The Surf to keep its name — sort of

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 7:15pm

The historic Surf Hotel is keeping its name and its iconic sign on the building. The hotel, built in 1876, whose name is featured on its Dodge Street-facing façade is in the hands of new ownership that is renovating the property.

Rob Blood, CEO of Lark Hotels in emails responding to questions from The Times about the properties, said that his company purchased both the Surf Hotel and The Gables Inn, which they are developing as one resort called the Block Island Beach House. Lark plans on making changes to those properties, including developing land behind the Gables, and going through the process of installing a pool behind that property, which is also located on Dodge Street, Blood said. 

“Both have a long history of great hospitality on the island,” said Blood. “From these two properties we are developing a resort called the Block Island Beach House. The Surf will continue to be called the Surf and will be part of the Block Island Beach House. We will offer very diverse lodging options from smaller rooms with amazing ocean views to two bedroom cottages, to family suites. Our goal is to create a property where people can come for generations.”

Blood said his company always intended to keep the name, but when people call to book a room “the phone will be answered: Block Island Beach House. Then guests will select where they would like to stay,” either at “The Surf (33 rooms, dining, beach bar, boutique), Surfside Cottages and Suites, the Grove (undeveloped land behind the Gables) with two bedroom cottages, the poolside cottages and the Gables rooms and suites. So the building that is currently called the Surf Hotel will be referred to as the Surf, within the collection of all of the other options that people will have for lodging, but the phone will be answered with the overreaching resort name — Block Island Beach House.”

“We realize that the Surf is an important part of the history of the island, and has a special place in the heart of many generations of visitors, so we want to honor that and respect it but also show that we're moving things forward in a way that will ensure that its place on the island will be sustained for many more generations,” said Blood. The property is advertised as the Block Island Beach House on the Lark Hotels website.  

Rich Cooper, a developer for Lark Hotels, was present at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Historic District Commission during which the project was discussed, told The Times that, “The sign stays. We love the sign. Everyone will always call it the Surf Hotel.”

“We love the old buildings. We put a shine on them,” said Cooper, who noted that his company refurbished a historic building called the Wesley Hotel in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard for Lark Hotels a few years ago. That property, however, was renamed Summercamp. Cooper said the Wesley Hotel was known for being haunted, just like the Surf Hotel.

Cooper said the Surf Hotel would also have the Block Island Beach House sign affixed to it. He did not know where the sign would be located on the property. The design elements for that sign will require approval from the HDC as the building resides in the historic district.

Cooper attended the HDC meeting along with Michael Abbott and Glenn Gardiner, the architects spearheading the $1.2 million renovation project. Abbott told The Times that there would not be wholesale renovations made to the building for this summer season, but the plan was to complete the project for the following summer.

The HDC granted unanimous approval (4-0) of modifying the hotel’s first floor deck for ADA compliance, installation of a lift on the porch, adding railings, replacing windows with doors on the second floor, and removing two chimneys, among a few other items. HDC Vice Chair Martha Ball made the motion that was seconded by Mark Vaillancourt. Arlene Tunney and Mike Ballard were absent.

During her motion, Ball noted that The Surf was an “iconic building” that was built in several stages. The commission noted that its sign would remain on the front façade of the building.

After reviewing the contractor’s application, HDC Chair Bill Penn asked the million-dollar question: “How are you going to reconcile keeping the sign if you rename the hotel? The hotel was built in 1876, and it’s been a part of the island’s culture ever since.”

“That’s why the sign is going to remain,” said Abbott, who noted that the Biltmore in downtown Providence is changing its name, but will still have the Biltmore name on its façade.

“Well, I’m glad to see that the Surf Hotel sign will remain,” said Penn.

“I think everybody should know that,” said Vaillancourt.

Penn said letters to the editor were submitted to The Block Island Times requesting that the name remain. He said he learned the hotel would keep its name when he reviewed the applicants’ plans. “It was a wonderful surprise.”

Abbott told The Times that, “The developer has always been sensitive to the name change. He decided to keep the name when we looked at it historically, and made the decision to keep the existing Surf Hotel sign on the building.”