The Breakers Welcome Center
F I N D I N G C O M M O N G R O U N D
An Open Letter to the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association
As the City of Newport's Zoning Board considers The Preservation Society of Newport County’s application for a special use permit at the Breakers, we’d like to make a proposal to the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA):
Let’s work together with the Zoning Board to craft a permit that preserves both the character of our community and the success of our businesses and institutions.
We share the Association’s commitment to protecting Newport’s unique residential areas, where for decades the historic house museums we operate have welcomed visitors in harmony with private homes and quiet neighborhoods.
It’s taken a delicate balance to make it all work, and the presence of these magnificent homes and gardens has helped sustain Newport’s attractiveness as not only a great place to live, but also a vibrant international destination.
The special use permit we seek creates the opportunity to assure that Newport’s balance of community and commercial concerns is sustained. We respect the need to define the limits and standards of food service within residential districts, and together we can make sure that museum visitor conveniences never threaten the success of restaurants operating in our city’s commercial districts.
We are not proposing a restaurant. We are proposing light refreshments--a basic, expected visitor amenity in museums around the world. We’ve offered limited fare for many years at The Elms and Marble House with zero negative impact on our neighbors. But we respect the special sensitivities of our museum locations within residential areas.
That’s why, for example, The Breakers welcome center as we propose it will have no kitchen, no dishwasher, no microwave oven. Only sandwiches and salads prepared offsite by local caterers will be provided. And we believe even this minimal level of food service should be restricted to sites with annual admissions of at least 100,000.
As we have offered in the past, we remain open to BOPNA’s suggestions. Getting the details right together, we can assure that the delicate balance that makes Newport special for residents and visitors is preserved. So let’s use the special use permitting process to come together on common ground.
That’s the future we’re all hoping for.
The Preservation Society of Newport County
Note: This letter was published in the Newport Daily News and Newport This Week on Thursday, August 14, 2014.
You can see the letter as published here.
Court Dismisses Bid to Block Breakers Welcome Center
(August 6, 2014) For the second time in less than a month, a Superior Court judge today has sided with The Preservation Society of Newport County, dismissing an appeal brought by the Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association seeking to block construction of a welcome center at The Breakers. The court ruled that the Association lacks legal standing to appeal a Zoning Board decision.
"We're delighted that the court has once again ruled in our favor," said Donald O. Ross, Chairman of the Preservation Society's Board of Trustees. "We believe that our proposal for a small, elegant welcome center at The Breakers is architecturally appropriate. Providing amenities like restrooms and simple refreshment services at a site with 400,000 annual visitors is a matter of basic customer service and human courtesy. We believe it is time for this small group of opponents to put an end to unwarranted court challenges which are wasting valuable time and resources."
BOPNA had sought to appeal the Zoning Board of Appeals decision which granted the Preservation Society a Certificate of Appropriateness for the welcome center.
It was the second legal victory for the Preservation Society. Last month, the court dismissed a separate lawsuit brought by BOPNA which sought to bypass Newport zoning officials and declare The Breakers a "non-conforming use" in order to prevent construction of the welcome center. Judge Bennett Gallo upheld the authority of the Newport Zoning Officer and the Zoning Board to rule on the project. Read the court's decision on the lawsuit here.
Newport Zoning Board of Review Reverses HDC Denial of Welcome Center
(March 10, 2014) The Newport Zoning Board of Review issued its
written decision upholding the Preservation Society's appeal and
reversing the Historic District Commission's denial of a Certificate of
Appropriateness for the welcome center. Click here to read the decision.
RIHPHC Affirms Its Approval of Welcome Center Project
(October 2, 2013) In a letter dated October 2, 2013, the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission has affirmed its July vote approving the Preservation Society’s plan for a new welcome center at The Breakers. In direct contradiction of an opinion by Newport Historic District Commission staff, the RIHPHC states that the plan is in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and National Park Service Guidelines, and will not alter the historic character of The Breakers. Read the RIHPHC decision.
Read statements of support from the Newport community, preservationists, museum, tourism and business leaders.
The Breakers Welcome Center Plan
The Preservation Society of Newport County is proud to announce plans for a welcome center at The Breakers commensurate with the property’s stature as an internationally recognized historic house museum and one of the five most visited historic houses in America. After a decade of work, the Preservation Society's Board of Trustees has selected a design by the architectural firm Epstein Joslin that meets sound historic preservation criteria while providing for the comfort and orientation needs of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit The Breakers from around the world annually. Having already been visited by 20 million guests, The Breakers is now a destination itself within Newport, Rhode Island and New England.
Recovery of the original character of the landscape at the entrance of The Breakers is a major feature of the project. The landscape design firm of Reed Hilderbrand has been commissioned to develop a plan to assess and protect the historic character of the site, including the preservation of historically significant specimen trees and plant and a rehabilitation of the perimeter landscape and historic path. Temporary structures added over the last 30 years will be removed, including an amusement park-style ticket booth, a portable restroom trailer, a vending machine shed, and a seasonal ticket tent.
The welcome center’s one-story design adopts the curving motif of the original landscape, incorporating garden architecture inspired by the period, employing energy-efficient and environmentally friendly concepts and materials. Adjacent to the existing service structure from the 1895 Richard Morris Hunt building campaign and embedded along a wooded pathway, the welcome center is situated to provide immediate access for visitors of all ages and abilities, including fully ADA-compliant facilities not always available at historic sites. Occupying a modest 3,650 square feet, the welcome center will offer visitors information about The Breakers, other properties of the Preservation Society and the city of Newport itself, along with refreshments and comfortable restrooms.
Construction techniques have been selected to ensure no irreversible alteration to the landscape occurs, no historic fabric is lost and the historic viewsheds – both inside and outside the grounds – are preserved. Also protected from any permanent alteration is the property’s unique historic underground boiler room and coal bunker complex. The welcome center’s colors and materials have been selected to work with the design and siting to screen the structure from The Breakers itself and from Ochre Point Avenue.