For some time now, I have followed the arguments, letters and legal proceedings for and against building the proposed Breakers welcome center on the grounds of the property. I understand that the project is close to starting. With the objectivity that distance allows, I can only conclude that the Preservation Society for Newport County has very much strayed from its primary mission to preserve and protect this incredible property.
Dollars are incredibly important to the sustainability of any nonprofit organization. But they should never come at the expense of the organization's primary mission. In this case, isn't that to preserve and protect the integrity of The Breakers and its once pristine grounds?
For the past many months, I have followed the arguments, letters and legal proceedings for and against building the proposed Breakers welcome center on the immediate grounds of the property. I now understand that the project and its ensuing demolition are close to starting. With the objectivity that distance allows, I can only conclude that by moving forward in this way, the Preservation Society of Newport County has very much strayed from its primary mission to preserve and protect this incredible property.
Dollars are incredibly important to the sustainability of any nonprofit organization. But they should never come at the expense of the organization's primary mission. In this case, isn't that to preserve and protect the integrity of The Breakers and its once-pristine grounds? To borrow a well-worn phrase, they don't make them like that anymore. In this case, literally.
The leadership of the Preservation Society is clearly more vested in defending its entrenched position and prevailing over the opinions of the Vanderbilt family, the Ochre Point neighborhood and the many friends of The Breakers, than in doing what is right for the true preservation of The Breakers.
It’s Time for Compromise
To the Editor:
It is unfortunate that the Preservation Society in Newport is not willing, like many institutions, to discuss situations when there is discord to work out a solution that will accommodate all sides. The current board and administration seems determined to build a Welcome Center next to The Breakers! In doing so, it seems that the only thing to gain is more animosity.
A perfect solution is to erect the building in the parking lot across the street, which has more than enough room, or to buy the house that the Preservation Society sold to Salve Regina years ago, located next to the parking lot. There are also other areas close to The Breakers that could be used.
The Preservation Society has spent money on attorneys that could have been used for preserving their properties and gardens that desperately need the funds for maintenance.
I have been a part of an opposition group, which was founded by Dorrance Hamilton. We feel strongly that the new facility should not be located on the historic Breakers property! It is time for the Preservation Society to meet with those who object to the placement of the center to find a solution for the good of the community.
I served the Preservation Society board for many years under the leadership of John Winslow and Jerry Slocum. We served the society, we met with people and listened to their concerns, and in so doing we always maintained the respect of the community and the donors.
Regrettably, it now seems as if the Preservation Society’s “silent board” will meekly acquiesce to this proposal, further damaging its reputation and relationship with the community, all because of stubbornness and an unwillingness to compromise. This is truly regrettable.
Mrs. John R. Donnell
(Source: Newport This Week)
Read the response written by Monty Burnham, Chairman of the Board at The Preservation Society of Newport County:
"Guest View: Newport Preservation Society Refuses to Negotiate a Compromise on Unpopular Breakers Proposal," feature in WhatsUp Newp
The Newport Preservation Society has refused to meet with The Friends of Newport Preservation to seek a compromise regarding the controversial proposal to build a party venue on the grounds of The Breakers, next to the gatehouse designed as part of the estate. In a letter to the chair of the Society board dated March 2 the community group had sought a meeting to discuss alternatives and find common ground. The olive branch was rejected by the Preservation Society.
“We are looking for a collaborative approach,” said Mary Joan Hoene of the Friends group. “We want to work together with the Preservation Society to make a plan that protects The Breakers and works for everyone. There’s no question that visitor services are needed, but the current scheme is poorly considered and contrary to the Society’s preservation mission.”
The group offered to share historic photo simulations focusing on the northwest quadrant of The Breakers’ property, the proposed location of the controversial new venue. Heritage Landscapes LLC, an internationally-recognized preservation landscape architecture and planning firm has carefully adapted photographs and records of the Vanderbilt Family, dating back to the early 20th century, to demonstrate what the landscape could look like if properly restored.
The Preservation Society refused a meeting in a terse, one-page letter.
FRIENDS OF NEWPORT PRESERVATION
March 2, 2017
Mrs. Richard “Monty” Burnham, Chair
The Preservation Society of Newport County
424 Bellevue Avenue Newport, RI 02840
Re: Restoration of the Landscape at The Breakers
We are pleased to let you know that we have some wonderful historic photo simulations of the landscape at The Breakers in the northwest quadrant of The Breakers, in the location proposed for the new welcome center. Heritage Landscapes LLC has carefully adapted photographs and records of the Vanderbilt Family, dating back to early in the 20th Century to demonstrate what the landscape could look like if properly restored.
