent people she remembers going to the LaForge Tea Room was actress Grace Kelly, who later became the princess of Monaco.

From their early history on, the LaForge Cottages catered to Newport’s summer colony, including the members of “the 400,” and offered both seasonal and year-round accommodations, Droual said.

Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, wife of William Backhouse Astor Jr., reportedly had a list of the only 400 people who could be counted as members of “Fashionable Society.” That was also the number of people who could be accommodated in the grand ballroom at the Astors’ Beechwood mansion on Bellevue Avenue.

Guests invited to Newport by mansion owners often stayed at the LaForge Cottages, Droual said.

Among the later guests who stayed there was Perle Mesta, a socialite known as the “hostess with the mostest” because of her lavish parties, Droual said.

Droual remembers descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne, who built The Breakers in 1893-1895, staying at LaForge Cottages, even though the mansion was available to them.

Countess Gladys Laszlo Szechenyi, daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, stayed there in later years, Droual said. She inherited The Breakers and leased the mansion in 1948 to the Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 a year. She maintained an apartment on the third floor, but sometimes preferred to stay at LaForge Cottages, Droual said. The Preservation Society bought the mansion in the early 1970s.

Szechenyi’s daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary, also stayed at LaForge Cottage, along with other notable guests like Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale and William F. Buckley, Droual said.

Maddalena LaForge sold three of the cottages that later became private homes.

In 1960, she sold 96 Pelham St., to Louis and Margot Droual, who continued to operate it as LaForge Cottage, with 10 guest suites and rooms, until it was sold in 2005. The building is now operated as the Newport Blues Inn.

In the late 1950s, LaForge sold the LaForge Restaurant on Bellevue Avenue to two women, who ran it briefly until selling it to the Perrotti family, Droual said. It was the Perrottis who sold the restaurant to Michael Crowley in 1963.

The Crowleys expanded the restaurant to include the area where the bar is now located, and toward the back to the area overlooking an International Tennis Hall of Fame grass court. Michael Crowley also expanded the establishment’s name to the La Forge Casino Restaurant.