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Press Coverage

On this page, read press coverage about the Preservation Society's plans for a welcome center at The Breakers

On May 26, 2015, the Providence Journal offered this perspective on the welcome center debate:
Breakers Brouhaha


News stories have appeared about a private letter sent by the Preservation Society to members of the Vanderbilt family concerning complaints they made about the Breakers Welcome Center. That private letter was released to the news media today by the Vanderbilt family.  In the interests of full disclosure, here is the Preservation Society's letter.



Guest View:  Vanderbilt Criticism Unjustified

Newport Daily News, May 14, 2015



Preservation Society Responds to Vanderbilt Family Letter

May 5, 2015

 

 

There are press reports of a letter sent to the Board of Trustees of The Preservation Society of Newport County by some members of the Vanderbilt family. The letter is rife with inaccuracies, and it is regrettable that these inaccuracies have led some members of the family to be displeased with our stewardship and operations.

The Breakers is owned and operated by The Preservation Society of Newport County, an accredited museum of the American Alliance of Museums. The Vanderbilt family sold The Breakers to The Preservation Society of Newport County in 1972, with no restrictions, pledges or promises at "a premium price," according to the attorney who negotiated the sale. Since then the Society has spent over 20 million dollars preserving, restoring and maintaining the building. That expenditure continues today at a rate of about $1.5 million per year.

The Preservation Society's mission is to protect, preserve and present The Breakers and its other historic houses. There are many facets and manifestations to accomplishing this mission. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Preservation Society's interpretation of this National Historic Landmark is the most highly visitor-valued historic house experience in America. Attendance at The Breakers is at an all-time high and financial support for the Preservation Society has reached record levels, with more than $1,000,000 contributed to its Annual Fund in the fiscal year just ended.

This financial support enables important preservation projects. In the summer of 2014, with the support and approval of the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC), the Preservation Society undertook time-sensitive and essential preservation of the unique, historic underground boiler room of The Breakers. At the same time, previously damaged fence sections were removed for conservation and restoration. No permanent changes to the landscape occurred. No specimen trees were harmed by the fence removal. No other trees were removed except for those blocking access to the underground boiler room. Our goal is to open the boiler room to public tours in the future.

Future visitors will also benefit year-round from the planned welcome center at The Breakers, which has received every local and state approval. The RIHPHC said the welcome center "will not alter the historic character of The Breakers."

This year the Preservation Society is celebrating 70 years of exemplary stewardship. This includes acknowledging our founders and early supporters and their families through many communications channels, including social media. We have employed portraits of Alice Vanderbilt, wife of the builder; her daughter, the Countess Széchényi; and Katherine Warren, our founding leader. In 2014 members of the Vanderbilt family were paid $90,000 for the portrait of Countess Széchényi in question. The Preservation Society of Newport County owns that portrait. As we celebrate our 70th anniversary in 2015, the Preservation Society is showcasing this beautiful painting, paying homage to one of its earliest supporters.


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Preservation Society Gets Board's Approval
Newport Daily News, January 6, 2015

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The Preservation Society has recently sponsored a series of ads in the Newport Daily News and Newport This Week addressing some of the issues involved in the upcoming hearing before the Newport Zoning Board on its application for an amendment to the existing special use permit at The Breakers to allow construction of a welcome center.
You can click on the links below to learn more about each of these issues:

A Welcome Center - Not a Restaurant

A Welcome Center - Not a Precedent

A Welcome Center - For a Museum



September 6, 2014

Newport Daily News 09/06/2014, Page A01

PLAN CLEARS TWO HURDLES

By James A. Johnson

Staff writer

NEWPORT — A proposed welcome center at The Breakers cleared two hurdles this week.

The Preservation Society of Newport County received word Thursday evening that the proposed center on the grounds of the National Historic Landmark does not need the approval of the National Park Service.

Later Thursday night, the Newport Planning Board decided on a 5-3 vote that a special-use permit for the welcome center would be consistent with the goals and policies of the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The board’s advisory opinion will be sent to the Zoning Board of Review, which has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 29-30 on the application for that permit.

Word that the center does not require approval from the park service came in an email from J. Paul Loether, chief of the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks, to Trudy Coxe, chief executive officer and executive director of the Preservation Society. “This email will serve to confirm that the effort by the National Park Service to initiate the process of updating the historic documentation for The Breakers as a whole is focused solely on ensuring that said documentation is as thorough, accurate and current as possible,” Loether wrote.

The question of a review of The Breakers status was brought up by the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association, a strong opponent of the proposed welcome center. The association had questioned whether building the welcome center near the Gatehouse could put the landmark status of The Breakers into question.

James Moore, president of neighborhood association, also questioned whether the Gatehouse at The Breakers should be considered a contributing cultural resource to the mansion’s status as a National Historic Landmark and whether the location of the welcome center should be reviewed by the National Park Service.