These photo simulations are critical information that counters the representations and conclusions of the Society’s employees and experts, as framed in testimony and reports presented to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Historic Commission, and the Newport Historic District Commission, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Review. The Society’s flawed position is based on the current degraded condition of the area, the assumption that there is little historical context and data that would enable landscape restoration, the notion that the welcome center is necessary to meet services currently provided elsewhere at The Breakers, and the foregone conclusion that the welcome center will be built as proposed. This is truly unfortunate, as members of Vanderbilt Family and others could have provided information to the Society about the integrity of the landscape at The Breakers. That integrity is there. The landscape can be recovered from its diminishment over the years by nature, neglect and the presence of the visitor tent next to the Gatehouse. Regeneration and future maintenance do not need to require 50 staff, as in the old days, nor do the exact plantings have to be replaced to make the landscape as major an attraction as the house.
The first rule of preservation is to “do no harm.” The construction of the welcome center will do irrevocable harm to The Breakers.
"Breakers’ welcome center opponents petition for alternatives," feature in Providence Business News
BY MARY MACDONALD
PBN STAFF WRITER
NEWPORT – If you think the fight over The Breakers welcome center was called with the recent state Supreme Court decision to not consider the issue, well, not so fast. The court essentially allowed the Preservation Society of Newport County to proceed with its plans. But opponents have reorganized and are trying to encourage the society to reconsider.
A newly formed organization, Friends of Newport Preservation, has a Facebook page and has posted an online petition, trying to influence the Preservation Society to consider alternatives. The Preservation Society, which owns the famous Vanderbilt mansion, has said it plans to proceed with the construction of a welcome center on the grounds, aimed at the tourists and visitors who flock to tours of the mansion.
By Ronald Lee Fleming
Over 130 people turned out last week to begin the battle for the historic soul of Newport’s great mansions. On one side – the Preservation Society of Newport County, which has abandoned its core values for the lure of big bucks that an intrusive entertainment center may deliver. On the other – a community of people who care about The Breakers, and all our great landmarks, committed to preserving Newport’s historic integrity.
The fight is an unfortunate one, since the neighbors have already proposed, quite reasonably, to place the visitors’ center across the street, off the hallowed ground of The Breakers.
But the Preservation Society has something else in mind. There’s big money to be made by violating the integrity of The Breakers. Why else would they spend over $1 million on legal fees, public relations and a parade of consultants (with a fundraising target of $5.9 million) to obtain what they describe as mere bathrooms and vending machines? Bathrooms could have been upgraded long ago and placed in the parking lot. Newport’s other cultural organizations would happily collaborate on an information center in the commercial heart of our city with the digital sophistication seen at Monticello, benefiting downtown business and reducing traffic.
No. The goal, beyond toilets and tickets, is clearly a commercialized center to increase the Society’s bottom line, to the detriment of taxpaying businesses and the neighborhood. Once this happens at The Breakers, every landmark in Newport will be at risk for harmful development.
A battle for the historic soul of Newport's great mansions is underway. On one side - the Preservation Society of Newport County has abandoned its core values for the lure of big bucks that an intrusive entertainment center may deliver. On the other - a community of people who care about The Breakers, and all our great landmarks, committed to preserving Newport's historic integrity.
It is easy, but lazy and unfair, to cast this debate as "rich people fighting." Labeling objections "NIMBYism" - as your Jan. 17 editorial did ("A proper welcome for Breakers visitors") - is superficial and wrong. In fact, the neighbors have proposed, quite reasonably, to place the visitors' center across the street, off the hallowed ground of The Breakers.
Something else is happening. There's big money to be made by violating the integrity of The Breakers. Why else would the Preservation Society (PSNC) spend over $1 million on legal fees, public relations and a parade of consultants (and a fundraising target of $5.9 million) to obtain mere bathrooms and vending machines? Bathrooms could have been upgraded long ago, and placed in the parking lot. Newport's other cultural organizations would happily collaborate on a central information center with the digital sophistication seen at Monticello, benefiting tax-paying downtown business and reducing traffic.
By Sean Flynn
NEWPORT — About 130 people, including members of the Vanderbilt family, gathered at the La Forge Casino Restaurant on Thursday night to rally residents against constructing a welcome center on the grounds of The Breakers and to persuade trustees of the Preservation Society of Newport County to put it elsewhere.
A newly formed group called Friends of Newport Preservation, which opposes the Preservation Society’s intention to break ground for the welcome center in a few weeks, organized the gathering and a petition drive “to relocate the proposed welcome center off the grounds of The Breakers.”
The Preservation Society announced its intention to build a one-story pavilion in the northwest corner of The Breakers grounds in April 2013. The plan has been through multiple hearings of the city Historic District Commission, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Review, as well as the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, and Superior and Supreme courts since then, but the new group is calling “for a fresh start.”
The La Forge setting featured photos and slides from the Vanderbilt family archives and many of the people who spoke and socialized had a close connection with The Breakers over the years, but none more so than descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne, who built the huge mansion in 1893 to 1895.
Paul and Gladys Szapary, a brother and sister who still spend summers in the third-floor apartment of The Breakers, and their cousin, Jamie Wade Comstock, all spoke about their shared memories of the family’s summer home to the crowd of people packed into the restaurant’s event room. Their common plea was to restore the grounds to their original landscape and not put any new structures on it.