NEWPORT — Neighbors in the former Fifth Ward are rallying for community support to restore the Stone Slide at Murphy Field, a city landmark that dates back to 1935 when it was built as part of a New Deal program.

The stone structure that hosts the slide is now fenced off and is so decrepit that the Rogers High School football team is no longer allowed to use the storage room beneath the roof. The team's blocking pads and other equipment lie strewn in the field in front of it.

“We’d like to get a lot of open support for this project from the community,” said Ann Finn of Carroll Avenue. “As soon as we start talking about the need to restore the stone slide, people get so excited.”

She met Sunday morning with Katie Dugan, a neighbor who also lives on Carroll Avenue, and Dugan’s son, Kieran, 10, a fifth-grader at Thompson Middle School.

“Everyone has so many childhood memories of the Stone Slide,” Dugan said.

Dugan and Finn have planned a community dinner for Sunday, Aug. 19, at Murphy Field to bring as many people on board the restoration effort and upcoming fundraising drive as possible. Set-up for the dinner begins at 5 p.m. and a formal dinner bell will ring at 6 p.m.

"Bring a small table to dine at, your chairs, plates, utensils, dinner, beverages, candelabras or other table-scape decorations,” says the Facebook page they set up. “Prizes will be awarded!”

“We want it to be as elaborate, comical or simple as people want it to be,” Dugan said.

The park prohibits alcohol though, so hold the wine and beer accompaniments to the meal.

Members of the Rogers football team will be on hand to help people unload their vehicles.

Kids activities and music are planned and the event will end at 9 p.m. People are encouraged to bring a basketball, a kickball, tennis racquets and other items to play with in the park. The rain date is the following day, Monday, Aug. 20.

“We’re hoping for a great turnout and no rain,” Finn said.

T-shirts that say, "Save the Slide,” are available at the Facebook page called “Friends for the Restoration of the Stone Slide at Murphy Field.” Besides the money for the T-shirt, people are encouraged to make an additional donation toward the project, Dugan said.

Dugan and Finn have met with Mayor Harry Winthrop, City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., and Director of Public Works William R. Riccio Jr., and found all of them to be receptive to the structure's restoration.

“We don’t have any funding in the capital budget for this project, but we put out a request for proposals to see what it would cost,” Nicholson said Sunday.

The proposals from firms are due back at City Hall by Aug. 29.

“It’s a great thing the neighbors are doing,” Nicholson said. “The city will step up and do what it can once we figure out what the costs are and what has to be done for the project to take place.”

“Clearly this is a historic structure that we will not tear down,” Winthrop said. “We all want to fix it. It always moves things along when there is fundraising and an initiative behind an effort. I’m looking forward to working with everyone on this project.”

“It’s an important iconic feature in the city,” Nicholson said. “If you grew up in the city, you are certainly aware of the stone slide and the Rich and what they mean to people. My grandparents lived about four streets over on Lucas Avenue and I was there often as a kid. My last recollection of being on the slide was after a dance at Gooseberry Beach when I was a freshman [at Rogers High School].”

The park has been known historically as Richmond field, or more accurately “The Rich,” since Mary E. Richmond was the last owner of the land before the city acquired it from the executor of her will in 1913.

Newporters have long memories.

Richmond Field officially was renamed the "Michael G. Murphy Memorial Field" in November 1933 in memory of a Newport soldier killed in World War I, according to a Newport Daily News story located by City Historian Patrick F. Murphy.

Michael Murphy, a first cousin of Patrick Murphy’s father, was a member of the 319th Machine Gun Battalion and was killed in action during the Argonne Forest offensive in October 1919, just a few weeks before the war ended.

City Recreation Commission Supervisor Arthur Leland designed the stone slide structure and used materials salvaged from city property, according to a 1935 historical document from Patrick Murphy. The construction  labor was provided by a Federal Emergency Relief Administration program.

“The field house is 16 ft. by 16 ft. with a flat roof,” the document says. “In the large room there is an open fire place for use in winter, and for bacon and corn roasts for the children. It can be used as a dressing room, as a club and class room, and for other recreational purposes.”

There was drinking bubbler in the room as well.

“The slide was a mixture of marble dust, chips and Portland cement and is an original idea of Mr. Leland’s, which has value as a slide for it is as smooth as glass,” the document says. “Under the stairs, there is a room equipped with a lavatory, toilet and shower bath for girls, and under the slide is a room for a boys' shower and toilet.”

The functioning toilets are long gone.

When the original marbleized surface of the slide cracked, the city at some point coated it with smoothed concrete.

Sliding on concrete, even smoothed, doesn’t sound like much of a ride, but kids would bring waxed paper to sit on and get some speed, Finn said. The more kids using waxed paper, the smoother the surface became.

“It was great exercise,” Finn said. “Kids would fly down the slide, run around the slide and structure to the other side, climb back up the stairs and repeat that again and again.”

Leland also designed a similar stone slide structure at Vernon Park, but Leland said in a 1935 article that the Richmond Field structure was an “improved” version from the first one.

The city did some work on the stone slide at Vernon Park in recent years, but the Murphy Field project has to be approached as a new one, Nicholson said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they raised enough money to allow us to get this project done,” Councilwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said of the community effort on Sunday. “Maybe we can meet them halfway. It’s always better for a project like this when there is a group behind it. We as a council look at it very favorably.”

 sflynn@newportri.com