Loether’s email made it clear that no such review is needed.

Andrea Carneiro, the Preservation Society’s communications manager, said the National Park Service is seeking more information about The Breakers caretaker’s cottage, the underground boiler room that recently was uncovered and the landscape.

Those features could enhance the designation of The Breakers as a National Historic Landmark, something the Preservation Society actively supports, she said Friday.

Thursday’s hearing before the Planning Board lasted about two hours, according to attorney William Landry, who represented the Preservation Society.

The Planning Board’s role was to advise the Zoning Board of Review on whether the welcome center

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is consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, Landry said.

“After listening to a number of witnesses, the board voted 5-3 that the proposal is consistent with that plan,” he said Friday.

Among those witnesses were architect Alan Joslin, the founder and principal of Epstein Joslin Architects in Cambridge, Mass.; and Dan Varin, former director of Statewide Planning. Both testified on behalf of the Preservation Society, Landry said.

Joslin described the welcome center and told the board how it would be buffered from the surrounding area.

Varin described how the proposal was consistent with the land use plan in terms of promoting cultural and heritage tourism, especially year round. Landry said he testified that the center would provide more dignified and comfortable facilities at The Breakers without having an adverse impact on the surrounding area.

“A lot of people said a lot of things, but that is the upshot of it,” Landry said. “The Zoning Board will have a wider range of issues than those addressed by the Planning Board. This was an important piece of the puzzle.”

Efforts to seek comment from Moore were unsuccessful. He did not respond to telephone and email messages left by The Daily News on Friday.

Johnson@NewportRI.com


August 7, 2014
Welcome Center Appeal Rejected
The Newport Daily News

July 19, 2014
Visitor Center Suit Tossed Out
The Newport Daily News

February 4, 2014
Our View: Breakers Plan Wins Vindication
The Newport Daily News

January 28, 2014
City Zoning Board Paves Way for Welcome Center
The Newport Daily News

January 7, 2014
Delay of Welcome Center Appeal Denied
The Newport Daily News

January 2, 2014
Zoning Board Gets Preview of Arguments
The Newport Daily News

October 12, 2013
Guest View: Existing Welcome Center Plan is Far Superior to 'Alternatives'
The Newport Daily News

September 16, 2013
Breakers Plan Merits 2nd Chance
The Newport Daily News

September 12, 2013
Give The Breakers a Break
Providence Journal

August 28, 2013
HDC Rejects Welcome Center Plan
The Newport Daily News

July 17, 2013
State Panels Gives OK to Project
The Newport Daily News

June 14, 2013
Breakers' Welcome Center Wins Preliminary Approval
Providence Business News

June 11, 2013
Proposal is Appropriate for Breakers
The Newport Daily News

April 30, 2013
Boffo for The Breakers
Providence Journal

Newport’s Gilded Age mansions are fabulous structures on gracious landscapes. No wonder these great houses are a major draw for tourists and source of pride for Newport residents. Thus, any proposed change to a mansion property generates concern, as well it should.

Plans to build a “welcome center” on the grounds of The Breakers, the most famous and grandiose of the Gilded Age mansions, have understandably raised questions. Let us say right off that the visitors center is much needed and the plans for it have been drawn with the utmost sensitivity to the site.

Some may ask: Why does The Breakers need a welcome center? Must it be on the property itself?

First, The Breakers serves as the “entry” mansion – the first house most tourists to Newport visit. That makes it the ideal mansion for a visitors center.

The building would offer education on the mansions as well as sell tickets to them. That’s now being done inelegantly on a tent at The Breakers – or, off-season, at an amusement-park-style booth. The center will provide restrooms, replacing the cheesy Porta-John trailer now on the grounds.

Some have suggested placing the welcome center in The Breakers parking lot, across Ochre Point Avenue from the mansion. But those spaces are precious, and the visitors center should be part of the mansion experience, not the parking experience.

The building’s design, by Epstein Joslin Architects, of Cambridge, is nothing less than superb. The low structure would blend into the landscape and not be visible from the avenue. As for its taking up green space, it helps to note that the 3,750 square foot building would not occupy much more area than the structures that the center will replace. And it’s a lot better looking.

Those who have visited other great houses in America and abroad understand that the accommodations at The Breakers are not up to snuff. Newport should offer a first-class experience, and not just for the pleasure of tourists.
The tent has generated $16 million of additional revenue since it first opened, in 2001. That money accounted for more than a third of the $42 million that the Preservation Society of Newport County has spent on preserving and maintaining its buildings over that time.

A visitors’ center offering intellectual content and help in planning a visit around Newport could raise even more revenues for the society. Equally important, it would make the mansions a greater draw for visitors, bringing more customers to Newport’s hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses.

Those still doubting the excellence of this plan should go to http://www.thebreakerswelcomecenter.org/ and see for themselves.

The relevant authorities in Newport should promptly approve the society’s plan and let the improvements begin.