The Breakers in Newport

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks

The Breakers in Newport © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Breakers in Newport © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island on the Atlantic Ocean. The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1994, and is a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District. It is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County and is open for visitation on a year-round basis. The Breakers was built as the Newport summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy . It is built in an architectural style based on the Italian Renaissance. Designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt, with interior decoration by Jules Allard and Sons and Ogden Codman, Jr., the 70-room mansion has a gross area of 125,339 square feet (11,644.4 m2) and 62,482 square feet (5,804.8 m2) of living area on five floors. The house was constructed between 1893 and 1895. The Ochre Point Avenue entrance is marked by sculpted iron gates and the 30-foot-high (9.1 m) walkway gates are part of a 12-foot-high (3.7 m) limestone-and-iron fence that borders the property on all but the ocean side. The footprint of the house covers approximately 1 acre (4,000 m2) of the 14 acres (5.7 ha) estate on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is one of the most visited house museums in America and in 2016 had 472,700 visitations.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II purchased the grounds in 1885 for $450,000 ($12.0 million today). When the previous mansion on the property owned by Pierre Lorillard IV burned on November 25, 1892, Vanderbilt commissioned famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to rebuild it in splendor. Vanderbilt insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible and as such, the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the boiler be located away from the house, in an underground space below the front lawn. The designers created an interior using marble imported from Italy and Africa, and rare woods and mosaics from countries around the world. It also included architectural elements (such as the library mantel) purchased from chateaux in France. Expansion was finally finished in 1892.

The Breakers in Newport © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0 The Breakers in Newport © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-3.0 Garden flower beds at The Breakers © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0 The Breakers from the front drive © Adains/cc-by-2.5 Kitchen © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0 Great Hall © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0 Library © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Garden flower beds at The Breakers © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0
The Breakers is the architectural and social archetype of the Gilded Age, a period when members of the Vanderbilt family were among the major industrialists of America. In 1895, the year of its completion, The Breakers was the largest, most opulent house in the Newport area. It represents the taste of an American upper class—socially ambitious but lacking a noble pedigree—who were determined to imitate and surpass the European aristocracy in lifestyle; a taste and ambition which was cynically noted by many members of the European upper-classes. However, this cynicism, coupled with assumptions of vulgarity, was not so deeply rooted that it prevented the daughters of these lavish houses and their associated dollars from marrying into the European aristocracy. Vanderbilt died from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a second stroke in 1899 at the age of 55, leaving The Breakers to his wife, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She outlived her husband by 35 years and died at the age of 89 in 1934. In her will, The Breakers was given to her youngest daughter, Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886–1965), essentially because Gladys lacked American property. Also, none of Alice’s other children were interested in the property, while Gladys had always loved the estate. The Breakers survived the great New England Hurricane of 1938 with minimal damage and minor flooding of the grounds. In 1948, Gladys leased the high-maintenance property to The Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 per year. The Preservation Society bought The Breakers and approximately 90% of its furnishings in 1972 for $365,000 ($2.1 million today) from Countess Sylvia Szapary, the daughter of Gladys. However, the agreement with the Society granted life tenancy to the Countess Szapary. Upon her death in 1998, The Preservation Society agreed to allow the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public. It is now the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island with approximately 400,000 visitors annually and is open year-round for tours.

The pea-gravel driveway is lined with maturing pin oaks and red maples. The trees of The Breakers’ grounds act as screens that increase the sense of distance between The Breakers and its Newport neighbors. Among the more unusual imported trees are two examples of the Blue Atlas Cedar, a native of North Africa. Clipped hedges of Japanese yew and Pfitzer juniper line the tree-shaded foot paths that meander about the grounds. Informal plantings of arbor vitae, taxus, Chinese juniper, and dwarf hemlock provide attractive foregrounds for the walls that enclose the formally landscaped terrace. The grounds also contain several varieties of other rare trees, particularly copper and weeping beeches. These were hand-selected by Ernest W. Bowditch, a landscape architect and civil engineer based in the Boston area. Bowditch’s original pattern for the south parterre garden was determined from old photographs and laid out in pink and white alyssum and blue ageratum. The wide borders paralleling the wrought iron fence are planted with rhododendron, mountain laurel, dogwoods, and many other flowering shrubs that effectively screen the grounds from street traffic and give visitors a feeling of seclusion.

Read more on The Preservation Society of Newport County – The Breakers and Wikipedia The Breakers (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.



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